News

Palo Alto high schoolers report 1.5-2 hours of homework a night

School board members ask for more granular data

An empty classroom at Henry M. Gunn High School in Palo Alto on April 3, 2020. Phoro by Magali Gauthier.

Palo Alto high schoolers report spending between an hour and a half and over two hours a night on homework, depending on their grade level, according to a survey that the school district recently conducted. In addition, the survey found that teachers were giving tests and assigning students homework due on their seven-period days, which Palo Alto Unified policy has forbidden.

When district administrators presented the survey results at Tuesday's school board meeting, board members said they were pleased to get data showing how much work students are putting in outside of school, but that they want to see a more detailed analysis to understand the current level of compliance with district policy.

The district's homework policy lays out varying expectations by grade level and whether a student is enrolled in honors or Advanced Placement courses. Ninth graders can "reasonably expect" their average homework load to stay below 90 minutes a night, while 12th graders can expect no more than two hours a day. Students in AP and honors classes shouldn't top three hours of work per night.

According to the survey, freshmen are averaging 97 minutes a night, sophomores are at 110 minutes, juniors are seeing 134 minutes and seniors came in at 119 minutes. The data presented to the board on Feb. 22 didn't break the averages down by whether students are taking honors and APs, but over 75% of the high schoolers who filled out the survey said they were taking at least one of these classes.

Board President Ken Dauber said that it looks like the district is seeing good progress on reducing homework loads to the levels that the board has laid out but that the differing expectations between grade levels and course type means more analysis is needed.

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"We need, I think, a little bit more fine grain detail to understand how many students are seeing more homework than is contemplated under the policy," Dauber said.

Board member Todd Collins similarly said that he would like to see a distribution of the amount of time students reported working, so that he could tell how many are over the district's thresholds.

Associate Superintendent of Educational Services Sharon Ofek told the board that the survey had been written, administered and initially analyzed for board review within the span of about two weeks and that more analysis was warranted. The survey was given to students during the school day and had a 61% participation rate at Paly and 52% at Gunn, Ofek said. Middle schools also distributed the survey and saw higher participation rates: 88% at Fletcher, 68% at Greene and 78% at JLS.

Middle schoolers reported lower homework loads than their high school counterparts, with an average of 45 minutes for 6th graders, 47 minutes for 7th graders and 53 minutes for 8th graders. Those totals are well within the limits laid out in the board's homework policy, which says the average homework load should not exceed 60 minutes for 6th graders, 70 minutes for 7th graders and 80 minutes for 8th graders.

Diving deeper into the policy

The survey also dove into other aspects of homework, beyond the raw number of minutes students report spending each night.

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For instance, students were asked whether they have had homework due on a "seven-period day." The district uses a block schedule, with longer classes that meet every other day. Students only attend all their periods once a week and the district policy prohibits homework from being due on that day, in an attempt to avoid overloading students. Nonetheless, 71% of high schoolers and 40% of middle schoolers reported having had homework due on a seven-period day.

Board policy also prohibits graded tests or quizzes on the seven-period day, but 30% of high schoolers and 40% of middle schoolers still reported having these types of assessments.

"I know this is one of the areas that our principals are itching to get the data on, so that they can have a conversation with staff around this," Ofek said, noting that the restrictions on seven-period days are some of the newest updates to the district's homework rules.

The board updated the administrative regulation that lays out the homework expectations in August 2021. Dauber said it was disappointing that students were reporting noncompliance with these new rules.

Zoe Morgan
 
Zoe Morgan covers education, youth and families for the Mountain View Voice and Palo Alto Weekly / PaloAltoOnline.com, with a focus on using data to tell compelling stories. A Mountain View native, she has previous experience as an education reporter in both California and Oregon. Read more >>

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Palo Alto high schoolers report 1.5-2 hours of homework a night

School board members ask for more granular data

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Feb 24, 2022, 9:46 am

Palo Alto high schoolers report spending between an hour and a half and over two hours a night on homework, depending on their grade level, according to a survey that the school district recently conducted. In addition, the survey found that teachers were giving tests and assigning students homework due on their seven-period days, which Palo Alto Unified policy has forbidden.

When district administrators presented the survey results at Tuesday's school board meeting, board members said they were pleased to get data showing how much work students are putting in outside of school, but that they want to see a more detailed analysis to understand the current level of compliance with district policy.

