kitchen table math, the sequel: help desk - homework proposal for the site committee

Saturday, October 6, 2007

help desk - homework proposal for the site committee

A couple of weeks ago, I attended my first site committee meeting a week ago, thanks to the efforts of two activist parents and the PTSA. (The PTSA here has been great, by the way. They're working on openness, communication, information flow --- great, great job).

Anyway, thanks to two activist parents (that I know of), the PTSA, and the newly constituted school board, we can now attend site committee meetings.

Which was always our right by law, but never mind.

The first meeting was devoted to choosing an agenda for the year, so the principal came prepared with a long list of possibilities.

One was "homework."

Some parents want less homework, he said. (I'm in this faction.)

Some parents want more homework.

So....homework. That could be a focus.

I'm going to put together a homework proposal for the site committee to consider and reject, and I'd like some help. (Yes! You, too, can be thanked for your input, without even having to live here.)

Roughly, here's what I'm thinking.

The site committee could put together a voluntary pilot project to gather information about homework.

Specifically (I'm thinking) what you need to know about each homework assignment is this:

Could the student complete the assignment in a reasonable period of time, without assistance, and do a good job?

That is to say: could the student complete the assignment in a reasonable period of time, without assistance, and receive a grade of 90 or above?

I don't think it would be too hard to figure this out.

You could include, with some (most? all?) homework assignments, a simple set of questions, the answers to which could function as a survey of sorts, or a diagnostic assessment.

The sheet might list:
  • homework assignment & date
  • start time (when child began work on assignment)
  • finish time (when child finished work on assignment)
  • one question: did child need help to do this assignment?
  • grade received (and...uh...yes, this would require whatever teacher piloted the system actually to collect and correct homework)

I would set this up as a pilot program, asking for teacher volunteers. You'd want to start with your most confident and competent teachers, because you'd want to set things up to succeed.

You wouldn't force students and parents to participate, either, but if the feedback proved valuable, you might want to help students develop a habit of tracking their time to the extend they are able. (I still don't understand time myself; I have no idea how long tasks take, and constantly underestimate the time involved in this or that commitment.)

Most middle school kids could probably handle these questions on their own, though it would be better if parents monitored the time recording.

I would start this pilot program by telling people that the school wants to look at what's going on with homework, ability grouping, differentiated instruction, etc.

I'd invite people to make suggestions about questions to include.

I would ask for volunteers (teachers, parents, students).

I would share all data with any parent, teacher, resident, or citizen who wished to take a look, removing student names, of course.

I might also ask for volunteers to run some statistical analyses, or advise on ways to analyze it correctly.

That's as far as I've gotten------what do you think?

And: how would you analyze the information that came back?


from instructivist:

I think teachers of rotating classes should coordinate the amount of homework assigned to prevent overloading. Teachers tend to forget that they are not the only ones assigning homework.

Homework should also be meaningful practice of what's being learned and not be wasteful busywork.

This, the middle school is either doing or trying to do - except for Math A and Earth Science. The Earth Science teacher has free rein to "work the kids" (direct quote), because "this is a high school course."


from anonymous:

Homework quality and quantity is always a topic that generates a lot of parental discussion. PTA has a guideline about it; I think it was 10min X grade level for time. The Wall Street Journal had piece about h.w. recently too.

On the survey: Right now I have 4 things nightly to sign between 2 children besides the responsibility of checking the fifth grader's h.w. and reteaching if necessary as well as digging up art supplies when some teacher assigns a time consuming craft project as part of a 'multiple intelligence' assessment. I wouldn't want another piece of paper to fill in unless I knew a) that my answers would not be held against my child and b) the results would be representative of everyone, not just the concerns of a vocal minority.

What I'd like to see is no homework for Gr. 6 - 12 other than a research paper, assigned reading, projects with an academic not arts/crafts purpose and instrumental music practice. The remaining time would be used for studying and enriching extracurriculars, and be determined by the student's needs.

As it stands now, if my child realizes he didn't understand a point in the math lesson, or he would like to read the science text, he has no time to do so because he must allocate the rest of the evening to the multiple intelligence homework, word searches, literature novel, and projects as well as make sure all notebooks will pass the forthcoming but unannounced 'notebook quiz'.

Other things I'd like to see: no homework over vacations. No assignments without a grading rubric, no class without a syllabus - in other words, expectations need to be clear and stated up front.

