Our Insight cover story today is about homework policies. A top researches says the way many American schools use it is all wrong. A sidebar describes some of the homework policies in South Sound school districts. Here’s University Place School District Superintendent Patti Banks’ lengthier response to our inquiry:
By Patti Banks
University Place School District.
Here’s where we are and where we’re heading regarding our homework policy:
Currently, there is no district-wide policy that applies to all levels in the University Place School District, except that the district will implement research-based best practices in all aspects of the academic program (board policy). Individual teachers and,in some cases, departments (e.g., the math department) have established guidelines for homework. Secondary teachers are expected to communicate homework and grading practices to parents as part of their course expectations.
As a district, we are systemmatically working to implement research-based best practices, using the comprehensive meta-analyses of Robert Marzano, et. al ("What Works in Schools: Translating Research into Action; Classroom Instruction that Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement").
Administrators in all our buildings are leading staff in studying these books, and implementing these strategies. With regard to homework, best practices identified by the research include:
1. Clarify the purpose of the homework explicitly to students. Purposes include:
Giving students an opportunity to practice skills (e.g., a math problem set). This should only occur when students have been taught the material, and the teacher is confident they will be successful with independent practice.
b. Preparing students for a new topic (e.g., ask students to fill in a blank map of the United States with as much information as possible, using no reference materials – accessing prior knowledge – as preparation for a unit on the geography of the United States.)
c. Elaborating on introduced material (e.g., students might be asked to write a short essay or develop a graphic organizer to compare/contrast two short stories read in their literature class).
2. If you assign homework, comment/provide feedback to the student on it. (This is parents’ biggest source of complaint, in my experience, when
students complete homework and it is not returned, etc.) “Timely feedback/knowledge of results” is a critical factor in motivation. )
3. Marzano recommends that a homework policy be explicitly communicated to parents, including an invitation to contact the teacher if the student is spending an inordinate amount of time completing homework in the class.
So, in this district we are moving to establish a standard of practice whereby teachers clearly communicate the learning objective for the homework; set an explicit purpose for the homework (e.g., practice to increase
speed and accuracy in long division); make sure students can articulate the purpose of the homework; and comment/provide some form of feedback on any assigned homework