Draft Homework Policy from Davis, California

In Davis, California, a committee that had been working on a draft policy submitted its report to the Board of Education for review last week. Take a look at the report. It has many family friendly recommendations and, where the people in the committee disagreed with each other, they wrote their own dissents. Here are just a few of the provisions I especially like:

    * Weekend and holiday homework shall not be assigned. New assignments given on the last school day of a school week may not be due on the first day of the next school week. The intent of this clause shall not be circumvented by assigning homework for a later due date when additional assignments are planned prior to the due date, and the accumulation of assignments exceeds the maximum amount of homework allowed by the policy, or requires some completion on the weekend. For example, homework should not be assigned on Friday which is due the following Tuesday when a teacher plans to assign additional new homework on Monday and when one homework day (in this case Monday) would not be sufficient to complete the homework assigned the previous Friday.

    * Teachers are encouraged to develop an agreement with students about when it is appropriate for the student to cease working on the day’s homework (for example, it is taking too much time or the student is unable to complete the assignment independently).

    * Consequences for lack of homework completion shall not include exclusion from recess.

    * The family shall:
    5. intervene and stop a child who has spent an excessive amount of time on the day’s homework;
    6. not allow students to sacrifice sleep to complete homework;
    7. communicate with the teacher(s) if the student is not consistently able to do the homework by him/herself or if challenges or questions arise. Families of older students should encourage the child to communicate with the teacher in order to foster independence and personal responsibility

Before the end of the school year, one of the parents on the committee will write here about how she got involved in organizing for a better policy and her experiences in doing so.

UPDATE
by Heidy Kellison
co-chair of Homework Committee
June 24, 2010

After nearly three years, a 144-page report, and four school board meetings later, the Davis Joint Unified School District has a new homework policy. The final draft received a 5-0 vote on the first official day of summer. The symbolism is fantastic! A great day for kids made even better for their health and all forms of their development.

Davis is a university town of 65,000 people, just 15 miles from California’s State Capitol. The University of California at Davis is one of the nation’s top research universities, so the demographics aren’t surprising: According to the California Department of Education, 93% of parents with school-aged children have attended college, with a full 60% having attended graduate school. Despite chronic state budget deficits, Davis voters continually pass parcel taxes and raise private funds to maintain healthy schools. Volunteerism is high, and serving on the Board of Education probably deserves hazard pay. It’s safe to say, Davis places a high value on education.

On the surface, Davis seems an unlikely place to call for a reduction in homework. After all, if we value education so much, what’s wrong with doing whatever it takes to get the grade? (A lot, as it turns out.)

I was lucky to co-chair a 12-person committee comprised of teachers, administrators, and parents (I’m a parent). We met for 14 months and developed recommendations where research and consensus intersect.

Is the policy everything I’d hoped for? No. Did anyone get everything they wanted? Absolutely not. But do I believe our process was sound and worthy of being duplicated in other school districts? You bet.

I’ve learned a lot, including the need to approach all stakeholders with an open heart and mind. I’ve acquired more patience, much knowledge, and a great deal of respect for people who invest their lives serving children–parents and professional educators alike.

I know there are bad parents, teachers and administrators, just as there are bad insurance agents, doctors, chefs…you name it. It makes no sense whatsoever to paint any profession with a broad brush, any more than it makes sense to perpetuate racial bias. When we stop pitting ourselves against each other, come to the table and release all our preconceived notions, we will finally serve kids well.

Many blessings to all who advocate for children.

48 Comments on “Draft Homework Policy from Davis, California”

  1. Diane says:

    but, but … this makes too much sense, therefore …

    May 11th, 2010 at 9:24 pm
    Permanent Link

  2. FedUpMom says:

    Well, it’s a start. I’d be curious to hear from someone in an affected school next year whether the situation has really changed.

    The fact that there’s a subsection entitled “The family shall:” bugs me. Why does the school think they get to tell parents what to do?

    ***
    The family shall:
    1. read in the family’s first language
    ***

    What if the family is illiterate?

    ***
    2. provide a suitable environment, i.e. workplace, block of uninterrupted time
    ***

    This is the advice that won’t go away. I believe we’ve all heard it by now. Enough already!

    May 12th, 2010 at 8:14 am
    Permanent Link

  3. PsychMom says:

    It’s insidious….this belief that homework is a part of school.
    The part of this document about weekend work looks like it was written by a lawyer..

    Yes, this is a start but in my hard heart, allowing any leeway ….ie acknowledging that homework is a given…just doesn’t sit well with me anymore.

    May 12th, 2010 at 8:38 am
    Permanent Link

  4. Cynthia says:

    I’m glad they emphasize that the student should be able to complete the homework independently. Pet peeve of mine, and it also helps to keep homework minimal (especially if you consider that they need to be able to understand the directions independently as well. No more first grade homework with that criteria!).

    May 12th, 2010 at 9:19 am
    Permanent Link

  5. HomeworkBlues says:

    I agree with FedUpMom. It’s a start. At least they are taking the homework problem seriously.

    But I too cannot look past the condescending tone towards parents. “The family shall…” I”m only taking this advice if we parents can draft a similar creed entitled “The School Shall.” After all, they get paid, we don’t, so why shouldn’t I be allowed my own shopping list? If anything, we should be scrutinizing them, not the other way around.

    May 12th, 2010 at 9:58 am
    Permanent Link

  6. FedUpMom says:

    I think some of this “the family shall …” is the result of various studies people have done showing that family background is the strongest predictor of how kids do by every available metric. That is, the child of middle-class, educated parents will do better at school, and has better prospects, than the child of poor, uneducated parents.