My final h.w. request: assignments that change from year to year so that the lil' sibs don't have such a big advantage over the noobs.

1.

I wonder whether there is a way to blind the answers.... because this Commenter is right; most parents don't want to say, "My kid took two hours to do this assignment."

I'm an outlier in this respect, and I can only get away with it because Ed and I both have Ph.D.s & because C. is a pretty good student with no "issues" etc. -- and because we've had it up to here with the b*s, and everyone knows it. Somehow, the message has been conveyed that if it's taking C. 2 hours to do 10 math problems, we're not interested in hearing that there's something wrong with him.

This isn't a normal relationship to have with your school.

2.

What do people feel about vocal minorities?

I probably like vocal minorities just fine.

Dunno.

23 comments:

Instructivist said...

I think teachers of rotating classes should coordinate the amount of homework assigned to prevent overloading. Teachers tend to forget that they are not the only ones assigning homework.

Homework should also be meaningful practice of what's being learned and not be wasteful busywork.

Catherine Johnson said...

THANKS!

I gather that teachers in the middle school have been working on this pretty seriously, and for some time now.

Of course, all bets are off when it comes to the "accelerated" kids.

They can be clobbered, and they are clobbered.

C. is being given 2-hour assignments in Earth Science containing nothing that's going to be on the test -- and his first grades are C- and C-.

Hours and hours and hours of homework to achieve a C-.

He is now, officially, "struggling."

Must go in for EXTRA HELP!!!

Extra help, in Irvington, is the accelerated curriculum.

Of course, going in for Extra Help isn't easy.

Going in for Extra Help is on par with signing your developmentally disabled child up for a Medicaid waiver.

Seeing as how C. is also STRUGGLING in math, we dutifully carted him in early for EXTRA HELP last Thursday.

School refused to let him inside the door because he didn't have a pass.

500 kids in the entire school, $22,000 per pupil spending, and these people are not capable of knowing the kids' names, knowing them personally, figuring out which kid is likely to be lying about EXTRA HELP and which kid is not.

C. is a number, nothing more.

Rules first, children second.

lgm said...

Homework quality and quantity is always a topic that generates a lot of parental discussion. PTA has a guideline about it; I think it was 10minXgrade level for time. The Wall Street Journal had piece about h.w. recently too.

On the survey: Right now I have 4 things nightly to sign betwen 2 children besides the responsibility of checking the fifth grader's h.w. and reteaching if necessary as well as digging up art supplies when some teacher assigns a time consuming craft project as part of a 'multiple intelligence' assessment. I wouldn't want another piece of paper to fill in unless I knew a) that my answers would not be held against my child and b) the results would be representative of everyone, not just the concerns of a vocal minority.

What I'd like to see is no homework for Gr. 6 - 12 other than a research paper, assigned reading, projects with an academic not arts/crafts purpose and instrumental music practice. The remaining time would be used for studying and enriching extracurriculars, and be determined by the student's needs.

As it stands now, if my child realizes he didn't understand a point in the math lesson, or he would like to read the science text, he has no time to do so because he must allocate the rest of the evening to the multiple intelligence homework, word searches, literature novel, and projects as well as make sure all notebooks will pass the forthcoming but unannounced 'notebook quiz'.

Other things I'd like to see: no homework over vacations. No assignments without a grading rubric, no class without a syllabus - in other words, expectations need to be clear and stated up front.

My final h.w. request: assignments that change from year to year so that the lil' sibs don't have such a big advantage over the noobs.

Catherine Johnson said...

What do you think of establishing a voluntary pilot program - i.e. of asking teachers, parents, & possibly students whether they'd like to participate.

As matters stand, we are not going to get rid of homework here. That's not possible.

Nor are we going to limit the amount of time kids spend on homework. We say we have a limit; we don't respect the limit; there is no one to enforce the limit.

Also, we have the problem of parents and tutors doing the teaching.

What I'd like the school to know is this:

Can kids do the homework they're being given without help?

Is there some way to collect this info that would work for you?

(I wonder whether there would be a way to blind the "data"...)

Obviously, I'm perfectly happy to tell my district that my kid spent 3 hours doing a trivial assignment.

I'm an outlier.

VickyS said...

This should be part of your homework policy: no homework allowed that requires scissors, glue, colored pencils, posterboard, trips to the drugstore or grocery store, surveys...in other words, homework should be academic in its orientation. Families should have free rein as to their nonacademic pursuits.

