BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The debate concerning homework in the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District has continued into the summer months.
The matter was discussed for nearly two hours June 25, with Superintendent Russell Lazovick saying that there are steps to take, and major recommendations, for both July and August, and for the start of the new school year in September. Follow-up surveys will be sent out in June 2020.
School board president Jill Gladstone said that no decision can be made in one meeting’s time, and that there will be more discussions held through the end of August.
Board member Zachary Malek, who chairs the board’s academic committee, said that one of three key points regarding homework is to remove it from the daily calculation of student grades. He said he is not in favor of grading, and Lazovick replied that a number of teachers do not grade homework, or only do so if it is departmental policy in the upper grades.
The superintendent also said that separate conversations need to be held with educators.
Malek said that one recommendation concerned making the amount of homework assigned reflect the grade level – and that at the high school, students enrolled in Advanced Placement classes to obtain college credit need to do A.P. level homework, or else they will “drown” when they get to college.
“”It’s (almost) pushing the problem aside,” said Malek. “Lessening A.P. work won’t help."
It was also suggested that homework for all grades not exceed a total of two hours per day by using a “10-minute rule,” especially in the district’s primary and intermediate schools, with the grade level multiplied by 10 to achieve a total daily homework number in minutes. All homework is also to be completed out of class.
There was also the matter of assessments at the high school, ostensibly based on homework. Lazovick said that it is building-implemented, and that students can only prepare for so many tests, but are still getting quizzes and exams.
The final point was not to have homework assigned over holiday breaks, such as at Christmas and New Year’s. Lazovick said that such breaks are for students, families and also staff.
Gladstone said that such breaks with no homework are those that last four or more days, unless homework had been previously assigned – and that such homework should not be due on the first day of school following the break.
Board member Jeffrey Brookner said that long-term projects or homework over an extended break should have to be approved by a supervisor. He added that not all teachers will allot such assignments, but that some might.
Lazovick responded that it is a culture shift, and that teachers are usually cooperative. He also said he didn’t disagree, but that he was trying to get out what the actual purpose of homework is, and didn’t want the board to overreach.
“We can’t predict every type of assessment,” said Lazovick, who added that conversations are already occurring at the high school level.
Brookner said he wanted it made clear that meeting the letter of the law, such as teachers assigning homework four days before a holiday break and then requesting that work be turned in the second day after break, is “unacceptable,” and he wanted broader language put in place to eliminate such loopholes. Lazovick said teachers have to understand the environment that administrators are trying to promote, and that the language and policy are already in place.
Board member Ann Marie Mead said she agrees with Malek in that some students need break time and less stress. A.P students, conversely, have some indication of what they will experience academically by examining the syllabus at the start of the year, she said.
Board member Barry Walker said he agrees with not having homework assigned over breaks, but added that the culture also has to be addressed. Malek said he feels that more micromanagement could leave a “bad taste,” and that administrators have to make sure policy is being followed.
Brookner said the homework adjustment process has taken over a decade, and that this is the first year to draw a line and “make it happen.” He also said it has gotten worse every year, despite policy amendments, and that he is beyond the point of frustration.
Gladstone said the district’s top administrators need to roll out homework changes.
“It has to be appropriate,” she said of the amount of homework assigned. “Let the first year play out."
Lazovick said recommendations are in line with actions taken by other high-performing districts.
“Homework should not be compliance, but preparation,” he said, while adding that students don’t necessarily understand that mantra at present. “There will be a dramatic cultural change.”
He added that homework is about the incentive to learn, and about understanding content, not about accumulating bonus points, to, say, push a student’s 89.5 grade-point average over 90 percent.
Board member A.J. Joshi said that perhaps teachers need to space out homework, as college students do not have the same schedule every day and take different classes on different days. Brookner added that homework is not a problem in the district’s lower grade levels, and that the high school is changes need to happen soon.
“The culture that’s been created is, if you don’t do your homework, it’s going to bring your grade down,” said Brookner.
Lazovick said the action of adjusting homework amounts is “absolutely happening,” and that the school board is providing direction. There has also been student feedback about when and where homework is posted by educators, as a parent later complained that one teacher did not post homework assignments online regularly.
“We have to change the focus,” said Lazovick.
He added that the district has helped create the culture it is trying to repair, and that he and assistant superintendent Daniel Silvia could prepare a “red line” document regarding homework that the board could examine in July, and potentially approve in August. As for homework content in the higher grades, the question is about rigor and challenge, and also about moving away from the 10-minute rule.
Brookner said that A.P students' homework should be harder but not longer, while Malek said that even though honors students should have harder problems to work on, “piling on extra homework” doesn’t help anyone, especially when it comes to student stress.
School board vice-president Jackie Barlow said students need to be challenged at their academic levels, and not simply given more homework per se. Mead stated that 14- to 16-year-olds are not ready to handle a college workload, although Barlow disagreed and later said that it is important to teach students to self-regulate at a young age and to take personal responsibility.
Board member Lynne Hurley cautioned that the board and district still have no control over other areas, such as what time students go to bed.
Malek said some students might be capable of taking five or six A.P. classes, but their stress will be high. Lazovick related that no one could say that five A.P. classes were too many or too few, and reiterated that he was looking for guidance from the board. He also noted that there is stress on A.P. teachers to cover their material in 10 months time instead of 12 months, and that homework is sometimes used as a means of teaching in those courses.
“Homework is not simple,” said Lazovick. “We’re trying to create a culture of communication.”
He also said that A.P. classes were written for college-level freshmen, and that the board was a role model for the district.
“We don’t want to set up any of our students for failure,” added Gladstone.