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Montville Takes a Hard Look at Homework

Superintendent to consider committee recommendations regarding rotating homework schedule, changing Lazar dismissal time.

For several months, the 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 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 about their feelings in May of 2011. The school district also , 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, 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 (), David Tubbs (), Brian Quinn () and Pat Swiatek (); 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 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.

sam June 15, 2012 at 05:57 PM
Yes; homework is important, but a teacher must consider the student's schedule as a whole. Students these days have a lot going on. Between sports, clubs, religious events and as they get older part time jobs, they’re pulled in too many directions. A teacher who ignorantly feels that 1 hour of homework is not a big deal, should ask herself, "what if every teacher felt this way?" I have had my children come home with enough work that they barely have time for dinner. To add to that stress, may times (which I’ve verified) some of the answers, that are provided so the child can check his work, are wrong. This kills more time as the poor child keeps doing the same problem over and over again, doubting himself and everything he has just studied. Teachers need to understand how this kills time and confidence. And how SIMPLE it is to avoid – Check the answers FIRST. And finally, I recently attended an assembly, which was excellent BTW, for college bound juniors. The subject was college admissions and what they look for. One of the many points made was “having a job during your junior and or senior years is looked upon favorably by many colleges”. Good advice – so my oldest is looking. Yesterday he came home from school with his “summer homework” which among other things includes a large packet of math, and a list of 3 books that MUST be read before September. Are you kidding? A full time job AND homework. It’s great to be a kid!
wally June 15, 2012 at 06:12 PM
how come we keep playing with our children's schooling - longer days, more HW no now less HW, longer school years, etc. We all went to school 20, 30 years ago and most of us turned out fine, seems like we're creating a nanny state of our own - the schools are now responsible for our daycare, feeding our kids (not here, but in a lot of other districts). Let's not give HW because it gets in the way of their social/sporting events. Problem isn't HW or time in school, it's trying to teach them to pass a statewide exam, instead of teaching them what they need to know. The other issue is the teacher's union, but there isn't enough space here or time to address that!
Louise June 15, 2012 at 07:31 PM
A study was done a few years ago regarding leveling, scheduling etc. The Powerpoint of findings was on the BoE website. The #1 recommendation was to flip the grammar school and middle school schedules ASAP. Why wasn't this done? When I tell people my child doesn't get home until after 4pm from middle school, they can't believe it! The late schedule restricts a lot of activities that otherwise our middle schoolers could participate in like clubs, sports with other middle schools, etc. So I really would like to know why this was not implemented. We are the only town that does it this way and it is so wrong!
Mom Tlm June 15, 2012 at 10:46 PM
All of these GREAT comments need to be sent on to the BOE and Superintendent. Great stuff. The amount of projects in homework in middle school was overkill, plus studying every day of the week for multiple tests. This is all making the kids HATE school. Is this really what we want? Maybe if the teaching agenda was slowed down a bit so more time could be spent on IMPORTANT INFORMATION, the homework, test after test, and project load could cool way down. Race to Nowhere showed how the teens are being so negatively effected by all the stress. Doesn't anybody connect all the drugs and alcohol use to the stress? Let these kids breath a bit and have time to really think and figure things out. Not stress every day and turn to unnatural stimulants because they are also exhausted. . I have seen study guides for chapter tests that are 15 pages long . It seems like teachers are thinking kids' brains are now computer chips!!! Plus we are in this FAR FAR Away conference for sports. IT IS ABSURD. hOW DID THIS HAPPEN TO MONTVILLE? i ALSO AGREE on the middle school late schedule being awful. i had to pull my kids from club soccer because with the late release from school, we couldn't get to the practices!!! And we are paying a TON of money in taxes for this all. . .
Kenneth Goldberg, Ph.D. June 16, 2012 at 12:54 AM
I'm always pleased when communities have thoughtful discussions on homework policy. I have one thought to share. When you say that all children should have the same amount of homework, do you meant be content or by the clock? Children stay in class the same amount of time? Why not make homework time equal? Kenneth Goldberg PhD www.thehomeworktrap.com.
wally June 16, 2012 at 11:56 AM
Mom Tim: you can send all the great comments to the BOE, but they'll fall on deaf ears
Carmela Novi, Esq. June 16, 2012 at 05:54 PM
Dear "Wally", I am a sitting Board of Education member, and a member of Board's Curriculum, Instruction and Technology committee, although I do not speak for the Board of Education on this forum. The title of the article and first paragraph clearly states that the Board of Education is taking a "hard" look at the homework issue, and we were presented with long-awaited opinions from a homework task force constituted by the Superintendent of Schools. We are not deaf to the issue of homework; in fact, since Dr. Fried came into the district, in 2010, he held two public town-hall style meetings on the topic of homework (separate from the regular twice-monthly BoE meetinigs). Those meetings resulted in the creation of the task force (in which volunteer members included teachers in district; students; parents and a principal), which presented to the Board at the meeting mentioned in the article. I submit for your consideration that, rather than being "deaf", we have acted in a way that is responsive and open to the community's needs; a community which, in fact, includes board members' own children and grandchildren. We face the same challenges and ask the same questions of homework (i.e., is it too much? too little? properly assigned? of sufficient quality? etc). If you have any comments you would like to make regarding your own experience with homeowrk, you can email the Board from the www.montville.net website. Thank you for your consideration. Sincerely, Carmela L. Novi.
Carmela Novi, Esq. June 16, 2012 at 06:01 PM
The Lazar start/end time has not changed due to issues involving transportation, some budgetary and otherwise. The Board of Education took another look at the transportation issue as it related to potential moving of start and end times for the Lazar students during the 2012-2013 budget process, although it was not changed as a result. The analysis of this issue has not been abandoned but will require further consideration in light of the budgetary constraints the Board works under. While I am a sitting Board member, I only speak for myself on this issue. However, I can state that Dr. Fried, the adminstration and the Board is well aware that many in the community would like to see the Lazar dismissal occur earlier in the day and are working towards trying to find a solution to this issue. Thank you for your consideration. Sincerely, Carmela Novi.
Gary Lewis June 18, 2012 at 12:27 PM
I fully expect to be hunted down by a mob of high school students, but I have to say on the flip side I am more than a bit puzzled by the lack of homework I see coming home from the high school.This experience may be anecdotal on my part, but if the intent is to establish good study habits, these kids are going to to be in for a rude awakening, at least based on my experience at Rutgers. Either way, the Board is to be commended for examining the issue. Gary Lewis
Montville Mom June 21, 2012 at 02:06 PM
On behalf of all two working parents, I implore the community to understand all the impacts that could occur by a simple switching of the grammar school and middle school start times. Using the existing grammar school start hour, I have just enough time to drop my kids off at school and then arrive at work by 9AM. When I get to work at 9AM, I arrive home at 6:15PM. My children already go to afternoon MEDLC and are picked up by my husband after he gets out of work at 6PM. A "simple switch" of grammar school start time would mean that my work hours would also have to switch (get home after 7PM?!). When would I get to spend quality time with my children?! It is NOT realistic, or fair, to send my children to morning AND afternoon MEDLC (why should I spend money out of my pocket just so middle school students can add more extracurricular activities?! I sincerely doubt they are going to spend that additional time on homework.). It is also NOT realistic to say that I can leave my kids to fend for themselves at home prior to walking to school for a later start time. I would also add, that there are just as many studies out there that support later start times for middle school students- specifically as it relates to gaining extra sleep and how it relates to school performance. If it is indeed decided that Lazar needs to start earlier, please don't jump to the conclusion that the way to do that is by simply swapping the start time with the grammar schools!

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