School Committee Approves New Homework Policy, Eliminates Time Guidelines For All Grades

WILMINGTON, MA — Following an in-depth presentation and discussion at their June 27 meeting, School Committee members quickly and unanimously approved a new homework policy for the district at their August 29 meeting.

Discussion On The Rollout (discussed on August 29)

Prior to approval, School Committee members stressed the importance the new policy be “rolled out” in appropriate fashion and with ample follow-up both during and at the end of the school year to ensure the policy is, in fact, working.

“I was on the Homework Committee. One of the things the Committee brought up a few times was the need to have a follow-through with the policy,” said new School Committee member Jo Newhouse.  “It’s one thing for us to approve the policy, but we then need to focus on how it’s rolled out. We discussed keeping the Homework Committee together and, at the end of the school year, get together and determine if the policy is working and what, if any, changes need to be made.”

“We talked about doing a set of surveys at the end of the year and there was talk about keeping the Homework Committee going to do some sort of ‘how it’s going’ and reconvene if needed,” agreed School Committee member Jennifer Bryson. “What are we providing to teachers as we roll this out? Since it hadn’t been approved yet, it was not a part of Opening Day and early staff work. This is going to be an add-on. I just want to make sure there will be that follow-through.”

“It’s important for the Committee to follow up on this,” concurred School Committee member David Ragsdale. “Implementation matters a lot. There might have to be some trial and error and a little bit of analysis of what we’re doing. Having this as a future agenda item – so we can evaluate where we are and if we’re happy with how it’s being implemented throughout the district – is a good idea.”

“I recognize the importance of a very articulated path forward to ensure that [this policy] gets implemented and that we’re monitoring its process,” responded Superintendent Glenn Brand. “Thank you for your work collectively on this. As I’ve already discussed with the administrative team, this becomes something that we need to attend to and think about its rollout.

Bryson suggested that the new homework policy be prominently displayed on the district’s website.

“I’m sure social media would then grab on to that and share it abundantly,” said Bryson with a smile.

“We were waiting to get to this point [of formal approval] before having a discussion [on rollout],” noted Brand. “This strikes me as very different that the passing of a typical policy. Starting with the instructional leadership team and thinking about the dissemination piece and bringing awareness to it is something we need to be thoughtful of.”

“My own thoughts are this would require far more outreach with our parents and guardians than just drawing attention to a policy on the website. Certainly that’s one piece,” continued Brand. “We have to ensure that our teachers are following it and that our parents are aware of it and its implications. It’s going to take a little bit of time, but we do need to see that this gets pushed out.”

Bryson also noted that the School Committee may want to take a look at summer reading assignments, which aren’t explicitly included in the Homework Policy.

“My assumption is we’d follow the same policy for summer reading,” said Bryson. “We may possibly want to come back to that at a later date.”

Read The Policy For Yourself

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Discussion On The Policy (discussed on June 27)

The new policy will likely result in less homework — but more meaningful and engaging homework — for Wilmington students.

The Homework Committee, led by former Assistant Superintendent Sean Gallagher, consisted of parents, teachers, administrators and school committee members. They met throughout the school year to craft a new homework policy after reviewing the current homework policy of the district and other districts around the state; surveying students, parents and teachers on homework matters; and examining current research and best practices (state, nationally and internationally) as it relates to homework.

One of Gallagher’s biggest takeaways from the current research is that traditional homework may have no impact or even a negative impact on student learning.

While much of the existing homework policy will be carried over to the new policy, there are significant differences between the two. Most notably, the new policy eliminates suggested time guidelines for each grade.

Under the current policy, the following daily guidelines are suggested:

  • Kindergarten: Occasional Assignments
  • Grade 1: 15 Minutes (Monday-Thursday)
  • Grades 2: 30 Minutes (Monday-Thursday)
  • Grade 3: 30-45 Minutes (Monday-Thursday)
  • Grade 4: 45-60 Minutes (4 times per week)
  • Grade 5: 60-75 Minutes (4 times per week)
  • Grades 6-8: 75-120 Minutes
  • Grades 9-12: 90-180 Minutes with an average of 30 Minutes per course

The new policy, instead, lays out characteristics of homework best practices:

The five characteristics of best homework practices are:

  • Purpose of assignments = should be meaningful to student learning / extension of the classroom
  • Efficiency of assignments = does not take a long time to complete, but requires critical thinking
  • Ownership of assignments = give students choices connecting homework to their interests / real world
  • Competence of assignments = differentiate homework to the appropriate level of difficulty
  • Design of assignments = promotes engagement, innovation and creativity

There are many other learning activities in the life of a student besides homework. For example, as participating in school activities, pursuing cultural interests, participating in family living, and exploring personal interests should be considered when assignments are given.