    The exception to this general rule is that sometimes children of poor immigrants can do extremely well if their family culture supports hard work and education (e.g., Asians.)

    The schools look at this and say, “See? It’s not about us, it’s all about the parents!” and think they can guarantee good outcomes by nagging the parents.

    To me, the larger question is, what value does the school add to this equation? If my middle-class kid would do just as well in terms of life prospects whether she attended the public school every day or just sat home and played games on the computer, what is the school doing to justify the enormous investment of money, energy and time that goes into it?

    Conversely, if the child of poor, illiterate parents is doomed to failure whether he attends school or not, what is the point of school?

    Instead of nagging parents, schools need to take a hard look at what they do and ask why their efforts make so little difference to children’s lives.

    May 12th, 2010 at 10:36 am
    Permanent Link

  7. Sara Bennett says:

    Take a look at the report. There is a “superintendents shall” section, among others. Of course I would love to see a policy where homework isn’t a given, or where parents have the absolute right to opt-out, but, in the meantime, I think this policy is a huge step in the right direction.

    May 12th, 2010 at 11:01 am
    Permanent Link

  8. PsychMom says:

    FedUpMom makes a very good point…and I never thought about it from this angle. If one’s success really boils down to socio-economic status (as so many things do) then what is the point of school?

    The common belief is that children who come from single parent families are bigger behaviour problems, and do less well in school. But did that include this growing cohort of older single moms having children, and adopting as single parents? I would say that those kids do at least as well as kids from two parent families..if not slightly better.

    May 12th, 2010 at 11:32 am
    Permanent Link

  9. northTOmom says:

    I agree with FedUpMom and others that the “family shall” wording is kind of patronizing. In the Toronto policy, it says, “Teachers are responsible for . . . Students are responsible for . . . the family is responsible for, etc.” Not sure if that’s any better. But what I do like about this Davis document is that it’s specific–for example regarding weekend homework. One of the problems I have with our (Toronto) policy is that it is so vague that it allows teachers to go on doing what they’ve always been doing, and still consider themselves to be complying with the policy. My own opinion is that homework policies should not give too much wiggle room to teachers to over-assign homework, and that they should include an opt-out provision (which ours does not).

    May 12th, 2010 at 12:24 pm
    Permanent Link

  10. Disillusioned says:

    Interesting points made by all. As I read through this obtuse, complicated document; again I start to dream about school vouchers instead of government run schools.

    May 12th, 2010 at 1:44 pm
    Permanent Link

  11. HomeworkBlues says:

    Disillusioned, it seems as if state run schools have outlived their usefulness. They just don’t seem to work anymore. Once you get politicians running schools instead of real educators, there’s bound to be trouble. This is not working…They will try to fix this, tinker with that, endless “reform,” endless ideas and it’s all not working on a grand scale because the wrong people are making the decisions.

    As more content is available on line, we’ll see more defectors, more families retreating to homeschool. When the economy improves, more middle class families will also vote with their feet in search of private school.

    And more and more, when politicians talk about public education, they will continue to address what they see as the impoverished kids. The more they talk about “narrowing the achievement gap” the more others will be clamped down. Which begs the question: just who is served here?

    May 12th, 2010 at 3:34 pm
    Permanent Link

  12. Disillusioned says:

    All true. But who are the real educators? The rigid, controlling, moralistic, one size fits all “educators” I have dealt with so far don’t give me much hope for teacher driven schools.

    May 12th, 2010 at 3:54 pm
    Permanent Link

  13. HomeworkBlues says:

    I thought of that too. Who are the real educators? Given what we’ve experienced, as you say, we don’t want “teacher driven” schools either.

    In a perfect world, we’d have a whole different brand of teacher. The kind I had when I was a kid. Yes, I had some tough no nonsense ones. And they were awesome. So what sets them apart from today’s rigid controlling teacher? They truly loved us, cared about us, and “I entered teaching to make a difference” was not just some idle blather. Whenever teachers write in to say their hands are tied, I’m always left thinking, just whose needs are you serving here?

    It’s our tax dollars. Time to put the public back in public education. Because from where I sit, the children often come dead last.

    May 12th, 2010 at 4:29 pm
    Permanent Link

  14. Disillusioned says:

    When I hear teachers say “I love children and my hands are tied.” I think, then why are you doing a job that causes so much conflict and unpleasantness within families. How can they not see the irony in that statement? I am not trying to be sarcastic. Do teachers ever feel guilty over the stress and tension homework overload causes?

    May 12th, 2010 at 4:54 pm
    Permanent Link

  15. Barbara Finkelstein says:

    This policy sounds sensible. I knew a high school boy who felt so overwhelmed that he began working on a Monday homework assignment on Friday afternoon. Kwazy.

    May 12th, 2010 at 5:09 pm
    Permanent Link

  16. HomeworkBlues says:

    Disillusioned, I must ask that teacher who purports to love children (I must ask and yet have never had that opportunity), then how can you overload them?

    I’m specifically addressing teachers of gifted programs that also attract high achievers. There are benefits to attending places like these because these kids crave the peer group, are often nerds who don’t fit in elsewhere. I used to see the rationale behind such environments. I still see the need but why work them so hard? Why is the price so high? It’s that price I keep coming back to. Surely our children don’t have to trade sleep for a program that meets their needs.

    As you said, Disillusioned, despite what some teachers here have accused us of, this is not asked in a spirit of sarcasm. It’s real and heartbreaking. If I could just talk to you, teacher, honestly, forthrightly and yes with anger because I’m angry. I’m worn out. And angry. And why can’t I openly express that without fear of retribution? I assert myself but there’s always a price. Why can’t we talk?

