Montville Takes a Hard Look at Homework
Superintendent to consider committee recommendations regarding rotating homework schedule, changing Lazar dismissal time.
For several months, the Montville Township Public Schools Board of Education has been waiting to hear from a special committee formed to examine the school district's homework policy and make recommendations for changes that could help students achieve better in school.
The committee presented their findings to the board June 5 and amongst those recommendations were reducing the amount of homework given on a daily basis, creating a rotating schedule for homework and possibly even ending the school day earlier at the Lazar Middle School to give students more time to spend with their family while also completing homework.
"We tried to come up with some statements about homework and the implications that it has," Karen Chase, the district's supervisor for curriculum and instruction, said. Many commitee members feel strongly that spending time with family, during dinner or just to unwind after a school day, may have a strong impact on a student's success in school.
The district has been responsive to concerns of parents who feel the quantity and quality of homework given is unacceptable, with Montville Board of Education Member Jackie Ritschel organizing a townhall meeting for the community to speak about their feelings in May of 2011. The school district also surveyed parents about homework, asking whether homework should be given over vacation periods (which about 70 percent of parents said they would prefer their kids not have homework during those times). In November, the board formed the committee to examine the effects of homework on students and make recommendations to the superintendent on potential policy changes.
The committee was made up of administrators, teachers, parents and students. Those who participated were students Eden Weinflash, Daniel Kats and Eric Zlotnick; parents Kenneth Devitt, Kulsum Aamer, Elisa Sandler and Ranjana Patel; teachers Mary Anne Duffy and Leslie Walsh from Lazar, Joy Trevaskiss (Valley View), David Tubbs (Montville Township High School), Brian Quinn (Woodmont) and Pat Swiatek (Cedar Hill); and administrators Chase, Supervisor of Humanities Trish Soucy, Assistant High School Principal Michael Shera, Lazar Assistant Principal John Piscelli, Valley View Principal Pat Kennedy and Supervisor of Mathematics and Science Denise Hinkle.
The full board of education and a room packed with teachers and parents listened to several of the committee members speak about their findings on June 5. Chase introduced the committee members and explained the depth of research undertaken by them, including examining parental-child relationships as they relate to homework, the affect of the amount of homework on a child's ability to succeed in school, the consistency of homework assigned in the district and per class and also the times students are completing their homework. In the three times the committee met, members had read books and articles and done separate research that they came to meetings prepared to talk about, Chase said.
As for the time homework is completed, some committee members specifically referenced the late dismissal time of Lazar and said they have found the community to be concerned with the time as it relates to homework.
"The time of Lazar's day really does impact how people feel about homework," one member said.
Board Member Jon Alin agreed with the recommendation to move Lazar's dismissal time earlier.
One suggestion from the committee was that homework be rotated on a schedule according to subject so that students can spend more time focusing on that subject the night they are assigned homework in it.
Committee members felt homework should be discussed up front with parents during Back to School night and should also be rotated with testing schedules so that students do not have the burden of having to study for an exam while having hours of homework. Projects were also discussed and whether they are worth the many hours they sometimes take to complete.
Ritschel had several questions for the committee and asked if they had come up with an idea of what the general purpose of homework was. Chase said that research suggests the point of homework is to instill good habits in students.
Ritschel also asked if homework should be individualized per student.
"We give the same amount of homework to each and every student in the class," she said. "It's not quantified by each and every child."
Ritschel asked the committee members if they felt homework should be graded. One parent said she felt that if parents and teachers are able to communicate openly about homework, homework could actually help students' grades if they typically do not perform well on exams. Valley View Principal Pat Kennedy praised teachers for the work they already do in this area.
"I think our teachers actually do a wonderful job of communicating with parents," she said. "I do believe that teachers in Montville are very understanding and open with parents."
Committee members agreed that in order for homework, in itself, to be successful in shaping a student's education, it has to be meaningful.
"Homework being meaningful for one child may not be meaningful for another," Chase said. "In order for it to be meaningful, it needs to be ongoing."
Chase said students must understand why the teachers are assigning homework to fully appreciate it.
Superintendent Dr. Paul Fried will be consulting the committee as he puts together policy recommendations to bring before the board of education for approval.