New 'homework policy' likely for next year

New policy, with rules on amounts of time kids should be spending, set for board vote

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.

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Posted by local gurl
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 24, 2012 at 9:52 am

These guidelines are what I held my son to during this Palo Alto school days. There were times when he didn't get everything done that was assigned to him. I insisted that he have a good evening meal with our family and plenty of sleep. If that mean not all of his homework (most of which was busywork and not essential to his learning the subject matter) got done, that's just the way it was. His teachers didn't like it, but too bad.

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Posted by Jim H.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 24, 2012 at 11:07 am

This is just a policy to ease the guilt of the district. It takes my son a lot longer than her peers to do his homework and he needs to study a lot longer than most in order to retain the material. They've been preaching this for a long time. At Jordan this year, there were multiple times when he had 2 tests in the same day and/or 4 tests in the same week and that did not include "finals week".

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Posted by Midtown Resident
a resident of Midtown
on May 24, 2012 at 12:59 pm

I support the idea of this policy but I do not know how it will be enforced. Homework is not to be given over holiday periods right now, for example, but my Paly student was given a very important exam the Monday after the holiday period so even though homework was not technically assigned, students would have not done well if they had not used up their holidays studying.

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Posted by paly parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 24, 2012 at 2:28 pm

I would particularly welcome the end to busywork - no more coloring, cooking or posters in high school! Yeah!

Midtown resident - teachers are not supposed to give tests or have projects due the week after Winter Break.

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Posted by Tiger Mom
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 24, 2012 at 3:02 pm

No! Not enough homework! My child must be challenged to the point of breaking to prove he's better than the other children. No less homework, more homework!

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Posted by Kenneth Goldberg, PhD
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2012 at 6:05 pm

I applaud the school district on instituting this policy. I'm an outsider to your community, but I can tell you where the major pitfalls will come. First, you will need to decide what to do for the student who is able to learn but cannot complete most of the work in the defined time frame because of poor handwriting or problems with auditory processing. You will also need to figure out how multiple teachers are going to share the time in the upper grades and how to prioritize for the slow working student. I have some ideas on my website,, and wish you good luck with your efforts.

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Posted by A Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 24, 2012 at 7:23 pm

I think it's great that all of you adults have your opinions, but being a student I think i can have a valid point as well. There is much too much homework, students already work very hard all day, school here is very challenging, competitive, and stressful. Most students aren't concerned with learning, but are concerned with grades, what college they get into, and other academic achievements. Parents push their children much too hard, I do not see happy children around me, so who cares what college they go to if they are going to be unhappy.

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Posted by Current High School Senior
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 24, 2012 at 10:49 pm

I applaud the attempts that the community makes to change high school policies, but I don't think this could ever be successfully implemented at a high school level. However, I completely agree with the sentiment here. I have 5 projects due next Thursday and Friday combined and have had up to 4 tests in one day with up to 7 tests in a week and it can be very stressful. I think many of the teachers try to make students pay attention by assigning busy work, but my peers and I have sadly learned the important technique of BSing most assignments and forgetting all non-graded info immediately.

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Posted by Paly Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 24, 2012 at 10:57 pm

I don't think this will truly do anything. Teachers will still assign as much homework as they would like, there really is no way of enforcing it. Teachers can claim that a certain homework assignment will only take 30 minutes, but every student works at a different pace, some may complete it in 10 minutes and it might take other over an our to complete it. There really is no way the stress and competitiveness of Paly will be lowered by a weak rule. What really needs to happen is to eliminate all final exams. They are absolutely pointless. They do not help you understand the material better and do not test you on what you have learned throughout the year. Rather, they test you on how well you can memorize information the week before the test. Furthermore, it is absurd for your grade to be determined so greatly by one test. It is absolutely unfair for someone who has been working tremendously hard all year and is receiving a good grade, to be marked down substantially (maybe an A to a B) just because of one test.

