School board member wants FCPS to rethink homework policy

Aug. 10—A Frederick County Board of Education member thinks the school district should examine and possibly alter its approach to homework assignments.

Board member Jason Johnson gave a presentation on the philosophies and research underpinning homework to his colleagues at the board's work session on Wednesday afternoon. Johnson said he has long had an interest in the topic and wanted the board to consider it.

During the presentation, Johnson reviewed data about where in the world students do the most homework versus where they achieve the best academic results. He argued — as some studies have suggested — that more homework doesn't correlate to higher achievement.

Johnson also stressed that homework unfairly assesses students' home lives.

Homework assignments create an inherently uneven playing field, he argued, since some students can take advantage of quiet, supportive environments in which to study at home, while others have to work, care for siblings or endure abuse or other challenges.

Johnson said excessive homework loads led to sleep deprivation and decreased participation in extracurricular activities, and it harmed students' mental health more than it aided their academics.

He also said the system should make sure teachers assign homework that reviews what students already learned in class and does not introduce new material.

The elected school board sets policies for the system, while Frederick County Public Schools leaders set regulations. Board members have previously said that policies are the "what," and regulations are the "how" — meaning regulations outline the logistics of how the system will go about achieving goals set forth by board policies.

There is no policy on homework, but a regulation covers it. On Wednesday, Johnson argued that the board should consider creating a homework policy.

The policy could set clear guidelines about how homework should be assigned, what quantities are appropriate for certain ages and more, Johnson said. Some of those high-level topics are already addressed by the regulation.

The regulation says high school students should have no more than two total hours of homework per night; seventh and eighth graders should have no more than 75 minutes; sixth graders should have no more than 60 minutes; and fourth and fifth graders should have no more than 45 minutes.

The regulation also says that "research shows that homework is not as beneficial" for students before fourth grade, and that "teachers should use discretion in assigning homework" at those ages.

Johnson, however, said in his presentation that high schoolers should have no more than one hour of homework; seventh and eighth graders should have no more than 45 minutes; and fourth through sixth graders should have no more than 30 minutes.

Both the FCPS regulation and Johnson's suggested policy make exceptions for high school students in dual enrollment courses, who may need to complete more homework.

Regardless, board member Rae Gallagher said 60 minutes might not be a feasible limit to set for high school students. She said she was "not entirely sold" on the need for a board policy on homework.

FCPS Superintendent Cheryl Dyson said she would discuss the matter with her staff and the teachers union. She said she wanted more information on how the district monitors the quantity and quality of homework assignments that students return based on what they are assigned.

Board President Sue Johnson and Vice President Dean Rose signed onto Jason Johnson's request to bring the homework presentation before the board. Three board members must agree to get an item on the agenda.

Follow Jillian Atelsek on Twitter: @jillian_atelsek