The district's homework policy lays out varying expectations by grade level and whether a student is enrolled in honors or Advanced Placement courses. Ninth graders can "reasonably expect" their average homework load to stay below 90 minutes a night, while 12th graders can expect no more than two hours a day. Students in AP and honors classes shouldn't top three hours of work per night.

According to the survey, freshmen are averaging 97 minutes a night, sophomores are at 110 minutes, juniors are seeing 134 minutes and seniors came in at 119 minutes. The data presented to the board on Feb. 22 didn't break the averages down by whether students are taking honors and APs, but over 75% of the high schoolers who filled out the survey said they were taking at least one of these classes.

Board President Ken Dauber said that it looks like the district is seeing good progress on reducing homework loads to the levels that the board has laid out but that the differing expectations between grade levels and course type means more analysis is needed.

"We need, I think, a little bit more fine grain detail to understand how many students are seeing more homework than is contemplated under the policy," Dauber said.

Board member Todd Collins similarly said that he would like to see a distribution of the amount of time students reported working, so that he could tell how many are over the district's thresholds.

Associate Superintendent of Educational Services Sharon Ofek told the board that the survey had been written, administered and initially analyzed for board review within the span of about two weeks and that more analysis was warranted. The survey was given to students during the school day and had a 61% participation rate at Paly and 52% at Gunn, Ofek said. Middle schools also distributed the survey and saw higher participation rates: 88% at Fletcher, 68% at Greene and 78% at JLS.

Middle schoolers reported lower homework loads than their high school counterparts, with an average of 45 minutes for 6th graders, 47 minutes for 7th graders and 53 minutes for 8th graders. Those totals are well within the limits laid out in the board's homework policy, which says the average homework load should not exceed 60 minutes for 6th graders, 70 minutes for 7th graders and 80 minutes for 8th graders.

The survey also dove into other aspects of homework, beyond the raw number of minutes students report spending each night.

For instance, students were asked whether they have had homework due on a "seven-period day." The district uses a block schedule, with longer classes that meet every other day. Students only attend all their periods once a week and the district policy prohibits homework from being due on that day, in an attempt to avoid overloading students. Nonetheless, 71% of high schoolers and 40% of middle schoolers reported having had homework due on a seven-period day.

Board policy also prohibits graded tests or quizzes on the seven-period day, but 30% of high schoolers and 40% of middle schoolers still reported having these types of assessments.

"I know this is one of the areas that our principals are itching to get the data on, so that they can have a conversation with staff around this," Ofek said, noting that the restrictions on seven-period days are some of the newest updates to the district's homework rules.

The board updated the administrative regulation that lays out the homework expectations in August 2021. Dauber said it was disappointing that students were reporting noncompliance with these new rules.

Comments

Chris
Registered user
Charleston Meadows
on Feb 24, 2022 at 9:53 am
Chris, Charleston Meadows
Registered user
on Feb 24, 2022 at 9:53 am

Kids are literally playing with their phones all the time in class. They barely pay attention and do not learn anything. If teachers were doing their jobs during the day, homework would be almost unecessary


Member
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Feb 24, 2022 at 10:18 am
Member, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Feb 24, 2022 at 10:18 am

Hopefully the school board considering the fact that many kids engage in sports/music/other extracurriculars in addition to the 2-3 hours of homework/night.


S. Underwood
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Feb 24, 2022 at 10:23 am
S. Underwood, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Feb 24, 2022 at 10:23 am

A critical part of Palo Alto's stress and homework problem is that our academic ramp goes from zero to full-on when you hit high school. It's not the entire problem, but the middle school experience is a big part of it.


cmarg
Registered user
Palo Alto High School
on Feb 24, 2022 at 12:47 pm
cmarg, Palo Alto High School
Registered user
on Feb 24, 2022 at 12:47 pm

Please let's not blame the teachers here. Those students who choose to learn do and they have goals and ambitions. It's not the teacher nor the parent when students are in high school. Students need to learn how to study and have the desire. PAUSD offers a great education. We all need to learn to work without being distracted by cell phones, social media, etc. The best we can all do is show a great example -- walk the talk.


Novelera
Registered user
Midtown
on Feb 24, 2022 at 1:39 pm
Novelera, Midtown
Registered user
on Feb 24, 2022 at 1:39 pm

Interesting comments about cell phone usage. When I was in high school, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I could polish off my homework in an hour in the evening, unless a paper was due. We also had study halls one period a day. I was an honor roll student so I actually studied in study hall rather than throw spitballs or flirt with other students.

I get distracted by my phone when I should be vacuuming the Living Room, so I can see how many temptations students now have.