    If you purport to love these children, why do you overwork them so much? Why do you tell us parents on Back to School Night that your math or physics class requires two daily hours of homework when you know full well they have six other classes. How can you expect young people to go to school all day, only to come home to a second job in the evening, with even longer hours than the first one. If you love our teenagers so much, how can you not see that they come to school so seriously sleep deprived? Surely you must know! How do you sleep at night, knowing your students are not? This is love?

    May 12th, 2010 at 5:38 pm
    Permanent Link

  17. Disillusioned says:

    Well put HWB. My feelings exactly. I would love to hear some heartfelt teacher responses. Do they think overworking the kids is tough love? Do they even care?
    I consider myself good with people but communicating with teachers has been a tremendous challenge. They have been rude, snarky, and mean spirited. On the other hand, I have had to walk on egg shells for fear of retribution.

    I think they truly believe they are making a contribution to society by producing doctors, lawyers, scientists, etc. However, I think this is ego driven. I don’t really think many enter the profession because they truly love children. Sometimes I fall back on that old axiom, “those who can’t………”

    May 12th, 2010 at 6:22 pm
    Permanent Link

  18. FedUpMom says:

    My theory is that people become elementary school teachers because they like being in a position of power but they’re too timid to boss around other adults. I think that’s what they mean when they say they “love kids” — they love being around little people who will unquestioningly accept their authority.

    One of the reasons those teacher-parent interactions are so uncomfortable is because the lines of authority are unclear.

    May 12th, 2010 at 9:29 pm
    Permanent Link

  19. HomeworkBlues says:

    FedUpMom, exactly. You hit the nail on the head.

    May 13th, 2010 at 6:17 am
    Permanent Link

  20. PsychMom says:

    As I read the comments from last night, the idea, close to what FedUpMom suggested, came to mind. By and large these teachers who claim to have no choice but to follow the rules, are women, in a hierarchical system. They perceive they have no power over their jobs. The only power they have is over the children they teach. This is where they will seek control, and by association, they lump parents in too.

    No. Best to walk backwards from the system slowly…don’t make eye contact or sudden moves.

    May 13th, 2010 at 7:20 am
    Permanent Link

  21. Jason says:

    @FedUpMom,

    Wow. I had no clue that I became an elementary school teacher because I, “…like being in a posi­tion of power but they’re [am] too timid to boss around other adults.” I thought it was because, after several years of working in the business world, I realized a natural ability to teach and wanted to share my passion for science and math with children.

    Perhaps your comment reveals a significant reason for the uncomfortable feeling between yourself and teachers.

    Next time you wish to accuse anyone of being condescending or insulting I suggest you read your own comment.

    Jason

    May 13th, 2010 at 7:28 am
    Permanent Link

  22. northTOmom says:

    Jason, I suspect many of the negative comments about teachers that you’re reading here are born of stress. Many of us are in a constant state of anxiety over the stress that school and homework are causing our children. I do know that there are wonderful, extremely hard-working teachers out there who care about these issues (the ones who take an interest in this site, for instance). And speaking of stress, one of the greatest stress-relievers for my children this year has been their participation in a full-scale musical (The Music Man) that the school is putting on. The production was initiated and is being managed and directed by three wonderful teachers–entirely on their own time. Ironically, many of the students are struggling to attend the frequent rehearsals because of homework overload, but also because of the insane number of extra-curricular activities that they are engaged in.

    May 13th, 2010 at 8:47 am
    Permanent Link

  23. FedUpMom says:

    Jason, I apologize if I offended you.

    However, my comment comes from long observation. What I said describes many elementary school teachers that I’ve met. If it doesn’t describe you, that’s a good thing.

    I didn’t start this journey biased against teachers. My mother was a public school teacher. I enrolled my daughter in our high-performing school district and honestly expected the best of everyone involved. I didn’t want to be one of those “difficult” parents complaining about the school. I thought I could send my daughter to school, stand back, and let the school educate her.

    I think my experience has been common to many of the people who post on this board. We are smart, educated people. We intend to raise smart, educated kids, and we thought the educational system would help us achieve that goal. But then our kids got overworked, depressed, and burnt out. And for what? They’re not even learning that much.

    I describe the world as I see it. I have met too many teachers who are control freaks and petty tyrants.

    May 13th, 2010 at 9:06 am
    Permanent Link

  24. HomeworkBlues says:

    Jason, I can understand your concerns. If you think you’re being attacked, try being a news reporter. As a member of the press corps (albeit former), I’ve gotten used to the fact that I’m always going to be critiqued, sometimes unfairly. Like me, I suggest teachers develop a thicker skin.

    Jason, you must understand that, just as northTOmom points out, we don’t just sit around criticizing because we have nothing better to do. When our eldest children entered school, we were more naive. We all thought, by and large, that teachers would be supportive, entered the profession because well, this is what they wanted to do, and by and large would be congenial towards us.

    What many of us have found is we have to walk on egg shells, always worried about retribution. We have been stunned at the way teachers have talked down to us. When I write an email, I always find something positive to start with. But while teachers love to hear how wonderful they are, they almost never extend that graciousness towards parents. How about ending an email with, thanks for being such a wonderful mother to your son.

    Teachers rarely do that. You can argue they are busy and must cut to the chase. That’s condescending in and of itself, implying that parents, especially mothers, are not busy and have nothing better to do than be homework cop all afternoon and evening.

    Too many teachers are condescending, snarky, mean spirited towards us (quoting Disillusioned) and are simply not respectful. It’s a two way street, Jason.

