Homework policy to be discussed tonight

Major school construction projects, 'path to college' also to be brought to school board

A parent-teacher committee charged with recommending a "homework policy" for Palo Alto schools met Monday (Dec. 12) to brainstorm ideas on the purpose of homework, and what constitutes "effective" and "ineffective" homework.

The 26-member committee, including one student representative from each high school, is scheduled to meet monthly and to submit its homework-policy recommendations to the Board of Education by the end of the school year.

The committee will present an update on its preliminary activities at the Board of Education meeting tonight (Tuesday, Dec. 13).

Committee members introduced themselves around a table Monday, then broke into small groups to discuss ideas.

Members include parents from Gunn and Palo Alto high schools, all three middle schools and an array of elementary schools, including Barron Park and Escondido. Teachers or administrators on the committee include Gunn Assistant Principal Trinity Klein, Terman Middle School math teacher Becky Rea, Addison Elementary School Principal Jocelyn Garcia-Thorne, Walter Hays fourth grade teacher Kevin Rouse, Palo Verde fourth grade teacher Paula Watson, Palo Verde third grade teacher Lisa Swagerty, Gunn physics teacher Lettie Weinmann and Paly social studies teacher Eric Bloom.

Associate Superintendent Charles Young said the committee is charged with examining the "purpose and volume" of Palo Alto's K-12 homework as well as the schools' systems of distributing test and project deadlines.

Surveys of students, parents and teachers will be part of the process, he said.

The effort is part of the school district's 2011-12 "focus goal" of working to create more supportive school environments, Young said.

"It's a little bit like talking about politics or religion -- people have a lot of opinions because it affects everybody's lives," he said.

With the goal of "transparency," all homework committee meetings will be open to the public, with information posted on the district's website. Members of the public are invited to submit their ideas and suggestions about homework policy to the e-mail address

Young said he received nearly 60 applications for committee membership and tried to include a broad range of views.

Parent members were solicited through the PTA Council as well as an e-mail delivered through Infinite Campus, he said. Teachers were selected based on "interest, expertise and principal approval."

Young distributed the book, "Rethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs" by Cathy Vatterott, to be used as one of many guides for committee discussions.

In other business tonight, the Board of Education will be asked to approve major construction bid awards for work on the Paly stadium, a new two-story classroom at Fairmeadow Elementary School and major work at Terman and Jordan middle schools.

The board also will discuss a proposed schematic design for a new performing arts center at Paly.

Also tonight, a group of parents organized under the name We Can Do Better Palo Alto will propose a resolution asking the district to offer a basic "path to college" that does not exceed the minimum requirements of the California State University and University of California entrance requirements, known as the "A-G requirements."

"The standard lane in our high schools does not currently provide a full set of classes that meet but don't exceed the A-G standard, leaving many of our kids without a path to college," the group said.

The group is asking the superintendent to "conduct an audit of the curriculum and course content in the high schools and to produce a plan to provide an A-G path to college that is accessible to all students by fall 2012."

The public session of tonight's meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in the board room of school district headquarters, 25 Churchill Ave. It will be cablecast live on Comcast Channel 28 and webcast live on

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 13, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Big poster project due this week. All the stores in Palo Alto had sold out of poster board!

Homework that needs specific supplies, group projects that need to schedule to get kids together outside school hours and the Rube Goldberg physics project, should be banned. Too much stress on the whole family and very little educational benefit.

Teenagers are not college kids. If learning to work together as a team is important for a particular class, then give them time in class. Don't expect kids in different after school activities with different schedules who need parents to drive them somewhere, to be able to arrange to do this. It is just not possible (unless you think that 9.00 pm on a Sunday evening for 2 hours is a good way to start the school week.)

Like this comment
Posted by Connection
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 13, 2011 at 4:44 pm

"Also tonight, a group of parents organized under the name We Can Do Better Palo Alto will propose a resolution asking the district to offer a basic "path to college" that does not exceed the minimum requirements of the California State University and University of California entrance requirements, known as the "A-G requirements."

The connection between this issue, and Homework should not be lost.

