BRIDGEWATER, NJ - The amount of time per night for homework was a point of contention for parents looking over the newly revised policy which allotted what many called too much homework each night.

The new policy was on the agenda for first reading at the July 23 board of education meeting.

According to the original policy, the board had revised its time guides for out-of-class study, with maximum times alloted for homework by grade and academic levels. For first graders, it was stated they should receive 15 minutes of homework per day; 30 minutes for second graders; 40 minutes for third graders; 50 minutes for fourth graders; and 60 minutes for fifth and sixth graders.

Sign Up for E-News

As for seventh and eighth graders, they would receive 30 to 35 minutes of homework per course per day, up to a maximum of 150 minutes per day. Students in ninth through 12th grades should receive 30 minutes per course per day, with A.P. students getting 45 minutes per course per day.

Amy Buckelew, who works as a music teacher and has two children in the district, said it is important to utilize the data borne out from surveys to improve homework management, as opposed to board members relying on their own opinions. She said that out of over 1,400 surveys, just 113 parents said they were happy with the current homework situation, with 47 of those responses coming from parents in the primary grades.

“The majority of parents want to see change,” she said.

Buckelew spoke of a seventh grade student who deals with over two hours of homework a night, plus several more hours of after-school extracurricular activities, such as sports and music. Combined with dinner and transportation, she said, they go to bed at 10 p.m. without any real down time for themselves.

“How do this schedule promote health and wellness for this 12-year-old child?” she asked.

She also urged the board to use the 10-minute table for the seventh and eighth grades, with the grade level multiplied by 10 minutes to calculate the amount of homework allotted per night. She added that when it comes to grading homework, students that are intrinsically motivated will get their homework done, while those who don’t want to do their homework simply won’t.

Parent Jessica Levitt, who serves on the board’s homework committee, said the district needs to have “thoughtful, reasonable policies.” She said she agrees with having homework eliminated over school breaks, and that homework assignments should be posted by teachers by the end of the school day.

She added that she was disappointed there had been no changes to the time limit of homework and its implementation, and she also felt that the information from the surveys had not been fully utilized.

Levitt, who has also campaigned repeatedly for later school starting times in the district to benefit student well-being, also said that other high-performing districts have lower time limit standards for nightly homework. She asked the board to adhere to the 10-minute limit per grade.

Carrie Brookner, who also serves on the homework committee, said the change of no homework over breaks is a popular one, and reiterated that most high school students and their parents believed there is too much homework assigned at present, which results in higher student stress and also impacts their sleep.

She said it was recommended for the rule of thumb of 10 minutes per grade level, as opposed to the policy suggested 15 minutes of homework for first graders, and up to 60 minutes for fifth graders. She said no maximum was provided in a board chart, with honors and Advanced Placement students getting up to three-and-a-half hours of homework per night in high school, or as much as five hours nightly if they are taking five A.P. classes.

“It does nothing to address the health and wellness concerns of students and parents,” she said, and asked why the board bothered to do surveys at all. “I struggle to see the rationale for this.”

Parent Mike Thayer, who said he has served some 20 years as a mathematics teacher in both New Jersey and New York City, said he appreciated the work the board did on the homework policy. He said A.P. teachers quite often give homework to support material covered in class, with some 45 minutes of homework per A.P. class assigned per night, which he said “seems sufficient.”

Thayer also said the amount of homework given has not changed, but that student time commitments have, as have the number of available distractions, including iPads, laptops, smart phones and more. He added that the onus was not on the homework policy, but more on the student who took 60 minutes to complete a 30-minute assignment.

Parent Steven Singer said he finds it hard to believe that additional homework time had been the result of the board’s efforts, that it didn’t match what had been discussed and that it seemed like A-level students were being punished with more work. As parent, he said, he wants his own children to enjoy being kids.

Rebecca Brown, a teacher at Watchung Hills High School who has two children in the Bridgewater-Raritan district, said that 21 of her own 26 A.P students achieved a high score of “5” on their examination last year. She said the district’s revised homework policy is unacceptable, and leaves students no time for family bonding or outside interests.

She added that school itself is exhausting enough, without homework being added on top of that.

“It’s killing learning,” said Brown, who added that it is also increasing depression among students.

Brown added that the policy is unworkable, and wanted to know who determined just exactly how long lessons or assignments are supposed to take to complete. She said the policy should limit the permissible amount of homework, and added that most parents won't raise concerns for fear of repercussions.

She also said that homework assigned on Fridays is excessive, and that it shouldn’t be due on the Monday students return to school.

Parent Lisa Weinstock said that A.P. students seemingly never get time off, and that they might also be required to do work over the summer.

“They deserve a break,” she said. “They should not be penalized for taking A.P. classes.”

She said that high school juniors need to concentrate on the process of applying to colleges, and deserve a vacation as well.

Board member Lynn Hurley said she couldn’t “synthesize” the homework surveys, having ostensibly received them on the Friday prior to the meeting. She added that it was over 3,000 pages of material, and that she didn’t feel she had had adequate opportunity to review the data.

Board member Ann Marie Mead asked if the board had gotten back all the questions and responses, and Assistant Superintendent of Schools Daniel Silvia said that it was difficult to send such a file that contained so much information.