    For many of us, it took years of being gracious, kind, diplomatic only to be slapped in the face to get to this point. It’s a serious issue and it needs light. This is the only blog I’m aware of where it’s being digested fully. Teachers must know the stress they put us under and how much courage it takes us to just speak up. We do it because our children have precious little advocates in the school system (I realize how crazy that sounds) and if we don’t fight for them, no one else will. Long after they’ve left your classroom, we parents have to pick the pieces, we have to do the damage control. We fight for them, all the while, knowing the risk we places ourselves under. Because after all, you have our children all day. And we’ve lost your trust.

    You’re not that kind of teacher? Kudos to you! Now spread the word. Find some time in a meeting to air this. Just tell them what you’ve learned on the street. Get your higher ups to take a little time out from all that data crunching and test prep and find a way to address this serious issue. Parents aren’t going away. Without us, you don’t have children, you don’t have a job.

    May 13th, 2010 at 9:08 am
    Permanent Link

  25. northTOmom says:

    HomeworkBlues says “But while teach­ers love to hear how won­der­ful they are, they almost never extend that gra­cious­ness towards par­ents. How about end­ing an email with, thanks for being such a won­der­ful mother to your son.”

    This is often the case, HWB, but I feel I should mention that when my husband and I recently met with our daughters’ teacher regarding project overload (the meeting I described in earlier posts, where my husband was kind of rude), the teacher ended the meeting by saying: “you’re wonderful parents.” I was pleasantly surprised by this, and also pleased that there have been no negative repercussions for my girls. All of which leads me to believe that I should continue to give teachers the benefit of the doubt, and expect (and if necessary, demand) the best from them. (That said, we still have to do the projects, but she did extend the deadlines, and agreed to some compromises.)

    May 13th, 2010 at 9:26 am
    Permanent Link

  26. PsychMom says:

    But northTOmom…you said, “we” still have to do the projects.” Where is the compromise if you’re still doing the projects?

    Why is it “we”? I don’t think you’re in elementary school. If your child cannot do the projects without you, then what exactly is the point?

    May 13th, 2010 at 10:10 am
    Permanent Link

  27. northTOmom says:

    PsychMom, The compromises were: the girls don’t have to type the written parts (thereby taking some of the “we” out of the equation), the deadline has been extended for the whole class, and the teacher agreed to give the children a lot more time in class to work on the project. But your point is well taken. (Unfortunately, I am back in elementary school!)

    May 13th, 2010 at 10:47 am
    Permanent Link

  28. Jason says:

    Lots of points to respond to, I’m typing this quickly during my planning period while my students are at music. I beg y’alls [remember…I’m from Texas ;-)] forgiveness for any typos or rambling thoughts.

    -The original post I responded to said, “teachers.” It did not say, “some teachers” or even “most teachers.” I hope everyone agrees with me that if I dared to start a statement with the generalization, “Parents are…” there would be a firestorm of responses, each one pointing out that the responder does not fit under the “parents” label I would have created. Did it offend me? Not really. It takes alot to hurt my feelings. I was simply responding to being lumped in with all of the other teachers in the country.

    -I did not begin my journey as a teacher expecting to find what I have found. I was raised in a middle class family that valued learning and education. When I accepted this position at a low income/high risk elementary school I knew the social values of our families would be different from what I was raised in. However, I believed that surely education would be valued. Surely, if there is hope of these children improving their lives the parents would see learning and education as a component. Surely parents and teachers would be on the same page about the big issues. Sadly, in many (I dare say most) cases this has not been the case. I have since done much research on the differing values of various social classes and learned a great deal, but I cannot accept it as excuse for the behavior and attitudes of parents I experience. Each day I am met with excuses and attacks. Despite providing children with two meals a day for free and any needed school supplies for free, the staff at my school are regularly treated with maddening contempt. Some recent quotes…

    **”My child is only 10 years old, you can’t expect him to keep up with a piece of paper for a whole day.”

    **”So when my boy knocked the computer off of the desk what did you do to set him off?”

    **”Where the he!! do you get off giving my son a 65 on his test? You just don’t like him because he’s black.”

    If the argument is that respect is a two-way street I agree.

    Does this describe all parents? No, of course not. But if frustration and stress over a person’s experiences is claimed as enough authority to justify comments made about “teachers” then I claim the same authority and justification to make comments about “some parents.”

    -Near as I can tell we are all (students, teachers, parents, principals, superintendents) trying to work within a broken system. A system that has grown, taken on a life of its own, and developed an inertia. Trying to turn things around is like trying to stop a locomotive at high speed. I have not met one person that would say, “Yup…I’m good…totally happy with the way our educational system works.” Nobody likes what is going on. I don’t have the answers and I have yet to hear from anyone that does.

    -Well…the clock tells me my rambling session is over. I am going to pick up my students from music. I thank all of you for taking the time to read this and I will try to post again later tonight. I apologize for any uncompleted thoughts or disorganized musings.

    Regards,
    Jason

    May 13th, 2010 at 11:17 am
    Permanent Link

  29. PsychMom says:

    To northTOmom..
    I watched my child try to type out her 1600 word story (it was of her creation and only needed to be 300 words but she wrote alot more) over 4 sessions at the computer at school, afterhours. I couldn’t stand it any longer and finished it up with her dictating it to me on a friend’s computer last night (we don’t have a computer at home) and e-mailed it to the teacher’s school e-mail account to be attached to the rest of her story at school. Every key stroke ticked me off because a) Why was this needing to be typed? and b) what was my child learning from this long, laborious task?

    Now, I take full responsibility for my emotional reaction and recognize it was my choice to get ticked but honestly…the kid is in grade 3. The teacher was thrilled this morning to learn that the story was done (because that means she doesn’t have to finish it), but I think it set a bad precident. I would rather that the teacher spend time with my daughter learning about editing and making a story make sense..than to type all that stuff out.