Read your science or history book, answer questions, write papers or essays, do math problems or worksheets, read your assigned novels, study for tests. This is good homework.

Moreover, I'm so with Catherine in this: homework should not require parents (beyond the "haven't you gotten that done yet??").

As I've noted before: involving parents in homework is an easy way to fulfill the NCLB requirement that PARENT INVOLVEMENT in schools be increased.

The rationale? "Research shows" that more parent involvement means higher performing students.

Of course, we all know correlation doesn't equate to causation. And worse, upping the ante of parental involvement can only backfire, as involved parents struggle to keep up, while those who were not involved in the first place are unlikely to change.

I'd like to see exclusively academic homework, combined with free, optional after school study halls, every day of the week, with busing home at the end of the study hall. Everyone has an opportunity for success.

Redkudu said...

I think there is a distinction to be made between daily homework, and extended homework.

Daily homework, in my opinion, should be self-contained. That is, students should be able to sit at a desk with no computer, no art supplies, and complete it. This homework should reinforce skills previously learned in class that day. (When you get into daily homework which requires kids to use previously learned skills to predict new concepts or even learn a new concept at home, I think you're in sticky grading territory.)

If students have been assigned textbooks, then the homework can refer to previously completed exercises in the textbook, but shouldn't rely on the student reading ahead and deciphering skills on their own in the textbook. (That's my opinion for English, at least.)

Extended homework should be assigned with a due date commiserate with the requirements of the assignment (independent research, etc.), and should also reflect preliminary introduction to all the required skills during class.

I may have more thoughts on this later.

Catherine Johnson said...

yes, more!

I'll get both these comments "pulled up front"

Tex said...

Sorry to appear dense, but I’m unclear as to what your objective is. There have been some great comments here. Does it take a survey to establish good guidelines?

It sounds like you would like to use a survey to uncover problems that are being swept under the rug in your district. Also, to garner support for establishing guidelines.

Tex said...

Very good point about parents not wanting to have to track and sign off on one more thing.

Tex said...

Vocal minorities are frequently perceived as citizens who focus excessively on negative issues. Or, as parents who have a self-interest in drawing resources that benefit their own children. At least, that’s what I’ve seen around here.

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm interested in the 2nd category - what would be an example of a parent trying to draw resources that benefit his own child?

(Just as an example -- )

I removed the part of my post talking about the "vocal minorities" issue here.

At the candidates' forum, two people asked how we could prevent squeaky wheels from getting the grease, so to speak.

I assumed these two questioners might be talking about me, but I also didn't know that -- I just couldn't tell.

The other issue is that one of the questioners is a "squeaky wheel" (and in a good way - I won't say any more, but my perception is that she's used whatever influence she's managed to wangle for good ends).

So....I just couldn't tell what was being said.

(And one of the candidates responded sharply to the question, which led me to believe the question wasn't about me, but about another vocal parent I had only recently met at that point.)

This is all sounding mysterious, isn't?

Point is: I can't get a handle on the "vocal minority" business at all.

AND: the fields vote suddenly made the vocal minority look like we may in fact be a majority.

Catherine Johnson said...

The purpose of a survey would be for teachers to gain feedback about the homework assignments they give.

At present, teachers here simply don't know what's going on at the kitchen table.

The school is a black box, but so is the home.

Yes, these are good guidelines.

I'm sure my school would say it is already following these guidelines.

But guidelines without feedback are worthless.

There's no one overseeing homework, no one evaluating homework, etc.

The teachers do what they do, and we hire tutors when they do it badly.

Catherine Johnson said...

When you come right down to it, a guideline is an input.

What is the output?

When you sever the relationship between input and output, your goose is cooked.

At least, that's what I've experienced here time and again.

KarenA said...

"When you sever the relationship between input and output, your goose is cooked."

In a free market, competitive environment, the businesses that don't understand this run the risk of failure.

I rather like the idea of the homework questionnaire; schools should be soliciting and indeed welcoming feedback, if they are truly committed to the ideals that they profess.

Catherine Johnson said...

Karen Obviously, I do, too, but the previous commenter has a good point about parent work loads AND about whether your child is going to be affected by always being the child who took two hours to complete an assignment....

I wish I knew statistics better.

I'm sure there's a way to select a random sample of parents/kids to do this, which would ensure privacy/anonymity, AND not commit the parent/child to doing this forever, etc....