Like this comment
Posted by Green Acres Mom
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 13, 2011 at 5:11 pm

I would also recommend in high school that homework and assignments should have a much lower percentage contribution to the final grade. I, as a parent, have been quite frustrated with the treadmill pile of homework assigned in AP classes that may or may not aid knowledge. I think the student should have the option of letting homework marks contribute to the final grade or not. I know of at least one class where this is an option. There are cases where a student failed a course but received a 4 on the AP exam and passed all the tests. Maybe our teachers are taking to much pride in the rigour of their course instead of pride in conveying knowledge.

Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 13, 2011 at 6:05 pm

Well, I agree with the comments about group projects! As for homework counting towards the grade, I do think that it is important to be counted. Some students need homework to help their grade if they aren't great at taking tests and need the extra time that homework allows. If it doesn't count, who in their right mind would ever do it?

Like this comment
Posted by Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 13, 2011 at 7:07 pm

I agree with the complaint about the poster many nights did we have to run out to Target to buy poster board? I always wondered what kids did who did not have a parent available for this type of errand.
I'm also against diorama book reports and craft projects for science class that cost fifty bucks for supplies at Michaels.

Like this comment
Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 13, 2011 at 7:29 pm

We are on our way over to the Board meeting to argue for a normal lane in math and science, and to reject the sentiments in the letter from the Paly math department that certain children cannot learn Algebra 2. Please see the letter here:

Web Link

Come out to the board meeting and support a path to college for all, even those who may not be super strong students in math.

Michele Dauber

Like this comment
Posted by Fly on the wall
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 13, 2011 at 8:55 pm

An interesting NY Times article that is pertinent to the discussion of the letter mentioned by Michele Dauber above:

Class Matters. Why Won’t We Admit It?

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Palo Alto Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 13, 2011 at 9:13 pm

There is one school in Palo Algo that has a "No Homework" policy.

Like this comment
Posted by sally
a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 14, 2011 at 8:09 pm

/agree with NO projects please... It's crazy around here .. In Elementary school we see amazing projects done by the best marketing directors, graphic designers and project engineers of silicon Valley. Oh, opps, where their kids supposed to do the projects? In high school, the logistic burden of finding several hours of unscheduled time among a random set of students is tremendous. These kids have a lot of obligations, jobs, sports, volunteer activities. They are simply not free for hours and hours to do arts and crafts boars, dioramas and clay representations of Western Expansion. They don't all know each other and can't necessarily meet at a common house. Also, let's not forget the expense and hassle of buying the art supplies. And truly, what do these projects measure? do they really provide the teacher with any real feedback for assessment?

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Posted by Yawn
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 14, 2011 at 9:36 pm

There is often too much homework in math and history. The committee and BoE will go around in circles for at least half a decade because they will need to hear the public opinions before we see anything productive.

My disappointment with projects is the students with transportation issues and lack of interest who reside outside of Palo Alto who leech off the Palo Alto students who do all the work. Projects in middle school and elementary school are one thing, but high school grades count toward college so students should be accountable for only themselves and not have to share any work.

Like this comment
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 16, 2011 at 12:24 pm

Last night at 11.30 pm my 16 year old Paly junior was cutting, gluing and coloring a pop up book for history homework!!

Is this useful homework for teenagers?

Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 5, 2012 at 1:41 pm

To Green Acres Mom, If your child is registered for AP classes, you should expect, and accept the extra homework. AP means Advanced Placement and refers to college level course work. AP does not mean extra credit on your child's college apps just for signing up for the class. I'm very tired of people who sign their kids up for AP courses demanding that they be easier or that sports coaches make practices easier for their overloaded kids.

Like this comment
Posted by palo alto mom
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 5, 2012 at 3:48 pm

Observer - Making a pop-up book for any class in high school is silly and a waste of time. I doubt it was for APUSH, probably just the regular US History class. Cooking for French class, coloring for History, collages for Spanish, model building for Physics, our kids spend a lot of time doing project that have little or nothing to do with the class they are taking (thank you Mr. Winston for getting rid of the "whose parents have the best tools" physics projects).

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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