    It’s when I’m in the thick of these crazy tasks that I shake my head and say, “you got suckered again”. But the harder thing to do is to stand in front of the teacher and say, “Please explain to me the value of this assignment”

    May 13th, 2010 at 11:31 am
    Permanent Link

  30. northTOmom says:

    PsychMom, I’ve thought a lot about this issue of typing and technology in general in the schools, and I’ve wondered what things like PowerPoint and Smartboards actually contribute to my daughters’ education at this elementary level. In the case of SmartBoards, I voted against them when parents were given a say in how parent-raised money would be used in the school. (I opted for better play equipment instead.) With the typing issue, I finally (and very belatedly–I should have tackled this problem at the beginning of the school year) put my foot down, and said to the teacher, given that the school has not taught the students to type efficiently, and given that I’m not even sure I want the school to spend precious class time teaching them to keyboard at this stage, please do not demand that the children hand in assignments typed out. The teacher agreed to this pretty readily, possibly because it says right in the Toronto homework policy that you can’t assign homework that requires resources or technology to which students may not have access. (I interpret “access” liberally to mean “my kids can’t type!”) I’m wondering if your school has a homework policy. I can’t believe any teacher could get away with demanding that children in grade 3 hand in assignments typed. (My daughters are in grade 5 and I still think it’s too early.) I agree that it contributes nothing to the actual learning goal, which is to teach them how to structure, write, edit, etc., their own stories or reports.

    May 13th, 2010 at 12:22 pm
    Permanent Link

  31. Disillusioned says:

    Jason- you de facto expected low income/high risk students to have parents that value an educational system that (at least to their way of thinking) has probably let them down in a lot of ways. I’m sure the contempt you feel has probably been mirrored back to them on some level in a system they have felt oppressed by their whole lifes. This is a touchy topic and I’m not trying to defend them necessarily. However, it is important to understand that a system that erodes good will at every turn will create ill will. That is a natural progression. I think the idealists who enter the teaching profession because they want to help the world are well intentioned but maybe a little naive.

    May 13th, 2010 at 1:04 pm
    Permanent Link

  32. PsychMom says:

    Hi northTOmom…my daughter attends a small, private school which has no formalized homework policy. I’m not sure what the point of typing it out is, except that it looks nicer. I’m with you on the technology issue. On Back to School curriculum night last September, I said loudly that we do not have a computer at home, when the teacher said that children would be expected to do assignments on the computer and then could e-mail them in. I was not alone in my concerns about that. Several parents said that their children are not allowed to e-mail, have no access to e-mail and have limited access to computers, period, at home. We had 8 and 9 year olds at that point. Now they’re 9 and 10 for the most part, but the issue hasn’t changed.
    PowerPoint is the bane of the business, corporate, and educational worlds as far as I’m concerned and should be stopped being taught now! This whole idea of doing research at this age (under 12) is lost on kids, who haven’t got a clue on how to tell real from not real, and who have to be supervised at every turn because they can’t understand most of the vocabulary of what they’re finding. There are other ways to teach this skill that are much simpler.
    I like that they get exposure to computers, but the tasks they do on them should suit their age.

    May 13th, 2010 at 1:08 pm
    Permanent Link

  33. FedUpMom says:

    Jason, I see your point. I will try to remember to say “most teachers” in future.

    That said, I look back over the teachers my daughters have had, and what a disheartening group they are. As I said on a previous comment, I feel that the best of them have been in the pre-K to kindergarten range. These are the ones who really do seem to love the kids.

    May 13th, 2010 at 1:12 pm
    Permanent Link

  34. Jason says:

    Hello All,

    @FedUpMom: Thank you for the apologies. I really was not offended, and I understand the implied “most” when discussing large groups of people. I had just noticed a trend on this blog of people complaining when “parents” are lumped together and assumptions are made, but having no hesitation in lumping “teachers” together and making assumptions. I freely admit I took advantage of your comment to make a point. No worries. On your observation of the younger grade teachers seeming to really love the kids, I agree. I have noticed that as grade levels increase there is a shift away from a passion for children and a shift toward a passion for the subject material. Pre-K, Kinder, 1st, and 2nd grade teachers seem to really love working with children and everything that goes with it. I teach 4th grade and I will say that my passion is with exposing children to the amazing things involved with math and science. I love working with the kids, but primarily because I get to facilitate their discovery of new (to them) math and science concepts. By the time we get to high school the teachers are amazingly obsessed with their subject. Physics teachers really love physics and study it with passion outside of school, literature teachers are very often (at least in my district) writers in their own time. Just an observation.

    @Disillusioned: No doubt. What we have is a vicious, self-feeding, negative cycle. Many parents have had bad experiences with teachers and schools in the past so they may begin the year by being accusatory or aggressive toward a teacher, forcing the teacher into a defensive position where they have to fight back. Or, some teachers may have had bad experiences with parents, reflect it in an initial meeting putting the parent on the defense. Round and round we go.

    -On the issue of technology. I disagree strongly with my district’s approach to technology. The idea seems to be that if we cram as many shiny, electronic things into the classroom we must be teaching better. Wrong. I have daily access to an interactive whiteboard if I want it, but if we are honest it is really just a fancy dry erase board. No real difference. I will say that at upper grade levels some software becomes more useful. For instance, there is software that allows for the manipulation of geometric shapes to different sizes and scales…it can be very appropriate for geometry work. Do I use technology in my classroom? Yes, but primarily as an assessment tool. When we finish a topic I will say to my students, “Now it is time for you to show me what you know. You can make a PowerPoint if you want, use Inspiration to make a mindmap of the concepts, if you don’t want to use the computer you can draw a mindmap, write me a story or paper, get with other students and write and perform a play. Whatever you want as long as you can show me what you know about X.” Technology seems to be an area that schools are falling into the style over substance trap. I believe in exposing students to technology and helping them see it as a tool in their toolbox, but some districts and teachers are going way overboard.