But what is it?

KarenA said...

Oh, I agree as well with the previous commenter about the potential problems associated with a questionnaire of this sort.

But, and this is what is important (at least from my perspective) is that schools need to start giving more than lip service to the notion that they are interested in constructive feedback.

So, the development of a form, even if it's in its first stage of testing, is a good first step. There are always wrinkles involved with rolling things out the first time. I just applaud that you are putting in the hard work of trying to push the boat away from the dock when it comes to this issue.

KarenA said...

I'll try to share a quick example without going into too many details. The bottom line is that it is very difficult (on the child) in our district for a child to participate in marching band and a fall sport because of the time commitments that each demands. The difference, though, is that marching band is designated as co-curricular, which means that anything and everything can be linked to the grade.

Marching band meets five times a week (like a normal class), but then during the 8-10 week fall season, requires that students attend evening rehearsals for 2 1/2 hours two evenings a week.

If your kid is also academically oriented, and is taking honors courses (complete with the numerous projects involved), it's an enormously challenging undertaking.

I have pressed this point with the band director, and he seems to not understand. I have recently become aware that other parents have likewise pressed the issue with him. Of course, our interests are adversarial in some respects, because his goal is to have a top-notch marching band.

I had a long conversation recently with the person who is the president of the support organization for band, my goal was to encourage her to elicit feedback on this and other issues. She was flat out not interested; she simply didn't see a problem. Well, of course not, because her son participates in a spring sport, so he's not adversely affected.

But what bothered me was her complete unwillingness to even consider that there was another point of view. Her attitude was, in effect, that it must be my child that was having the problem.

In some (if not many) respects, I am fighting an uphill battle, and I realize that. But, I want those involved to understand the reality of the situation. So, I will probably undertake to chart the number of hours spent at each activity, and provide a graphical representation of such.

What bothered me, and what continues to bother me, is that there isn't a genuinely open forum for listening to the issues that parents have.

I think, if I'm not mistaken, is that this is at least at some measure, Catherine's concerns when it comes to homework and projects. There is a disconnect with reality.

KarenA said...

Perhaps this is tied to my own approach to solving problems. The first step is to acknowledge that there may be a problem, and to determine what it might be. Give all sides a chance to be heard. Then, try to narrow down and define the issue. Then, constructive problem-solving can take place, if all sides are willing to listen.

KarenA said...

Let me clarify my previous comment. Sometimes, the first step is soliciting feedback to determine if there is a problem about which one may or may not even be aware.

PaulaV said...

Her attitude was, in effect, that it must be my child that was having the problem.

Some people don't like to admit there is a problem. You are spot-on about first being aware that there actually could be a problem. I am sure many of us have seen this so many times.

lgm said...

>>Karen Obviously, I do, too, but the previous commenter has a good point about parent work loads AND about whether your child is going to be affected by always being the child who took two hours to complete an assignment....

It works the other way too. The kid that takes 3 minutes on the assignment (that is expected to take 20 min but takes strugglers 2 hrs ) gets repercussions socially and emotionally from the classmates that are struggling. He's also set up for failure in the future because he never sees material difficult enough to force him to develop study skills.

lgm said...

>>I'm interested in the 2nd category - what would be an example of a parent trying to draw resources that benefit his own child?

Changing course content, depth, and/or pace (resource stolen is classmates' time and potential knowledge to be gained from instructor if, as usual, the course is watered down)

Eliminating courses for honors/AP so that the instructor can teach another section of Regents or remedial

Elimination of fine arts or crippling reduction in the fine arts budget so that money can be allocated to a particular sport of this parent's choice (how many have art on a cart and band on the stage while the football and baseball fields are engineered to Minor League perfection??)

Resource support for the child who is capable but unwilling and whose parent will not insist on effort or acceptable behavior
-- school has to hire more instructors and possibly another counselors/psych., meaning higher taxes (less $ resource remaining with taxpayer) or less of some other resource needed in the classroom
-- $$ resource lost to search parties as AYP failure penalties kick in and admin & staff must be replaced

Tex said...

I'm interested in the 2nd category - what would be an example of a parent trying to draw resources that benefit his own child?

More, similar examples:
Football parents who pressure the school to upgrade the weight room.
Parents who want more AP classes for their bright, competitive kids.
Neighbors who lobby to get the school bus to stop closer to their homes. The other parents think they’re asking for something special.