Interview with Mike Falick, a Texas School Board Member Who Has Made Homework One of His Priorities

Today’s interviewee, Mike Falick, a lawyer, is a current member and past-president of the Spring Branch Independent School Board of Trustees in Texas. Falick, who grew up in this 32,000-student district in Houston, moved back when he had his own children (now in 9th and 6th grades) so they could go to the same schools he went to. Falick’s wife also grew up in the District. His blog was the 2008 weblog awards winner for best education blog.

Interview with Mike Falick
by Sara Bennett

“I drive my 6th grade son and his friends to and from Boy Scouts. One of his friends said, “Homework’s killing me. I’m working 3 hours a night. When are you going to get rid of it?”

–Mike Falick, School Board Member, Spring Branch, Texas

Why did you get involved in the School Board?
I wanted to have a meaningful impact on school policy. I had been on a number of parent committees over the years, and I had been president of the PTA council, but I knew the only way I’d have systemic impact was if I became a School Board member. I ran and lost in 2002 and ran again and won in 2004. I ran unopposed and was reelected in 2007. There are 7 people on the Board.

What kind of positions do you take?
I’m a school reformer, but I’m not a grenade thrower. I try to bring everyone
together. I have focused on homework reform and on making sure that we provide the best educational opportunities to all kids. Our school population is unique. We have kids from both the richest and poorest zip codes in the state. The district as a whole is heterogeneous, but the schools are pretty homogenous. We have serious economic segregation. Some schools can raise $150,000 at an auction and some can’t raise $500 at a book fair.

Making sure that all kids get what they need is a challenge. Our Board developed a 5-year goal–to be the premier college-focused district in the state. What it means is that we don’t just focus on the academics–in fact most schools do provide good academics–but we focus on the emotional and social development of our students as well.

What is your role in trying to change your District’s homework policy?
I know, not only from my personal experience with my own children, but also from talking to other kids and my friends, that we’re beating the love of learning out of our kids.

In the summer of 2007, I read The Case Against Homework and it really resonated with me. Shortly after that, I got the District to put together a homework task force to study the issue. No Board members are on the Task Force. It’s primarily made up of faculty and staff.

The Task Force read The Case Against Homework, The Homework Myth and The Battle Over Homework. They then recommended a policy to the Board that wasn’t acceptable to me. Less than a page long, it had very little definition and, in my opinion, was weak. As with all proposals, we had a first reading at one meeting and then, at a later meeting, a second reading where people can make amendments.

I proposed 27 amendments. I took many of my ideas from a Toronto, Canada, policy I’d received from you. Toronto is one of the first jurisdictions in North America to pass a substantive homework reform policy.

The Board flipped out at all my amendments, but I wasn’t going to give up. Another Board member suggested we reconstitute the Task Force to add parents and community members, which we did. That Task Force met this past fall.

No matter how I feel about the new proposed policy, this is my community and I have to work with it. You might not get everything you want, or even any of you want. You just have to do your best.

Do you have any advice for other people who might want to run for School Board?
It’s a big time commitment, so you have to really be willing to work hard. And, you can’t just focus on a single issue. But, if you keep in mind that you’re there to serve the kids, then you will always make the right decision.

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5 Comments on “Interview with Mike Falick, a Texas School Board Member Who Has Made Homework One of His Priorities”

  1. stressed_out_student says:

    Lol. Whoever that kid was that said ‘homework is killing me’, I totally agree. Literally. Is sleep deprivation fatal?

    June 6th, 2009 at 2:46 am
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  2. HomeworkBlues says:

    It is fatal if you get into a car crash. I know a kid who did everything that was expected of him. He was a high achiever, straight A student, headed for big things. The adults in his midst had clearly sent the message that sleep is for wimps, he stayed up half the night to do all of his homework, every last drop. His GPA sparkled. He fell asleep at the wheel his junior year and caused a fatal accident.

    June 6th, 2009 at 8:54 am
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  3. stressed_out_student says:

    Oh my gosh. That’s so sad. You know, I never really thought of it that way, but I guess that proves it can be fatal. I hope that whoever it was that encouraged him to stay up late has learnt their lesson. It’s even sadder because, by the sound of things, he was a really smart kid who probably had a lot to offer.

    June 9th, 2009 at 2:16 am
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  4. HomeworkBlues says:

    I’m glad you took note of my comment, stressed out student. I’m active in a teen sleep organization and we have found that teens, even smart responsible ones, completely overestimate their ability to drive drowsy. I talk with kids at my daughter’s school and they have internalized a lot of myths about sleep.

    1. Myth: your body gets used to sleep deprivation.
    Fact: It doesn’t. Any adult here, if you are chronically sleep deprived, ask yourself, do you get used to it? Of course you don’t. You may become familiar with the deficits, you may come to know how it makes you feel, but you do not get used to it and the ill effects of sleep deprivation do not go away. In fact, the effects actually get worse over time.

    2. Myth: Teens, at most, need eight hours of sleep a night.

    Fact: Wrong. On average, they need nine and a quarter. Early adolescents often need even more. It’s not unusual for a middle schooler to need ten EACH NIGHT.

    3. Myth: You make up your sleep debt on the weekend.
    Fact: You don’t. Do the math. If you need nine and a quarter, and you are a junior in high school getting only five, you have a sleep debt of four and a quarter hours each school night. Again, do the math. By Friday night, and this assumes you are up late Sunday night too, finishing up the next day’s homework, you have accumulated a deficit of twenty one hours and fifteen minutes (shoot me if I did the math wrong).

    You now have two nights to make up twenty one and a quarter hours sleep. Can you sleep an extra eleven hours each of those nights on top of the nine and a quarter hours you need anyway? Of course you can’t, most teens can’t. Especially since most teens prefer a later bedtime to begin with on the weekends. All you have to do is examine this equation and you immediately see how fallacious this argument is. And this assumes you don’t have to get up on both weekend days. My daughter often had performances for which she was required all day with an early arrival and religious school the following morning.

    4. Myth: Kids don’t need a lot of sleep.
    It’s hard to believe this myth circulates, not only among teens but their parents as well. We are talking educated parents here! When they tell me this, I wonder if they really believe it or are just rationalizing. There’s a lot of fear among high charged high octane fast paced parents that if their children don’t out-run their peers, they won’t get into a decent college.

    Fact: There is NO evidence to suggest kids don’t need much sleep. As I’ve just demonstrated, they need MORE than adults, not less. But because they are young, they can seemingly fake it. For a while.

    My daughter left her Facebook page open one late evening so I peeked. Kids were talking about having just woken up from a nap and it was eleven at night! Kids were talking about their raging headaches. About their distress that it was midnight and they were nowhere near finished with homework. Although teens are very macho about the lack of sleep, privately, when interviewed, they admit to feelings of depression, sadness, and being overwhelmed. Outwardly they embrace this: “Friends, Grades, Sleep. Pick Two.” .

    Worse, as the newest entry demonstrates, all this homework takes them away from pursuits that will in fact make them happier, productive adults in a few years. My daughter does not take the dishes out of the dishwasher, she doesn’t do her own laundry, some days she doesn’t even clean her room. Lazy kid? No way. She WANTS to do all this. She can’t. It’s either chores or grades.

    I don’t want her in an isolation homework bubble. She just quit fall Marching Band because she says she’s too exhausted. I’m a little worried. And not because I want her overloaded. I’m not that kind of mom. But because she socialized, she was outside, she was learning skills.

    June 9th, 2009 at 9:33 am
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    April 24th, 2010 at 11:21 pm
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