    @PsychMom: Wow. That is just crazy. Expecting a child to type up something like that is way out of line and inappropriate. Furthermore that a teacher assumes, without asking, that students will be able to complete technology assignments at home and email them reflects a ridiculous ignorance. I am sorry you had to go through that. Please don’t hesitate to ask a teacher about the value of an assignment. It is basic teaching that before beginning an activity, topic, unit, or whatever we decide, “At the end of this what do I want the students to know, understand, and/or be able to do?” If the end isn’t in mind before we begin (Stephen Covey) how do we know what we should spend our time doing?

    May 13th, 2010 at 9:09 pm
    Permanent Link

  35. northTOmom says:

    “Tech­nol­ogy seems to be an area that schools are falling into the style over sub­stance trap.”

    Jason, I think this is happening everywhere, and I’m so glad to hear that there are teachers who see through it. Some teachers at our school seem very excited by the smart board (which I think is actually a glorified whiteboard that connects to students’ laptops), but it could be that they feel they have to seem excited about it in front of parents. I remember once my husband and I attended an open house at a private school (when we were considering going that route), and there was a teacher going on and on about the technology the school had invested in, especially smart boards. My husband, who does very advanced math for his job, turned to me and said, “and its advantage over the black board is?” Suffice it to say, we did not choose that school for our kids.

    On the question of teachers loving kids, I think it’s great when teachers are passionate about their subject, and also passionate about teaching it. I don’t really expect teachers to love my kids. I would hope that they enjoy working with kids in general, though, or else how could they stand being teachers?

    May 13th, 2010 at 9:53 pm
    Permanent Link

  36. FedUpMom says:

    ***
    I have noticed that as grade lev­els increase there is a shift away from a pas­sion for chil­dren and a shift toward a pas­sion for the sub­ject mate­r­ial.
    ***

    Wow, I wish this was my experience. I don’t see (most!) teachers in the higher grades having a passion for the subject. Actually, my older daughter hasn’t had a lot of subject-specific teachers. This year, she’s had a science teacher who is very good, and she took a computer course with a college student that she liked a lot. Otherwise, she spends most of her time with general-ed teachers.

    A complaint that I’ve heard from other parents at my kids’ current school, and that I agree with to some extent, is that the kids don’t seem to be learning anything in particular. Standards are low, and there’s not a lot of intellectual substance. The math program in particular is just pathetic, and the kids aren’t getting the facility with basic number functions that they will need to tackle pre-algebra next year. I’ve been teaching older dd at home to make up some of these deficiencies.

    As we move toward the higher grades, I don’t need the teachers to love my kid, but I do want them to care about the kids, and at least do no harm (for instance, by causing depression.)

    I agree with previous posters about the rush to technology. It seems especially pointless in a wealthy district like ours, where the kids are already way ahead of the teachers (and their parents) when it comes to implementing and using all the latest gadgets. I can’t imagine any problem in a classroom that would be solved by investing in a smart board. Garbage in, garbage out, as they saying goes.

    May 14th, 2010 at 7:22 am
    Permanent Link

  37. Matthew says:

    @Jason- interesting that you comment to not hesitate to ask teachers about the value of an assignment. On multiple occasions I have done just that–literally asked “what is the educational value of this assignment?” I have *never* gotten a response to that question.

    Regarding all the comments on technology- I think part of the problem is that the schools focus on the tool and not the result. In fact they seem to actively discourage the actual skills people need today (how to sift through the vast amount of information out there and find the verifiable, accurate data). Partially I think this stems from an academic distrust of the Internet, partially from a lack of technology skills among school staff (at all levels and regardless of age).

    Finally, back to Jason, I am curious what your thoughts would be of a year-end evaluation of teachers by students and parents that would factor into the teacher raise/training/retention process.

    Both colleges and adult education/training rely on this to evaluate their teachers, and I don’t understand why schools don’t. While I don’t think that teachers need to be “friends” with their students (and in fact probably shouldn’t be), there still needs to be a level of rapport between them and if students actively dislike the teacher there probably isn’t effective learning going on. Some of the worst teachers I’ve seen just have no business being in a classroom because of their personalities and yet they stick around, seemingly forever… Meanwhile some of the best progress my kids have made in subjects have been in classrooms where they just loved the teacher.

    May 14th, 2010 at 7:26 am
    Permanent Link

  38. FedUpMom says:

    PsychMom said:

    ***
    Why is it “we”? I don’t think you’re in ele­men­tary school. If your child can­not do the projects with­out you, then what exactly is the point?
    ***

    PsychMom, on the one hand you’re absolutely right. On the other hand, I haven’t found a way to really let my kid do the projects on her own.

    My older dd gets assigned homework all the time. If she doesn’t do it, she will get nagged, scolded, and punished at school and she’ll get into the anxiety/depression cycle again. If we don’t remind her about it in the afternoon and early evening, she won’t remember she has it until bedtime. So we have to be involved at least that much.

    And, as I’m sure you’ve experienced too, a lot of these projects can’t be done by the kid on her own. So then your choices are to either help the kid with the project or go argue with the teacher. I’ve done a certain amount of arguing with the teacher, but it’s really not my idea of a good time, and I try to avoid it.