The research suggests that individual students may require less or more time for assignments. If students are consistently spending significantly longer on assignments, families should consult with the teacher(s) to let them know of their child’s struggles.

In addition, multiple studies support that consistent reading outside of school builds cognitive processing for all students promoting optimal academic success in all content areas. Homework at grade levels may also involve long-term projects, products, or performances that serve as a demonstration of student learning. Long-term assignments should be made well in advance of the due date and should include incremental checkpoints or benchmarks to help students complete them successfully.

“The old policy was very structured to the point that teachers were assigning homework because they felt they had to… The policy, with its time guidelines, was an unrealistic one-size fits all policy, especially when you look at today’s differentiated instruction and inclusionary practices in the classroom,” said then Assistant Superintendent Sean Gallagher. “The new policy shifts homework from a structured, rigid system to following best practices and practicing a skill, while giving more autonomy to teachers and administrators.”

“We were trying to bring the homework policy back down into the classroom level, where the individual teachers can make the decision,” continued Gallagher. “If I taught the standard for the day and I’m comfortable that my students fully understood it, I may not assign homework that night. But if you taught that same standard for the day and felt your students may need a little more practice with it, then you would assign some homework to practice the new learned skill.”

“The time limits in the existing policy were creating problems. We wanted to kick things back to the teachers and let them make homework decisions, based on the best practices we provide them,” added Gallagher. “If your child doesn’t get homework one night, it’s because they learned the standard. We’re differentiated from classroom to classroom, student to student…. No teacher should feel they need to assign homework just because their colleague assigned homework.”

“My favorite thing about the new policy is the elimination of the suggested times,” agreed School Committee member Steve Bjork. “In this day and age, everything is about differentiated instruction. Student A may take 15 minutes. Student B may take 20 minutes. Student C may take 25 minutes. I’m thrilled time limits are gone.”

“We felt the time suggestions really took away from the authenticity of this new policy,” said School Committee member Jennifer Bryson, who also served on the Homework Committee. “If teacher and administrators look at the five characteristics of best homework, I actually think that homework in this district will drastically change… We want kids to want to do their homework and to be able to do their homework.”

“We’ll be working with the staff to help them develop purposeful, meaningful homework and will emphasize to them it’s OK not to assign homework every night,” responded Gallagher when asked by School Committee David Ragsdale about training for teachers in this area. “The homework topic will be covered on CIT (Curriculum Improvement Time) days and in Professional Development Plans.”

When Ragsdale then asked how the district will evaluate the success of the policy, Gallagher and Bryson suggested a survey be conducted at the end of next school year to gather feedback from students, parents, and teachers. Additionally, the Superintendent and his Leadership Team will have an “ongoing dialog” around the new homework policy throughout the year.

While School Committee member MJ Byrnes was supportive of the policy, she suggested the time guidelines remain in place as a means of helping parents know whether or not their child is struggling.

“Parents need expectations to know what’s reasonable. Let’s include the National Education Association recommended times. We’re not saying teachers have to follow these, but these are a rule of thumb,” said Byrnes. “I want to support the parents, especially new parents entering the school district, by helping them know what’s a reasonable amount of time and what’s unreasonable. To know when there are red flags. To when how much homework is too much.”

“The homework battle at night can create a lot of anxiety and undue stress on the child and entire family…. A parent can tell you when their child has too much homework. They don’t need a set time limit,” responded Gallagher.

Gallagher noted that parents of elementary students may see less traditional homework and more nightly reading for pleasure.

“The Homework will be assigned with the learning of the standards in mind,” reemphasized Gallagher. “One child may get some homework and another child in another classroom may not. We really need to communicate this policy on a regular basis throughout next year. All assignments should be judged against the five characteristics of best homework practices. The School Committee can monitor the new policy with feedback collected.”

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