A stack of books a foot high under his arm, 11th-grader Mare Gordon waited for the bus outside Montgomery County's Kennedy High School and looked ahead to his activities for the afternoon and evening.
"I've got French IV, Latin III, chemistry, elementary functions and modern history," he said. "At least three hours of homework in all . . . about average."
In marked contrast, classmate Toby Schwartz waited nearby, her notebook and a single text resting near her on a retaining wall. "I've had homework about three times this year," she said. "They never assign it. The only thing I have to do is study for tests."
Gordon and Schwartz and thousands of students like them throughout Montgomery County are currently at the hub of a year-long debate over whether they should be given regular, mandatory homework assignments.
On Tuesday, the issue is set to come to a head when Montgomery County's Board of Education will vote on a resolution that would require all teachers to assign homework on a regular daily basis.
It is an issue that has been debated by educators since the dawn of textbooks. School systems in Fairfax and Alexandria have adopted formal homework policies in recent years. In Arlington, parents are currently being surveyed on a variety of educational issues, among them whether they want schools with regular homework assignments.
In Montgomery County, the issue has divided the Board of Education and drawn the fire of teacher and principal organizations who contend regular homework requirements are an intrusion into the professional judgment of the educators.
It was put before the Board of Education last December by Board member Marian Greenblatt who said a number of parents had complained that "the kids do not have any homework."
"I noticed that a lot of high school students were coming home with no books," Greenblatt said. "They had nothing to do. Their program was easy. I personally do not understand how in most of the academic subjects the students cannot be doing homework. They should be learning good study habits."
"My intention is not that those students who are currently getting homework should get more. My only purpose is that every student should have some homework."
"Most teachers believe in homework. What we don't want is a system of monitoring homework that will create a whole lot of paperwork," says Henry B. Heller, president of the Montgomery County Education Association.
"It's an invasion of the teacher's professional discretion."
As originally proposed, the Montgomery homework policy would have set forth specific minimum requirements, 15 minutes a night in grades one through three; 30 minutes in grades four through six. At the secondary level, junior high school students would have been required to spend 15 minutes a night per major subject and high school students 20 minutes a night.
After considerable debate, that plan was modified by the board's staff to a general statement that affirmed the value of homework in the learning process. It went on to say that the "nature, frequency and length of homework assignments" are best determined by the teacher.
At last month's board meeting, Greenblatt added amendments that specify homework is to be considered a regular daily activity. Additionally, she proposed formal procedures for developing and disseminating homework policies to parents and students.
"The way the staff had written it, it was just a big bowl of jello," said Greenblatt.
"I'd rather have jello than concrete," said Verna Fletcher, another Montgomery Board of Education member.
"I don't think the board can enforce any policy which says every teacher will assign every child homework every night. It takes out of the teacher's hands the flexibility he needs to do the right thing for the child."
Although all school systems in the Washington area say they encourage teachers to assign homework, only Alexandria and Fairfax have adopted specific policies in terms of time the assignments should take. Three years ago in response to parental pressure, the Alexandria School Board enacted a homework policy beginning at the third grade level with 20 to 30 minutes of required homework each night.
For fourth and fifth-grades, the policy is 35 to 45 minutes per night; in grades six, seven and eight it is a total of 45 minutes to one hour. Ninth and 10th-graders are expected to do between one and 1 1/2 hours of homework per night, while 11th and 12th-graders are to do between 1 and 2 hours. Principals are to see to it that the prescribed amounts of homework are assigned each night.
"In the 1960s we were getting a lot of this 'do-your-own-thing' and the kids weren't bringing homework home any more," said John Stubbings, director of secondary education for the Alexandria public schools.
In the three years since the Alexandria School Board voted its homework policy, only this year did it become fully effective, Stubbings said.
"It's taken the past couple of years to really get people in the swing of things," he said. "Now we're getting the reverse thing. Parents are compalining that their kids have to spend two or three hours a night on homework and they never get a chance to relax."
Fairfax County's Board of Education adopted guidelines in January of last year calling for 30 minutes of homework once or twice a week in grades one through three; one hour of homework two or three times a week in grades four through six. Daily assignments are expected in the six upper grades with one to 1 1/2 hours suggested in grades seven and eight and one to two hours suggested for grades nine through 12.
Fairfax school officials said, however, that the guidelines are merely recommendations and that teachers are permitted a degree of flexibility within that framework.
In Montgomery County, the pending homework proposal has drawn criticism from both the elementary and secondary principals, both of whom argue that current homework policies are adequate.
"We do believe that homework is necessary, but you have to leave it up to the professional staff," said Anson F. Wilcox, principal of Montgomery Village June High School and president of the Montgomery County Association of Secondary School Princi- [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
"To bring in something like this is really awful. "It's saying the teachers haven't been giving homework. We relate homework to individual differences and we believe that our teachers are professional enough to assign homework in a way that would meet the needs of our students."
"We are totally opposed to the new proposal," said Ann Jett, principal of Woodley Gardens Elementary School and president of the Montgomery County Association of Elementary School Administrators.
"We are not opposed to homework, but you really have to know the child and the community and teach to that child and that need. You can't have a homework policy that is mandated from a central office that doesn't understand the complexities of any given community."
Also opposing the proposed homework policy is the County Council of PYAs, although individual parents are divided on the issue.
Some of these kids seem to think they can sit there in class and learn by osmosis. They've got to get some homework," said one parent.
"My kids have plenty of homework now," said another parent. "My fourth-grader was up until 9:30 last night, past her bedtime, doing her homework."
Similar divisions exist among students.
"I've got at least two hours of homework and I've got to study for a test," said Ricardo Cunha, leaving Kennedy High School at the end of a day of classes. "I don't like it. You're too tired at the end of the day and I've got other things I'd like to do."
Patti Frost, a 12th-grade student at Kennedy, thinks more homework might be a good idea.
"You would learn more," she said. "Now they just give you something to do and you turn it in at the end of class and you never have time to discuss it."