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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 25, 2012 at 2:05 am

This is just lip service. The homework guidelines are completely unrealistic: "Under the suggested rules, high school students should devote about seven to 10 hours per week to homework, long-term projects and test review. . . Middle school students should spend 60 to 80 minutes per night."

They are suggesting TWO hours per day for homework. That's about 17 minutes per class - way off base.

And my middle school student has on average, 3 hours per homework each night.

Sure, they have No Homework Nights once per month a Jordan, but some teachers still assign tests the day after a No Homework Night. Or they assign homework the day prior and it's not due until the day after No Homework Night. They just are not allowed to assign new homework. Out of the entire year, my child has only had one No Homework Night where he could actually relax and have no studying or homework/test the next day.

Their disclaimer: "Students in AP classes should expect higher workloads." Honors classes and upper lane math included.

As for the chronic poster who complains on these threads about cooking, coloring, and other busy work in high school, I have a child who is a senior and he has never encountered such. Your child must have had odd teachers.

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Posted by paly parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 25, 2012 at 9:50 am

Paly Parent -

The guideline are not unrealistic, they are healthy. At 10 to 13 years old, middle school students shouldn't be doing 3 hours of homework a night. Even in high school, the students at Paly have just 3 classes 2 days of the week and 4 classes 2 days of the week. That gives each teacher the opportunity to assign about 30-40 minutes of homework each night. A lot of homework is given so the student can rack up extra points toward their grades and has very little to do with learning.

BTW - the cooking, coloring and posters have been primarily in language classes (especially French) with the occasional weird project assigned for science and history.

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Posted by Marie
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 25, 2012 at 5:28 pm

Who will decide what is "relevant" and "meaningful?" Not non-educators - I hope! This determination must only be made by teachers. Not students! Not parents (having no practical/professional experience in the classroom)!

In 2012-13, there should not be any assignments due after winter break because the fall semester ends at the start winter break.

The recent Gunn course catalog does contain suggested length of homework time for each course. Many honors and upper lane math/science courses have high workload numbers.

Most Gunn teachers do not give extra credit/busy work assignments and deduct points for late work. Kids need to learn time management skills and that actions have consequences. IRS does not give you a "do over" for late tax returns.

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Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 25, 2012 at 5:37 pm

@paly parent: I agree with you and would welcome the homework guidelines they are setting! I just don't think it will happen because the teachers will have to scale back too much and I don't think they will. I think it's completely ridiculous that they are working our children so hard.

Sometimes my children have had Paly teachers they have learned a lot from, yet the class is not overly difficult (not easy, but not torture). These are ideal teachers. Somehow, many teachers equate exceedingly excessive workloads with teaching and preparing students for college. . . these are teenagers, not mature adults yet. It is wrong to give middle school students high school workloads and high school students, college workloads. . . then "college is easy". And a childhood is lost. No more childhood fun after elementary school. We are forcing them to grow up too fast and not learn to relax and enjoy life. Don't misunderstand; I am very competitive and am not asking for all the free time we had back in the 70s. But we have gone to the other extreme.

People complain we need to be competitive with Asia. But Asia wants to be like America. They sent students here so they can go back and be stars in Asia. There should be an in-between.

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Posted by What a Joke
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 26, 2012 at 4:51 pm

7 to 10 hours for high school students?

Even if you try to instate this no teachers will do it. Teachers love busywork.

I easily spend 3 times as much as that on homework each week ever since freshman year.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm

If you are worried about meaningless homework and overstressed kids you are far better moving out of the Palo Alto school district and sending your kids to less challenging schools. Most will do well and emerge at the top of their class and get into great colleges (not necessarily public)that are a good match for them personally. This can't be said enough. Mortgaging your soul and your childrens' to send them to schools here where they will emerge in the middle of the pack will not serve anyone well. The dirty little secret of living in Palo Alto....

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Posted by paly parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 27, 2012 at 3:36 pm

I echo the above sentiment - we have great schools, but too many kids end of feeling like failures. My son that struggled with math in PAUSD tested into the highest lane in college. While I appreciate the fact that he learned enough here to test well, he was miserable in math for 4 years...

