At what point does homework go from being a help to a hindrance? Do La Cañada Unified students have too much of it? Are they sacrificing family time and playtime, staying up into the early morning hours to complete assignments?
Those issues were at the heart of a Jan. 31 LCUSD discussion held to capture the experiences of parents, teachers and students as the district revises its homework policy and guidelines for the first time in 15 years.
Supt. Wendy Sinnette, who moderated the evening, said she was hoping to receive honest input about what's working, and what's not, when it comes to kids and homework.
"One of the goals for the year is to update [the board policy] with your feedback, with our research and with our teachers' committee work," Sinnette said during the 90-minute bull session at the district office.
Talk centered around the findings of a study by Lewis and Clark's Mollie Galloway and Stanford University's Denise Pope titled "Hazardous Homework: The Relationship Between Homework, Goal Orientation, and Well-being in Adolescence" and "Changing the Conversation About Homework from Quantity and Achievement to Quality and Engagement," which both surmise homework is more closely linked to burnout than meaningful achievement.
LCUSD's homework policy maintains homework helps students take responsibility for their own learning, allows them to develop good study habits and reinforces basic skills. An accompanying administrative regulation, which guides board policy implementation, assigns homework amounts by grade levels.
High school students, for example, are to be responsible for 12 to 20 weekly hours of school related homework activities, with additional weekly hours if they're enrolled in multiple honors and advanced placement classes. Seventh-graders are expected to complete from eight to 10 hours of homework each week, and fifth-graders 60 minutes per school day.
LCHS junior Emily Truong takes two AP classes and says she studies about four hours a day and uses weekends to get a head start on the following school week. Her schedule doesn't allow for much family time, she told the group.
"Right now we have allotted 8 to 10 [p.m.] on Fridays for family time, because on a regular basis I don't have time to spend with my family," Truong said. "Usually I don't even eat dinner with them because I'm stuck doing homework."
Phuong Tran — whose sons attend Palm Crest Elementary and La Cañada High School 7/8 — said her oldest two children participate in sports, which makes for long school days.
"When they come home it's dinner time and then they have homework," she said. "I know they're tired and they don't want to do homework. I wish they could do other things to relax their minds."
Teachers at the discussion admitted homework comes up often during parent-teacher talks.
"This is my first year, in 17 years of teaching, I've had 19 out of 21 parents say, 'I want my kids to have less homework,'" said Wendi Damico, a La Cañada Elementary School kindergarten teacher. "They said, 'I did a lot when I was a child and wasn't happy — I want my children to be happier than I was.'"
LCE kindergarten teacher Mandy Redfern said she'd like more agency in deciding how her own young daughter balances homework with recreation and family time.
"I would like to see a policy that gives value to me as a parent as well as the content," she said.
Strategies discussed include making homework optional or supplementary for students who've not yet mastered a lesson, giving children more time and flexibility to complete assignments or assigning fewer problems and giving parents and students the option of doing more.
Sinnette said elementary and secondary homework committees are reviewing existing policies, and would take the evening's comments into consideration during the process. She promised to report back to attendees as new language is drafted.