OTOH I don't think so many hours a night studying are good for teenagers. I had friends and we'd chat on the phone sometimes instead of opening our books, but that involved interaction with another human being. The striving for top grades and getting into the right school by Palo Alto young people bothers me a lot.


MiMi
Registered user
Community Center
on Feb 24, 2022 at 2:10 pm
MiMi, Community Center
Registered user
on Feb 24, 2022 at 2:10 pm

Most professionals I know (myself included) spend several hours at night doing "homework". That is, our jobs are not 8 hour days. There is documentation, research, etc that goes on at night. I graduated from Cubberley High School in 1968. I had 2 to 3 hours of homework a night then. My children graduated from Paly in the early 2000s, they had similar amounts of homework. This is nothing new and we are all thriving.


Ferdinand
Registered user
Barron Park
on Feb 24, 2022 at 5:07 pm
Ferdinand , Barron Park
Registered user
on Feb 24, 2022 at 5:07 pm

Here are some additional details and considerations:

1.I don't think the article includes/clarifies that A lane classes (accelerated) also fall outside the 7-10 hrs of weekly homework limit. Many many students take A lanes. "Students enrolled in Advanced Placement, Honors, or accelerated courses should expect higher homework loads, but not to exceed 3 hours per night or 15 hours per week. [Students should refer to class catalogs for homework expectations.]" Don't forget, 9th and 10th don't take AP (with some few exceptions for WL and CS), so they will have lower amounts in the data results.
2. Often times reading is part of the homework.
3. Phones at school: Ugh. We would need to increase availability of a public phone for students, but I think we should have a no-phone policy on campus. [After school athletics could have one phone for calling parents for pick up]. In the classroom I see many students unable to resist it. Don't blame teachers for a lack of self-discipline or lack of responsibility at home. Of course needs are different, but many students could leave them at home (we don't let our student take a phone]. Our student is no Einstein, taking a spectrum of classes--regular to difficult--and he rarely has much homework.
4. With the block schedule teachers have such a limited time to give assessments. Can't give on Mondays, so if given on another day then students have to start a new lesson AFTER an assessment. Sort of weird/no fun. The block periods are too long for many. Back to the drawing board on the schedule (4 days)?
5. We continue to fight the battle for our HS teens getting outside and with real people. But given the abundance of "extra" (dare I say wasted?) time on cell phones and games, I would rather our students do meaningful homework (assuming it is)! Working hard seems to have fallen out of favor, or perhaps it is the excessive anxiety than many students bring to the table?


felix
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 25, 2022 at 7:17 am
felix, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Feb 25, 2022 at 7:17 am

It’s too much time, too much labor.
None of our children would choose this.

I had light homework for awhile, then heavy loads of homework in high school. When AP and homework filled my every evening, my life was constricted by the bleakness of discipline that was needed to do the work. I had many friends and was “well adjusted” but it took years to recover so that I could simply read a book for pleasure again.

I became a successful professional which had nothing to do with the twisted idea that teens should routinely work longer weeks than most adults.

Substantial cuts to homework time is still needed. All else is moving around the furniture.


Jon Keeling
Registered user
Community Center
on Feb 25, 2022 at 1:29 pm
Jon Keeling, Community Center
Registered user
on Feb 25, 2022 at 1:29 pm

Was anyone else reading this in the "Save the 2008" group? I was. That group's founder, Marc Vincenti, finally gave up in despair after fighting for our students for many years. He asked me if I'd carry the torch in place of him a few years ago but I don't have enough time to fight losing battles. I've expressed some of my opinions here and elsewhere over the years. If you want to form a new group to discuss the homework load, the general lack of creative thinking, the unhelpful pressure and mental health strains, etc, please feel free to reach out to me to get my input/help. I have been an educator since 1984 and am hopeful for our future. We can do better. Much better. And we owe it to our kids to help make things better.


Chris
Registered user
Barron Park
on Feb 27, 2022 at 2:54 pm
Chris, Barron Park
Registered user
on Feb 27, 2022 at 2:54 pm

[Portion removed.]

We pay these teachers good money. Real good money, contrary to popular "wisdom." I have seen them in action and they install NO DISCIPLINE WHATSOEVER amongst the students. [Portion removed.]

Cmarg, your [portion removed] overuse of individualism here is shallow and so incorrect. I guess we should throw kids in the pool and see who can swim we'll call that "teaching"
MiMi, you're working 10 hours a day, probably six days a week, and you think you're "thriving"
That says it all right there. You've been conditioned to accept being a worker bee. More than eight hours a day is inhumane.


