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School Board Assigned to Review Homework Policy

Education: Conejo Valley trustees will consider parents' complaints that students are overworked.


School officials in one of Ventura County's highest-performing districts are considering changing guidelines to limit the amount of homework students get each night.

The move in the Conejo Valley Unified School District renews a decades-old debate about the work students must complete each evening: How much is too much?

Recent parent complaints prompted Conejo Valley officials to begin studying the issue and working to update their 16-year-old policy, said Richard Simpson, assistant superintendent in charge of instruction.

Since November, a committee of district officials, teachers and parents have done their own homework, studying the latest research and engaging in sometimes-spirited debates, he said.

The resulting proposal, which school board members will review tonight, provides guidelines for teachers by grade level in three aspects of homework: quantity, type, and importance in grading.

The proposal would reduce homework for elementary school students, Simpson said. Assignments would be limited to 20 minutes for first- and second-graders and 50 minutes for third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. Nightly homework assignments for most middle school students would be limited to about 90 minutes. Research shows that spending more than an hour and a half per day on homework in middle school could reduce student achievement, Simpson said.

In high school, homework would range from 90 to 120 minutes a night.

For all students, only homework assignments directly linked to state academic standards would count toward a grade.

Thousand Oaks High School sophomore Dani Anderson said the changes won't affect her much this year, as she typically has about two hours of homework each night.

But she thinks the district is headed in the right direction.

"When we do have a lot of homework, it's way too much," she said. "We go to six classes a day, and it's almost like teachers forget you have other classes."

Sophomore Amanda Jeka, who plays on the school's softball team, said she often has three to four hours of homework after practice. She agreed that more coordination among teachers would help.

"I know people who have to stay up until 1 or 2 in the morning to do homework, which is ridiculous," she said. "We're only high school students."

Not surprisingly, teachers expressed a different view.

"I don't think we are giving too much," said Susan Falk, president of the Unified Assn. of Conejo Teachers. "There may be nights when there's more to meet a standard, but it all seems to balance out in the end."

Falk said she approves of the district's proposal, for the most part, but predicted that the time restrictions will be difficult for educators, particularly those in middle and high schools.

She and other teachers say that homework assignments are already geared to California's academic standards, so there's no need for a mandate.

"Teachers are professionals," said Westlake High School English teacher Meribeth Freeman. "They know their job and what they're supposed to do. We're very precise in our homework assignments and have long known the old concept of homework for the sake of homework didn't apply."

Simpson said he believes that the process of crafting the policy--namely bringing parents and teachers together to discuss the issues--was one of its biggest benefits.

"Clearly a lot of teachers are already right on target," he said. "But this is going to help ensure that with all the things in kids' lives, homework is there for a good purpose."

The Conejo Valley school board meets at 7 tonight at district headquarters, 1400 E. Janss Road in Thousand Oaks.

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