CARY — Wake County school board member Jim Martin charged Tuesday that the system’s homework practices are unfair to low-income students and that the amount of homework assigned isn’t consistent across the state’s largest school district.
Citing concerns he’s heard from parents and examples seen at his children’s schools, Martin said it’s a matter of equity that schools reexamine their homework plans. But other board members cautioned against going too far in dictating how the 170 schools give out homework.
“There are issues out there with respect to homework that I know I as a board member get contacted about, and I’m sure others do as well – issues of consistency,” Martin said at Tuesday’s policy committee meeting. “There are schools where kids are doing ridiculous amounts of homework and there are schools where kids are almost doing no homework.”
Martin, the policy committee chair, used Tuesday’s review of the homework policy to raise several issues.
Martin said that the block schedule used in most of Wake’s high schools has “aggravated” the issue of no homework assignments in some classes. In the block schedule, students take four 90-minute classes a day instead of a larger number of shorter classes.
Some tasks called “busywork”
“No one can have solid instruction for 90 minutes,” said Martin, a professor at N.C. State University. “So oftentimes, what otherwise would have been done in homework is done during the block schedule time.”
Martin contended that busywork is given as homework in some situations. He also cited the number of out-of-school projects assigned by teachers that require students to use computers or other technology.
Martin said schools should consider limiting the number of out-of-school assignments that can’t be accomplished without school resources.
“There’s an equity issue there,” Martin said. “I’m not saying that we shouldn’t challenge every child to do the best that they can. But what we’ve done is created a system where some kids cannot perform at the highest level of work.”
Policy change could help
School board member Kevin Hill called the way in which teachers handle homework an issue of “academic freedom.”
“I don’t think we micromanage, we get into the weeds on homework,” said Hill, also a professor at N.C. State and a retired principal.
School administrators said that at least some of Martin’s concerns would be addressed by recent changes made in the district’s grading policy. Every school is now required to develop a grading plan that addresses issues such as how they’ll handle homework, missed work and extra credit, and how they’ll help students who are at risk of failing.
The grading plan will be developed by groups of educators at each school called professional learning teams, or PLTs.
During the long-discussed revisions to the grading policy, Martin has been critical of efforts to standardize grading practices so that every teacher would issue grades the same way.
On the homework issue, Martin said he’s not calling for uniformity, but for consistency.
“The PLTs need to address an effective homework plan just like they need to address an effective grading plan,” he said after the meeting.