Consider Your Options.
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 1, 2022 at 12:21 pm
Consider Your Options. , Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Mar 1, 2022 at 12:21 pm

When our kids were in PAUSD (not so long ago), one of them (the super social one) was spending very long hours on homework. Rather than blaming the district, we tried an experiment to help her problem solve. We purchased an app that helped her track her online time and where she was spending it. She received daily chart that graphed where her online time was being spent.

The results surprised her (and us). She decided to shut off her phone and background distractions on her laptop while she was doing homework. This greatly increased her productively and reduced her "work" time to manageable levels.

Our whole family learned from her experiment.


Another
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 2, 2022 at 7:21 am
Another, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Mar 2, 2022 at 7:21 am

There is huge variation that is not captured by the 1-2 hour "average" number. There are kids taking all honors/AP classes who want to get 4.5 GPAs so they can get into the most elite colleges, and they'll do far more than 1-2 hours a night. There are also kids who aren't playing that game and are only taking non-honors classes, who will spend far less time doing homework.

This all comes down to the ridiculous selectivity of the elite colleges now--exacerbated by the reality that the demographics of most Palo Alto kids further disadvantages them in the admissions process--so they needed even better grades to have a chance of getting in.

It's a choice for each student. Do you want to play this game and try to get into a highly-ranked college? Or do you actually believe what so many parents say, that where you go to college doesn't really matter and that you should just do what is best for your own personal happiness? I know kids who have chosen the latter, and they are not stressed out about school.

I think the thing that is often left unsaid is that many Palo Alto parents want it all. They want their kids to be less stressed out and do less work, BUT they also think their kids deserve to be at the elite colleges. As much as they say that it doesn't matter, their implicit belief is that it *does* matter--and their kids also think it matters. So the kids do play the game and they do put in many hours of work in pursuit of that goal.

The situation is what it is. If students are content with non-honors classes and Bs and Cs, then a much less stressful high school experience is theirs for the taking. The reality is, many parents or kids in Palo Alto do not want this.


III
Registered user
Midtown
on Mar 2, 2022 at 7:46 am
III, Midtown
Registered user
on Mar 2, 2022 at 7:46 am

I recall in 1970s at least one hour homework/study.
I also did this after wrestling or gymnastic practice
Oct till April 5 days per week and often a wrestling
tournament on weekends. Might explain my C+ average LOL.
I agree and has been spoken of past 15yrs, that today the
work load is extremely over bearing but:
*** We had to ride our bikes to the library to get info.
*** We did not have the internet for instant info!!!
*** Today, kids spend an enormous amount of wasteful
time on their phones with friends or computer games (IMO).
Does not mean we are better. I do believe todays student is
much more rounded than we were as to local and world events.
I am a bit concerned about "hard work" ethic as to having to do
things themselves that are not easy. But my parents generation
from WWII said the same thing about us 1970s kids, hippie era LOL
III


S. Underwood
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Mar 2, 2022 at 7:47 am
S. Underwood, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Mar 2, 2022 at 7:47 am

@Another, I partially agree with you. Serious academic content is not a "game" though, and when I talk to Palo Alto families they care an awful lot about learning for reasons beyond elite college credentials. A lot of them are openly hostile about the value and positioning of our "elite" colleges but care a lot about the knowledge that, among countless other things, saved us from Coronavirus and enable the machines and systems we are typing on. Maybe you have an unlucky friend group, but what you describe isn't a good synopsis of the PAUSD families and children that I see.

Again, preparation in our middle schools a big anchor of the problem. If your AP class takes you 90 minutes a night, every night, then quite frankly you are missing some prereqs and trying to hustle to backfill a preparation gap. Maybe that's good in one case, maybe bad in another, but certainly you are right you can't sustainably do this in two classes a semester for 4 years. What is happening, that I see, is that parents aren't realizing until 9th or 10th that PAUSD doesn't have their student on an academic path that reasonably fulfills their potentials and academic talents. Then all hell breaks loose. Parents finally see real grades which have been suppressed and hiding growth areas ("Timmy's doing great!"). Stress, homework, all the nonsense.

One simple example. One of our local private schools knocks it out of the park with their middle school science curriculum. No stress, no tears, no hours of homework, but yes rigorous coursework (**with existant, relevant, and minimal homework**) suitable for 12 and 13 year olds. Their high school APs after that? Still work, yes, but just powerful and promising young minds doing powerful, real things without a crisis.