    I would dearly love to find a school where I can just send my kids, trust that the school will do a great job, and see my kids learning and growing in confidence and skills, without my constant involvement. I haven’t found that school.

    May 14th, 2010 at 7:34 am
    Permanent Link

  39. Jason says:

    @Matthew,

    About the year-end evaluation factoring into teacher raises/retention/etc…

    I am as close to a raging capitalist as you are likely to find in a contemporary classroom. I think it probably has to do with my business experience. When I first became a teacher I would have been on board with the idea. However, these last years have taught me alot about the realities of this educational system.

    There is no more effecive way to demotivate, demoralize, and otherwise negatively effect someone than to hold them responsible for and punish/reward them for things they have little control over. I am fully aware that what I am about to say sounds like excuse making, and it kills me to say it, but I don’t have any input on the students or parents I deal with.

    This year I have students ranging from severely autistic students and students functioning on a second grade level (I teach 4th) all the way to those students who will no doubt qualify for the gifted program when they take the test. I have students and parents that love me, students and parents that can’t stand me, and everything in between. I am self-aware enough to know that problems I have with students and parents can’t all be their fault, but at the same time I maintain that many of the problems I have are because I dare expect things like showing up to class with a pencil on a daily basis or actually producing something rather than just sitting around talking to friends all day. To base my pay or job security on evaluations from these folks makes me very uncomfortable.

    I would have no problem with a student and parent evaluation for reflective purposes, in fact I would welcome it. I would love to know, at the end of the year, how my students and parents see me and areas that I might need to work on, but please don’t adjust my paycheck based on the thoughts of 10 year olds and their parents (some of whom aren’t much more mature or thoughtful than their children).

    Regards,
    Jason

    May 14th, 2010 at 8:22 am
    Permanent Link

  40. FedUpMom says:

    Jason says —

    ***
    I am as close to a rag­ing cap­i­tal­ist as you are likely to find in a con­tem­po­rary class­room.
    ***

    Jason, I’m not a raging capitalist at all. My view is that unfettered capitalism is a tremendous tool for making rich people richer, at the expense of everyone else. I prefer a system that tries to provide a decent quality of life for everyone.

    However, let’s take a look at the school problem from a capitalist point of view. As I and others have said on this board, one of the big differences between public and private schools is that at a private school, the parent is the customer. As a parent, if you walk into a private school with a suggestion or a complaint, they actually — gasp! — listen to you.

    In the public schools, who exactly is the customer? Is it the state? Is it the teachers’ union? It’s clearly not the parents, or the kids.

    I’ve heard public schools described as “job programs”. In our district, the schools employ a huge number of people at very good salaries. They spend more $$ per pupil than I spend to send my kids to a very expensive private school. There’s no lack of resources.

    Yet, in our wealthy district, parents vote with their feet, as I did. I’ve heard estimates ranging from 30% to 40% of parents in our district opting out of our public schools. If the parents are the customers, they’re not satisfied.

    So, even as someone who’s more of a raging socialist than a raging capitalist, I’d like to see the clarity of capitalism applied to the public schools. Who is the customer? What exactly is being bought and sold? There’s lots of money changing hands, so something is going on.

    In our district, one of the commodities being bought is reputation. People buy overpriced houses in our district so they can send their kids to our “great” schools. They won’t hear any criticism of the schools in case it lowers their property values or their kids’ shot at a “good” college.

    Off topic:

    ***
    There is no more effe­cive way to demo­ti­vate, demor­al­ize, and oth­er­wise neg­a­tively effect some­one than to hold them respon­si­ble for and punish/reward them for things they have lit­tle con­trol over.
    ***

    Jason, absolutely right. The sad thing is how well this applies to the students.

    May 14th, 2010 at 9:00 am
    Permanent Link

  41. Matthew says:

    @Jason, I should clarify that I didn’t mean exactly a one-to-one correspondence between survey results and pay. I can see what you’re fearing (“You got a 3.2% negative rating and therefore you only get a .25% raise this year”) and that would be bad.

    What I’d like is this: “I see you’ve gotten negative ratings from 40% of your students and their parents. Let’s come up with a plan and monthly progress reviews to see what we can do to fix the problem.” Next year: “You’ve continued to get strong negative ratings from your students and parents. I’m sorry we won’t be renewing your contract for next year.” Feedback, support, but accountability. By the same token of course, good feedback should be rewarded.

    “There is no more effe­cive way to demo­ti­vate, demor­al­ize, and oth­er­wise neg­a­tively effect some­one than to hold them respon­si­ble for and punish/reward them for things they have lit­tle con­trol over. I am fully aware that what I am about to say sounds like excuse mak­ing, and it kills me to say it, but I don’t have any input on the stu­dents or par­ents I deal with.”

    I hear you, but the fact of the matter is that almost every job shares this problem. We all have to find a way to deal with the things we can’t control in our jobs. Hopefully, we all find jobs where we are suited to deal with those things. Sometimes it takes a few failed career starts to find the right one. Unfortunately, what I have found is that there is a distressingly high number of teachers who are not suited to teaching. They may be very good in their subject area, but they are unable to effectively *teach* students.

    @FedUpMom really nailed it when she said that schools have lost sight of who the customer is. I pay my taxes in exchange for the service of having my children educated. I am not satisfied with that service, but the system will not accept my feedback.

    If I ran into the same problem with a store/doctor/etc. I would either take my business elsewhere or complain to the management to see if an isolated problem could be fixed (and then go elsewhere if it didn’t get fixed). For all practical purposes, I can’t do that with the schools. They take my money regardless.