Board member Jeffrey Brookner admitted that he was “extremely troubled” that A.P. classes had different homework loads than other classes. He said it was an issue of quantity of work versus quality, and that although there were many students in the district who were intelligent enough to take multiple A.P. classes, they also didn’t have “27-hour days” to complete all their assignments, and thus spent more time doing homework.

“I don’t see a plausible argument,” said Brookner. “It’s a greater quantity of work for A.P. courses.”

He explained it was about students who could handle harder material, but not an increasing amount of material, and that both middle and high school students need time and opportunity to grow as people. He felt that ever-increasing amounts of homework would only lead to students “driving themselves crazy,” although he also understood the pressure on teachers in the district to have success.

But, he said, homework does not necessarily correlate to success.

“A.P.s are uniquely different,” said board member Zachary Malek.

He said he recalled from his own academic experiences that he had received more homework in his regular classes than he did his A.P. courses, and that studying should also be considered as performing homework. Malek added that he himself had not been overloaded with homework, and asked if teachers were going to be permitted to assign 30 minutes maximum of homework on a daily basis.

Brookner countered that some 85 percent of the responses received in the recent survey reported that students now are getting too much homework.

Brookner also said that it is about placing sensible limits on homework, and he vouched for 20 minutes of homework per high school class, along with 15 minutes per middle school course. He elaborated that the school board’s job is not to re-do the work of the academic committee, which had gotten its recommendation from the administration, which he called approval “in the wrong direction,” which then went back to the committee.

He explained the board was supposed to act as an oversight by looking at the survey results, which had overwhelmingly stated there was too much homework.

School board vice-president Jackie Barlow said that two recommendations had gone to the academic committee, one with extra time alloted for homework, with maximum time limits for A.P. classes, and one with no extra time allotted, regardless of course, which she said she herself had backed, but had been in the minority in doing so.

She also said there is still homework assigned in classes like health, and that her own daughter, who graduated almost a decade ago, had also said there was too much homework.

Board member Melanie Thiesse asked if a weekly maximum amount of homework had been discussed, and said she personally thought the homework amounts recommended had been too high. She said she feels that grades kindergarten through three should not have any homework, and grades nine through 12 should have 50 minutes of homework per course per week, with “tighter limits (hopefully) leading to better homework.”

Brookner said that those students who do not understand their course material could be given extra worksheets to do, or else get extra help if needed. Board member A.J. Joshi asked about possibly assigning weekly homework packets, where students could complete assignments as they go along, although he asked how one could differentiate requiring 30 minutes for an assignment.  

“It’s hard,” said Mead, “It’s complex.”

She said she didn’t think there was enough time to discuss the matter, and that she couldn’t support the document as it was. She said she struggled with the notion of time limits, as every student was different, and added that the whole thing “needs to be tabled.”

Board member Barry Walker said the “current policy isn’t bad,” and that it is a question of monitoring. He did ask how much homework was considered a part of students’ grades, and he also said that the policy is no good “unless executed.”

School board president Jill Gladstone said she was “pretty taken aback” on the full recommendation made to the board. She said she had looked at some of the comments from students, and hoped to get something done before school started up again in September.

“Maybe we can sort it out as a board,” she said, while adding that the parents and students had spoken. She also said that the current policy was “not terrible,” but more “out of control,” and that she was against 45 minutes of homework per A.P. class.

She said she also felt the matter needed to be taken to a second reading.

Brookner suggested a certain amount of homework per night, roughly multiplied by the grade level.

For grades one to five, it would be 10 minutes times the grade level. For middle school, it would be 15 minutes times the grade level, and for high school it would be 20 minutes times the grade level. He also said that administrative oversight is needed for teachers who set “unrealistic limits” for homework.

Brookner then made a motion to amend the homework chart as follows:

- First Grade, 10 minutes of homework total
- Second Grade, 20 minutes of homework total
- Third to Fourth Grades, 40 minutes of homework total
- Fifth to Sixth Grades, 10 minutes of homework per class
- Seventh to Eighth Grades, 15 minutes of homework per class
- Ninth to 12th Grades, 20 minutes of homework per class

“A class is a class is a class,” he added, while Barlow said she would like to see a maximum for each grade level.

Gladstone didn’t think that long-term projects should be included in nightly homework totals, while Barlow said it was on the students if they were assigned projects several weeks ahead of time and then waited until the last minute to complete them. Barlow also said that if projects and such were discarded, then it was back to “ridiculous amounts of homework.”

Malek reiterated that studying was considered to be homework. He also said that flexibility needed to be built in, as homework was “not a magic bullet,” and that students would almost always go over to the limits, due to distractions.

Brookner said to get something in place for the new school year, even if it wasn’t perfect. He said to put the amended chart in policy, and then forward it to the academic committee for a second reading.

Gladstone suggested having multiple evaluations and feedback, and perhaps tweaking the policy again in January.

The board voted by a 7-2 margin to accept the amended homework policy resolution. The second reading is expected to occur at the board’s next regular meeting, Aug. 27 at 7:30 p.m. at the Wade Administration Building.