Back on the homework topic - why do teachers assign busywork? Or projects which emphasize design skills or video production skills instead of actual learning in the subject?

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Posted by Take Responsibility
a resident of Stanford
on May 27, 2012 at 8:35 pm

Maybe if kids weren't taking 4 AP classes, they wouldn't have so much homework. How about parents, counselors, and teachers moderating student course loads? AP classes are college-level. Is it any surprise these kids are overworked?

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Posted by Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 28, 2012 at 7:39 am

I think 80 minutes of homework is too much for a middle schooler. They should be involved in outside sports, hobbies and family time inside of more desk time after a long day at school.

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Posted by paly parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 28, 2012 at 10:39 am

A few years ago, a friend with a middle school child figured out a kids schedule with 3 hours of homework - school until 3:05, ride bike home, have a snack, etc. and its 4:30. Soccer/baseball/volleyball/music etc., 6:00 to 6:30. Dinner, talk to family, etc. 7 pm. 3 hours of homework and its 10 pm. Time for relaxing, showering, reading, etc. 0 hours. That doesn't include time for scouts, religious ed, etc. And kids that age should get 10-11 hours of sleep, so they should be in bed by 9 or 10, so getting enough sleep is out of the question.

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Posted by Mattie
a resident of Downtown North
on May 28, 2012 at 6:51 pm

Growing up in a small midwestern town with my older bro, we fell in love with learning precisely because we had gobs of free time to do whatever we wanted to explore the world. We caught bugs, played with electronics, made up stories, put on plays, got a 2400 modem and started a bulletin board. Our parents modeled exploration, and we ate it up. We learned a lot in school too of course, despite (because of?) the fact it was easy and stress free.

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Posted by Ada
a resident of Midtown
on May 28, 2012 at 7:36 pm

That was good old time when kids had free time and learnt at their own pace. I am all for those leisurely times for children. However, the world became so competitive that unless you are willing to go to community college after school, you have to "align" with its pace and demands.
I welcome the homework initiative, but we need to go to the culprit of it - the colleges and universities that require higher and higher GPAs, unique life experiences and backrounds, school activies, sports, APs and what not. These days to get in Stanford or Harvard you have to be straight A student with plenty of AP classes, play sports at 1 st division level, president of a school club, a winner of spelling bee and a start up founder. This must change.

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Posted by agree with "Mom"
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 28, 2012 at 11:19 pm

The goal of school should be to make children WANT to learn and to be lifelong learners. It should give them the toolkits to learn: language, math, etc., but it's nothing if they lose the spark to build.

Does 3 hours of homework every day help them do that?

College comes with lots of homework, but typically kids spend far less time in class than in high school.

The goal should rather be to teach them how to focus in a way that they can accomplish what the homework is supposed to achieve during the school day, skills that will serve them well in their future lives.

High school years are precious days when kids have enough knowledge, freedom, and time on their hands to pursue interests in a way they may never have for the rest of their lives. It's possible to let them have that freedom without sacrificing academic standards.

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Posted by Or we change
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 28, 2012 at 11:37 pm

@Ada - you wrote:

"These days to get in Stanford or Harvard you have to be straight A student with plenty of AP classes, play sports at 1 st division level, president of a school club, a winner of spelling bee and a start up founder. This must change."

You (or anyone else) are unlikely to change Harvard or Stanford anytime soon. But luckily you don't need to for your children to succeed. A by-product of the selectivity of the "top" schools is that even more great kids go to more different schools than ever before. Check out Schools that Change Lives and other info about great schools that live at the US News top 20.

Some kids/families want to do what it takes to go to a Top 20 school. That's fine, and good luck to them. But others do not. And as a wise person put it, it matters less where you go than what you do once you get there.

Like this comment
Posted by paly parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 29, 2012 at 1:28 pm

A recent study which shows that too much homework actually lowers test scores and that homework - especially the typically assigned remedial busywork - shows little or no benefit before high school. Web Link

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