    Finally, teachers are definitely not the only problem in our schools, just the problem being focused on in this thread. Jason, I appreciate your feedback here.

    May 14th, 2010 at 9:34 am
    Permanent Link

  42. northTOmom says:

    FedupMom says: “In the pub­lic schools, who exactly is the cus­tomer? Is it the state? Is it the teach­ers’ union? It’s clearly not the par­ents, or the kids.”

    I don’t know . . . something about the whole business model of schools rubs me the wrong way. I don’t want to be (or my kids to be) “consumers” of education; I prefer a citizenship model instead, where we all, as citizens in a democracy, have a stake in–and are participants in–an educational system that serves primarily the children, but ultimately, society as a whole. Accountability is important, but it is important in democratically-run systems too–not just businesses.

    Where I live, some of the most promising initiatives have come from parents who have worked within the system to set up a variety of “alternative” public schools. There are currently bilingual schools, arts-based schools, science-focused schools, sports schools, etc. They all have to follow the basic curriculum, but apart from that, principals, teachers and parents have a lot of freedom to run these schools as they see fit. The latest alternative initiative is a school based on Waldorf ideals and methods. It came a bit too late (and is a bit too far away) for my daughters, but it is definitely a breath of fresh air in the public school landscape.

    May 14th, 2010 at 11:34 am
    Permanent Link

  43. Disillusioned says:

    Jason- I agree with FedUp. I have not seen much passion for kids or teaching in our elementary school so far (and like FedUp’s public school, it is considered a “great school”). It doesn’t take much to put the teachers on the defensive and the kids are dealt with very harshly for minor infractions such as tardies or missing homework sheets.

    May 14th, 2010 at 2:43 pm
    Permanent Link

  44. Disillusioned says:

    One more thouught on passion…..the biggest passion I have seen is for rule following and compliance.

    May 14th, 2010 at 3:01 pm
    Permanent Link

  45. Matthew Cervi says:

    Another viewpoint on the “customer” topic: I was listening to NPR on the way home from work last night and the head of the Veterans Administration was being interviewed.

    He said he liked to think of the people there as “clients” rather than “customers” because those people had already invested their money with the government and now it was his (and the VA’s) obligation to meet their needs.

    —–

    I agree with the others that passion among teachers seems to die around 3rd grade (my experience runs through 8th grade). An interesting characteristic shared among the few older grade teachers that do have passion is that they are not very interested in arbitrary rules and they treat students more as peers than peons. The less inspired the teacher, the more authoritarian he or she becomes.

    May 15th, 2010 at 6:51 am
    Permanent Link

  46. FedUpMom says:

    Disillusioned says:

    ***
    I have not seen much pas­sion for kids or teach­ing in our ele­men­tary school so far (and like FedUp’s pub­lic school, it is con­sid­ered a “great school”).
    ***

    Disillusioned, I’m becoming more and more convinced that our “great” public schools are often really terrible. They cultivate a reputation for being “great” because of their high test scores. But the test scores have almost nothing to do with what the school actually does.

    The “great” public school’s strategy is to attract and retain middle or professional class, educated parents, whose kids routinely do well on standardized tests. In return, they provide reputation, bragging rights, and a shot at the Ivy League (at least in theory.)

    In the meantime, the kids are stressed out, miserable, and learning to hate school.

    May 16th, 2010 at 10:23 am
    Permanent Link

  47. Heidy Kellison says:

    After nearly three years, a 144-page report, and four school board meetings later, the Davis Joint Unified School District has a new homework policy. The final draft received a 5-0 vote on the first official day of summer. The symbolism is fantastic! A great day for kids made even better for their health and all forms of their development.

    Davis is a university town of 65,000 people, just 15 miles from California’s State Capitol. The University of California at Davis is one of the nation’s top research universities, so the demographics aren’t surprising: According to the California Department of Education, 93% of parents with school-aged children have attended college, with a full 60% having attended graduate school. Despite chronic state budget deficits, Davis voters continually pass parcel taxes and raise private funds to maintain healthy schools. Volunteerism is high, and serving on the Board of Education probably deserves hazard pay. It’s safe to say, Davis places a high value on education.

    On the surface, Davis seems an unlikely place to call for a reduction in homework. After all, if we value education so much, what’s wrong with doing whatever it takes to get the grade? (A lot, as it turns out.)

    I was lucky to co-chair a 12-person committee comprised of teachers, administrators, and parents (I’m a parent). We met for 14 months and developed recommendations where research and consensus intersect.

    Is the policy everything I’d hoped for? No. Did anyone get everything they wanted? Absolutely not. But do I believe our process was sound and worthy of being duplicated in other school districts? You bet.

    I’ve learned a lot, including the need to approach all stakeholders with an open heart and mind. I’ve acquired more patience, much knowledge, and a great deal of respect for people who invest their lives serving children–parents and professional educators alike.

    I know there are bad parents, teachers and administrators, just as there are bad insurance agents, doctors, chefs…you name it. It makes no sense whatsoever to paint any profession with a broad brush, any more than it makes sense to perpetuate racial bias. When we stop pitting ourselves against each other, come to the table and release all our preconceived notions, we will finally serve kids well.

    Many blessings to all who advocate for children.

    June 23rd, 2010 at 11:47 pm
    Permanent Link

  48. Anna Hurst says:

    Hello! Thank you for your report and for the attention you pay to children and their health. My daughter, Aline, is very hard-working. But I’m so tired to see how she has to to do her tasks till late night. I support those tips on what family should do. Thank you a lot!

    May 14th, 2012 at 2:19 am
    Permanent Link

Leave a comment on “Draft Homework Policy from Davis, California”

Your Info (optional)




Comment (required)

Message