On May 24 the Novato Unified School District (NUSD) Board of Trustees passed a new homework policy to address concerns about homework causing anxiety and stress among students. This year will be the first year it is being enforced, but it has been met with mixed feelings by students and teachers.
The new policy states that students cannot receive weekend or break homework unless it is unfinished classwork and teachers must keep their gradebooks up to date. The conversation around the policy started last school year, when Melissa Havel’s AP Environmental Science classes brought up concerns about their overall homework load. After Havel noticed how stressed students were because of homework, and realized the average amount they were receiving per night was 2-3 hours, she felt it needed to be brought to the administration’s attention.
“I just felt like there needed to be more done from an administration level, because it was just overwhelming, the amount of work students were getting was, in my opinion, too much,” Havel said.
Havel was also part of a homework committee that gave guidelines for what they thought the new homework policy should include. This committee included parents, teachers, and students, and met with former principal Mark Sims. Havel believes the homework policy should also have included time guidelines for homework.
“I wanted there to be one hour a week [of homework] for a normal class, and two hours a week for an AP class,” Havel said.
After concerns were brought to NUSD, administration interviewed Havel’s classes as well as classes from Novato High and the middle schools, in order to better understand how homework was a problem for students. When rewriting the policy, the district took staff input into account while also reflecting the concerns these students brought up.
According to Principal Jennifer Larson, one of the biggest changes in the policy was to make sure that homework was only assigned for three reasons: to finish unfinished work, to review classwork, or to reinforce what students are learning in class. This is to ensure homework is
not just busywork.
“There was a time when, I think there was a belief that the more homework you had the more rigorous a class was. What we know now is that just doing work for the sake of doing work doesn’t necessarily mean that we are learning,” Larson said.
Senior Tia Blok, believes that enforcing the policy is what needs to be worked on.
“If this is going to be something to reduce homework, then it should be more enforced.” Blok said.
This new policy has provided challenges for teachers because some had to create new lesson plans, and others rely on weekend homework to fit in all the content they need in a year. One of these teachers is AP European History teacher Robert Watson, who has decided to give all homework at the start of the unit to solve this problem for students.
“There are things I have always tried to be sensitive to, but having those hard and fast rules is going to get in the way of some pacing,” Watson said.
Administration hopes that the policy has improved the impact of homework on students’ lives.
“My hope is that it helps students to not have as much outside of school time dedicated to homework, and less anxiety, less stress, more opportunities to show their proficiency and show their learning during the school day,” Larson said.
Some believe this is only the beginning of the conversation surrounding homework, the policy change, and that more can be done in the future.
“I feel like it’s a start,” Havel said, “I don’t feel like it’s finished yet.”