Board Takes Another Look at Homework Controversy

The San Marino Unified School District has some decisions to make after a lengthy Board of Education meeting last week, chief among them — homework.
Representatives from parent groups who attended the meeting last week seemed generally supportive of the Academic Advisory Commission recommendation to scale back the amount of homework in K-8 classes, but the board was hesitant to commit to anything that night.
“Homework is a controversial issue, but it is important for us to look at it,” board member Lisa Link said. “Who knows whether we’ll adopt it, but we have to do the work. It’s our job to do some work.”
Speaking on behalf of the AAC, Michiko Lee explained that research on academic studies and the policies of other school districts led committee members to conclude that SMUSD’s homework policy needed an overhaul to free up time for students and to address their mounting stress levels among them.
“We are asking that the board, at some point, review the K-8 homework policy and adopt it,” Lee said. “The one that we have in place is from 1984. It’s outdated and we really need to get it updated.”
Specifically the AAC is recommending that students in kindergarten through 3rd grade receive no homework; currently, kindergarteners have 10-15 minutes of homework one night a week, 1st-graders 10-15 minutes per night, 2nd-graders 15-20 minutes per night and 3rd-graders 20-25 minutes per night.
After that, the AAC suggests 20 minutes per night for 4th-graders, 30 minutes per night for 5th-graders, 60 minutes per night for 6th-graders, 70 minutes per night for 7th-graders and 80 minutes per night for 8th-graders. These recommendations represent a reduction of between 10 and 80 minutes per night from current policy.
Meredith Sommers, another member of the AAC, defended the recommendations to the school board, saying she felt the purpose of the AAC was to “challenge for change” even when a recommendation might defy conventional wisdom.
“This is research-based,” she explained. “This is not something that we just came up with. High-performing districts are not giving homework to lower grade levels.”
Opposition came in the form of comments by Susan Flanagan, a former Carver Elementary School teacher who lives here. She defended homework as a way of ensuring students apply themselves in spite of a lack of self-motivation to learn.
“What is more important? TV? Video games? Vaping?” she rhetorically asked during her comments. “Teaching our children to work hard, schedule their time and do the best they can do every day leads to success and happiness in their future jobs and family.
“If you adopt this proposal to dumb down our kids, I feel so strongly that I will oppose you in any way I can,” Flanagan added, hinting at a political run for one of the school board seats this year.
The AAC last week also had findings and recommendations regarding college application and college readiness and also STEM and computer science.
The homework policy, in particular, resonated with district officials because of its relation to another item they took up last week — the Student Wellness Initiative. This proposal, which would provide mental health awareness and intervention for the districts’ students as well as promote work- and stress-management habits, was developed in response to ubiquitous concerns that SMUSD’s students were pushed beyond the envelope with their workloads and expectations.
The school board plans to dive further into the research driving the homework policy recommendations before making a decision.
“This is a very important issue that we’ve heard about for a long time, and we want to address it,” Superintendent Alex Cherniss said.

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