Burroughs High PTA homework survey leads to push for quality over quantity

After a local PTA conducted a survey of parents, the results sparked district officials to move forward with guidelines that emphasize quality over quantity when it comes to students' homework — and state PTA officials are taking notice.

After watching a screening of the film "Race to Nowhere," about the pressure on today's students to achieve, parents involved with the John Burroughs High School PTA sent out a survey to fellow parents to learn how they felt about their child's homework.

Of the 60 parents who responded, most indicated homework is a valuable tool but one that creates stress and takes away from how families would otherwise spend their time. While some felt lots of homework was necessary to teach students a disciplined work ethic, others relayed how it had ruined their families' lives for years.

The survey led the Burbank Unified School District to create a homework task force made up of parents, educators and administrators who have met several times to establish districtwide homework guidelines.

The task force caught the eye of the California State PTA for its advocacy work, and won the John Burroughs High PTA a spotlight award at the annual statewide convention last May.

State PTA officials also encouraged the Burroughs parents to write a research-backed resolution, which has since been supported by First District PTA, encompassing PTA councils from Glendale to Pomona.

The resolution is now under review by state PTA officials, and could become a resource for parents in other districts.

"It's an opportunity for parents in the entire state to have a voice on this issue," said Tina McDermott, whose son is a senior at Burroughs.

She helped craft the resolution and conduct the initial survey with parent Suzanne Weerts, among others, who also delved into over a dozen pieces of research to support the resolution.

Research revealed how too much homework leads to stress, but not always to student achievement. Homework could also create an equity divide for students who live in homes without technology or whose parents can't help because they don't speak English.

Research also found mothers more often assist with the brunt of their children's homework.

"This is kind of the big elephant in the room that people do not address," said McDermott, who also believes that educators should consider students' after-school schedules and how many hours of homework will be left to do once they finish their activities or jobs at the end of the day.

McDermott and Weerts, who each came into the study with their own stories or tales from friends about how homework caused tantrums or tensions at home, are glad their work has started a new discussion among parents and teachers over how much homework is reasonable in order for kids to lead balanced lives.

"I don't think that when we first started the dialogue that we expected it to turn into a bigger picture story," Weerts said, "But the response that we've gotten from parents in so many areas — it's obviously an important topic…Even parents I don't know very well have come up and given me a hug."