A new homework policy for Palo Alto students -- with rules outlining specific amounts of time kids should be spending on homework -- is likely to be adopted by the Board of Education next month.
A draft of the policy, and accompanying regulations, was the subject of lengthy discussion at Tuesday's Board of Education meeting.
Under the suggested rules, high school students should devote about seven to 10 hours per week to homework, long-term projects and test review. Students in AP classes should expect higher workloads.
Middle school students should spend 60 to 80 minutes per night, and elementary students should spend up to 10 minutes in first grade and up to 50 minutes in fifth grade, the proposed regulations say.
Weekend homework for high-school students should not exceed a regular day's worth, and both winter and spring breaks should be homework-free, they say.
The policy is the product of a 28-member parent-teacher advisory committee that also included school administrators and two high school students. The committee held 39 focus group sessions with parents and staff at every school site, and with students at all middle and high schools.
The focus groups yielded consensus on what constitutes "effective homework practices" and, conversely, characteristics of "ineffective" homework practices.
For example, a high priority among those polled was for homework to be "relevant" and meaningful," at the right degree of difficulty.
Board members said the proposed policy, crafted by committee members with a wide range of views, exceeded their expectations.
The proposal will come back to the board June 12 for a final vote.
School officials said several possible "pinch points" remain to be ironed out with principals, including a no-homework policy over spring break, group projects that require students to meet outside of class and the suggested time frames for homework.
"I had an opportunity to float it out at the school sites and I don't feel like we got a lot of pushback on it, but I would have liked a little more time to talk about it," Associate Superintendent Charles Young said of the time frames.
Young said the policy and regulations, once approved, "will guide the work at school sites," but added that "this could look different at each school site."
The recommended time frames should be seen as "guidelines or averages," he said.
"We can let the (school) sites work on it, give them an opportunity to see what they look and feel like -- put it out there and test it."
It will be up to principals to implement the policy.
Board members quizzed Young on how success of the new policy will be measured and student feedback gathered.
"How are we going to take this policy and turn it into a practice that's going to make a difference -- not just be a one-time deal but be systemic?" board member Barbara Klausner asked.
Several members asked for a clear policy for partial credit on late homework, noting that an automatic "zero" on late work provides no incentives for students to make it up. A "no-credit" policy tends to hurt the very students who need the most help, they noted.
Board members also focused on problems surrounding group projects that must be done outside school hours and the ability of a student to get a homework assignment outside of school, in case he or she missed it in class.
"Let us work on this and we'll come back with suggestions," Superintendent Kevin Skelly said.
The proposed new policy and regulations replace a shorter existing policy and list of rules, which leave homework policy decisions up to the principal and staff of each school.