Thursday, August 3, 2017
(this is the 3rd part in a series of posts on homework)
The CCHS Working Group on Homework
I formed the CCHS Working Group on Homework to figure out the nature of the problem and to implement solutions. When I put the group together, I wanted to make sure that there was a solid balance of students and educators, and that, as importantly, the students’ voices would be heard. The group was comprised of four students, eight teachers (one from every department), a guidance counselor, two special education tutors and two administrators.
Prior to the first meeting, I met with the students. They represented a broad range of students in terms of academic achievement levels and homework completion rates. I took the important step of coaching them up so that they would truly speak their minds when in the room with their teachers.
The smartest thing I did was explicitly state at the outset that there was no “black-box”, meaning I had not formed any conclusions and that their efforts would be for not.
The Working Group on Homework Process
- met five times
- during the school day - this was done to ensure we’d get every member for every meeting
- researched the latest findings
- Every member read Cathy Vatterott’s Rethinking Homework
- conducted student, teacher and parent surveys
- created School-wide Guidelines
Homework free vacations
Assignment posted by end of block
One mistake we didn’t make: putting time limits on homework assignments - we knew we’d immediately lose the faculty if they were told they couldn’t assign more than say 30 min of homework a night. Instead, we developed a catalog of “best practices for teachers” that included research-based practices on ways to instill intrinsic motivation in their students.
Sunday, July 30, 2017
After serving for the past fifteen years as a high school principal in three different schools, I became increasingly concerned at the net effect homework “working conditions” were having on our students. It really struck my home when my own daughter entered high school four years ago and, as a parent, I endured watching her suffer through a minimum of two to four hours of homework a night after co-curricular activities.
I had had enough conversations with students, teachers and parents to know we have reached a tipping point with homework at the high school level. And the results from our regional 2014 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) were alarming:
- 61% of students report having experienced “somewhat high” or “very high levels” of stress as a result of their academic workload
- Over two-thirds (70%) of all respondents report that they get seven or fewer hours of sleep each night on average
- 12% have seriously considered suicide in the past 12 months, up from 8% in 2006 - that’s over 150 students in in the school
- Of the students who considered suicide, 21% of them reported that it was due to stress related to school
That last percentage represented approximately 30 students in my building!
As importantly, in another survey we conducted on homework with all 1300 students, 51% of them reported doing more than three hours of homework per night. This flies in the face of the recent research that shows that the benefits of homework diminish after approximately 2.5 hours a night for high school students. (Cooper, Robinson & Patall 2006)
After I presented this data to the faculty, to parents and at a school committee meeting, everyone was extremely concerned about the pressure students were feeling. Yet, aside from efforts to coordinate agencies at the community level, I believed that very little concrete action was going to be forthcoming. So I decided to do something to make the lives of my students better - I formed the CCHS Working Group on Homework.
More to come on this in my next post.