Principal Starts a Debate on Homework

A controversial statement on Principal Brian Ginter’s webpage regarding how much homework should be counted as part of a student’s grade is only a recent development in an ongoing debate about homework in schools around the country.

Amid complaints from parents that kids get too much homework, a growing number elementary schools have eliminated homework entirely. And districts, such as Los Angeles Unified, have set a policies that homework can count as no more than 20 percent of a high school student’s grade.

Ginter entered the debate last spring when he posted on his website that “formative assessments” should only count for between 10 and 20 percent of a student’s final grade in a course.

“I see homework as a formative assessment, an assessment for teachers to use to gauge how well a student is learning,” Ginter said in an interview last week.
“Ultimately, I think homework should be 10 percent,” he said. “Although I wouldn’t have a homework category, I’d have a formative assessment category.”

Besides concerns about the amount of homework, the parent group wants similar homework policies across different section of the same class. For example, they would argue, while there may be three freshman English teachers, all freshman English classes should assign about the same amount of homework and homework should count about the same in each teacher’s gradebook.

“Some parents were concerned not so much about what the percentages should be, we leave that to our able administrators and teachers to decide,” Wake said. “But that the same classes have pretty much the same grading policy so our students are treated equally.”
Some teachers do not agree with Ginter’s suggestions on how much homework should count in the grade.

“Foreign language, like music, is a subject where the process of learning is more important than the outcome,” French teacher Alicia Murry said. “Students need to practice with daily work. Daily work can mean homework.”

“Some kids are able to do very well on tests but haven’t necessarily gained the knowledge they need. On the other hand, there are kids who test poorly who have learned what they need to learn.”

Physics teacher Dean Baird uses his own homework formula that essentially amounts to a grade point bump for students who keep up with homework. Students with missing assignments must earn their grade through “summative assessments” of tests and labs.

“The grading policy I’ve developed over the course of my 27 years here serves my students and our physics program fairly well,” Physics teacher Dean Baird said. “I’m happy with what I’m doing and I don’t see the need to change it.”

“Certainly, he has the right to express what he would do, but the California Education Code and board policy allows teachers to decide grade policy.”

But as teachers make their freedom of choice in this matter known, Ginter has received complaints from parents regarding the amount of homework students are being assigned.

“Some classes give way too much work that parents and students feel is busy work,” Ginter said. “They’re not sure what the meaning of that is.”

Parents have also raised issues over a lack of coordination between teachers regarding test dates.

“Another complaint is that there’s not a collaboration between the staff so students aren’t overburdened on a certain day of the week.”

Nevertheless, the Principal’s opinion is being expressed at a time when people all around the country, from students to teachers to child psychologists, are discussing the impact and effectiveness of high levels of homework.

The National Education Association’s recommendations on how much time a student should spend on homework in each grade rise only ten minutes for every grade level from a minimum of ten minutes in the first grade to a maximum 120 minutes in the twelfth grade. Furthermore, the National PTA has stated that “when you add classroom time to homework time, school-age children should not be working longer than an eight-hour day.”

Where these recommendations have been exceeded, concerns have been raised by parents, students, and school districts.

Joy Wake, a mother, is one of those concerned about the effects of high levels of homework on students.

“If our conscientious, hard-working students tell us that they are stressed out and exhausted we have to believe them and see what we can do to help them be successful and healthy,” Wake said.

“I feel bad that my kids have to stay up late at night and spend many weekends doing homework.  Even my husband who is a hard working attorney doesn’t work that many hours in a day, and he gets to take weekends off.”

Students have also been concerned about how much homework they’re being assigned.

“It burns us out,” freshman Megan Ferris said. “Three hours is a lot and a lot of kids won’t do it because it’s too much. If teachers assign a little each day and take it slower, kids will do homework and take it more seriously.”

Senior Meghan McKenna takes as many AP and honors courses as she can, and has an average of four or five hours of homework per night.

“It’s pretty stressful because I take my classes seriously,” McKenna said.

“It hurts my ability to relax, pursue hobbies and hang out with friends.”

When asked about whether she agrees or not with the Principal’s recent recommendations, McKenna expressed doubt over whether it would impact her.

“A lot of the work I do is studying,” she said.

Action on this issue was taken in the Los Angeles Unified School District. In 2011, a new policy was implemented capping the amount that homework should count in a student’s grade to ten percent. The policy was scrapped shortly after it was enacted, however, due to pressure from parents and teachers who felt that their voices hadn’t been heard.

LAUSD’s new guidelines, released this year, suggest a twenty percent cap on how much homework should count towards a student’s grade and asks for adherence to the National Education Association’s recommendations on how much time a student should spend on homework.

Nevertheless, the new LAUSD guidelines are like Principal Ginter’s comments in at least one respect: both are only small steps when it comes to solving what has been characterized as an education crisis in America.