Another
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 2, 2022 at 8:51 am
Another, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Mar 2, 2022 at 8:51 am

S. Underwood, thanks for your thoughtful reply. I agree that PAUSD ought to make middle school a little more rigorous so that high school isn’t such a shock. I’d actually go a step further and say they should increase the academic rigor of elementary school. Yes, elementary school in PAUSD is currently a nurturing, fun environment for kids and everyone has a great time. But our district is filled with many very capable children, and it would be great if they could be challenged a little more academically.

I really sympathize with those running PAUSD, because they have to juggle many priorities, and there is no solution that will satisfy all. A great example is PAUSD’s new middle school math curriculum. Previously, there were regular and advanced tracks, where only the advanced track would take algebra in 8th grade. But because the district is confronted with complaints about inequality, they have now eliminated the advanced track while increasing the rigor of the regular track so now all students will take algebra in 8th grade.

Of course, the reality is now that all students are together, the overall math curriculum has to be made easier. I understand the district’s thinking that this will benefit kids who would formerly be in the “regular” lane. But let’s face it, I don’t care what “studies” have been done to try to justify this stuff, the kids who have good math skills and can handle a more rigorous math curriculum don’t benefit from getting math classes that are considerably easier than what they would have gotten had the “advanced” track not been eliminated.

Although I wouldn’t call my friend group “unlucky”, I accept your point that there are some Palo Alto parents don’t care at all about college prestige and just value knowledge and learning. I do think that many themselves went to elite colleges and grad schools and are in careers in fields filled with colleagues who also did. I’d guess that many care about these things a little bit.


Scott Joachim
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Mar 3, 2022 at 2:19 pm
Scott Joachim, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Mar 3, 2022 at 2:19 pm

Disappointing to read so much negativity toward, and lack of empathy for, our teachers. They’ve earned and deserve our support - particularly given what they’ve had to endure over these last couple of years. Those comments also set a really bad example for our kids - ironic since the topic is how best to educate and prepare our kids for their future. Palo Alto prides itself on achievement - let’s “achieve” support for our teachers.


William Hitchens
Registered user
Mountain View
on Mar 6, 2022 at 6:39 pm
William Hitchens, Mountain View
Registered user
on Mar 6, 2022 at 6:39 pm

1 1/2 and 2 hours is nothing for HS homework for kids whose PARENTS expect them to excel at the very best universities. HS was incredibly easy. I did most homework during breaks or in useless mandatory classes during HS class hours. Still, grinding away with after-class public school work is necessary because it is essential to toughen up most kids for intense competition in the very best universities.

And I say that from personal experience at two top 10 universities. I spent about 6 hours of after class study in undergrad school, and 8+ hours per day in grad school. It was brutal.

So, prepare your kids for that grind if you really want them to be highly successful in college.





Virginia Smedberg
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Mar 8, 2022 at 2:51 am
Virginia Smedberg, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Mar 8, 2022 at 2:51 am

Just a thought about adult professional life - I'm a musician - orchestral violinist, mostly opera pits, as well as private studio teaching, and now conducting a youth orchestra. AND the admin and logistics of running a chamber music school. I think that's 4 or 5 different jobs (most of us freelance in this biz) Of course I'm doing my Avocation - what I love, what I live for - music. But I make my own schedule, and I fill it with all the music stuff - preparing music for students, studying music for my performance work, the nuts and bolts of bookkeeping and communications. I work more than "8-hour" days, incl weekends. So it would be good to discuss w/ your high schooler - or even middle schooler - what fields really interest them, and then find out what those fields are like when you reach that level. If you're doing what you love, you spend all the time needed to make it work.
There is the fact that SOME homework is just busywork - a page of math problems isn't necessary once you master the concept - some need 2 pages, some need 3 problems to get it. And I hope that if your student is taking what seems too long, you encourage them to talk to the teacher because obviously there's something they didn't quite "get" in the material.
Just some brainstorming from a very happily very busy professional. (+:


staying home
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Apr 26, 2022 at 11:51 am
staying home, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Apr 26, 2022 at 11:51 am

What data or study shows that phones in the class room are a problem with learning? I agree that they can be distracting, but my experience is teachers have rules in place and good control over phone use.

Homework is one of many tools teachers use to reinforce learnings from the class room. If the concern is there is too many hours of homework, the issue is likely with the +60% of students taking multiple AP courses.


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