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I’ve spent the last few months contemplating our local school district’s homework policy, the policies employed by my kids’ various teachers, doing a lot of reading and research regarding the (nebulous) benefits and (concrete) harm of homework – especially homework for children at the elementary school level, and especially excessive homework – reaching out to other local parents to get a feel for how they perceive homework and how it impacts their kids and their families, reading up on other school districts’ policies, and writing, writing, writing – trying to inform local parents of what I’ve found in my research, and trying to galvanize people to take a stand.  Because, you know what?  Nothing changes until people are willing to step out of their comfort zones and speak up.  I started Facebook group for local parents so we could have a place to share ideas and concerns; I wrote an op-ed for our local paper (which resulted in the dramatic end of a friendship), and I started a petition on change.org with the hope that gathering enough signatures from local parents would show the district that they need to take serious note of this issue.

The petition didn’t draw nearly the attention I had hoped it would.  Numerous people told me that although they do have concerns about the current homework policy, they did not want to put their name on a petition because they work for the district or volunteer at their children’s school, or are just plain worried about the repercussions their child might be dealt.  This is very disheartening.

In the end, I wrote a letter to our Superintendent:

Dr. Pletka,

I am writing to you about Fullerton School District’s homework policy.  I’ve commented on your Superintendent’s Facebook page, but allow me to formally introduce myself:  my name is Lisa Morguess and I am . . . the parent of seven children, the oldest of whom attends * High School, the middle four of whom are currently enrolled at * Elementary School, and the youngest two not yet school aged.

Homework has become more and more of a concern to me, and a burden on my family.  Rather than rewriting my concerns, I’ll direct you to an article I wrote for Fullerton StoriesHomework: Stop the Madness.  In summary, FSD’s current homework policy is ambiguous and overburdensome.  The only correlation any studies have shown between homework and academic achievement is in the form of test scores – the almighty standardized test scores, which seem to drive just about everything in school these days, at the expense of genuine learning and fostering a love of learning.  I am deeply opposed to the amount of time my children are expected to spend on homework on a daily basis, at the expense of other important activities, including family time, unstructured play, extracurricular activities, and even sleep.  Both the National PTA and the National Education Association endorse limits on daily homework of ten minutes per grade level – and yet FSD sees fit to expect children to spend much more time than that – deeming it acceptable for middle schoolers to spend up to two hours a night on homework, thereby potentially having eleven- and twelve-year olds work more than an adult eight-hour work day.  This may serve the schools, but it certainly does not serve children.  Aren’t schools supposed to serve children, and not the other way around?

I’ve reached out to a lot of other parents in the community and these feelings of frustration about homework are pretty common.  I wrote a petition, which you can see here: Call to Reform Fullerton School District Policy, but was unable to get as many signatures as I had hoped.  You might be surprised to know why: many parents told me that while they agree that the current homework policy needs to be reformed, they did not want to put their name on a petition and possibly see their children suffer repercussions, or suffer repercussions themselves as classroom volunteers and so forth.  I would like to believe that parents may act in the best interests of their children without having to fear repercussions.

In any case, it is my understanding that as the new Superintendent, you are considering some policy changes.  It is my hope that you will take these concerns about homework into serious consideration and draft a new homework policy that better serves the students in Fullerton.

Respectfully,

Lisa Morguess

I received a response from him via his assistant:

I appreciate your comments and thoughtful reflections about homework. Homework is one of the more controversial subjects in education. Within this year alone, I have heard from some parents that want less homework and an equal number who want us to give more homework. Parents for good reason are passionate about the subject. Just last year there was a committee that reviewed the homework policy and provided guidelines for the policy. Currently, we will be continuing to follow the guidelines/recommendations that they provided just last year. Currently, there is research about homework and in general the committee adhered to homework guidelines that were consistent with the research. Over the next year, I will be continuing to gather input from parents and the community about homework. I do appreciate you weighing-in on this topic. I appreciated your feedback about the current policy. Additionally, your article was well written. It is nice to meet you.

Very disappointing that none of the specific issues I raised were addressed at all.  And I guess even the Superintendent falls back on the old standby, “There are just as many parents asking for more homework.”  Do you know how many teachers I’ve heard that from?  Funny, because never have I run into a parent who says they wish their kid had MORE homework.   And when my daughter’s first grade teacher took her little survey, exactly TWO parents out of a class of 33 students apparently expressed that they wanted more homework.

So, the whole endeavor feels at this point like it’s been a waste of time.  It’s difficult to get parents to be willing to take a stand – and I don’t fault anyone for that.  Everyone has to do what they feel is best for their family, and I do understand that concern about being able to remain an employee of the district or a classroom volunteer trumps concern over homework practices.  It’s unfortunate that parents have to worry about things like that.  It’s also extremely difficult to convince the powers that be to take notice, to take these concerns seriously.  What motivation do they have, after all?  The reality is that they are accountable to the state and to their own bureaucracy – not to the families they supposedly serve.  It’s very, very disheartening.

I’m not sure where I will take my concerns at this point.  I am seriously considering drafting up a letter to give to each of my kids’ teachers at the beginning of the new school year outlining exactly what I am willing to make my kids do with regard to homework.  If they are not going to set reasonable, healthy limits, then I guess it’s up to me to do so.  And maybe I should request the teachers to sign it and return it.

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