The Arlington School Board is expected tonight to adopt an official homework policy for the county school system.
While most board members say that the policy will not have a dramatic effect on the homework load or habits of Arlington students, they believe the policy will send a clear message to parents, teachers and students: The board supports homework and feels it is a positive part of the learning process.
Although many Arlington teachers assign homework, the school system has not had a countywide homework policy. Over the past few years, the board has received complaints from some parents that their children have not been getting homework or have been getting assignments sporadically, according to board member Margaret Bocek.
Parental concern coupled with recent national and local education reports calling for a strengthening of academic standards were among reasons why the board assigned an 18-member task force last fall to look into the value of homework and report to the board, Bocek said. Last summer, the school administrative staff incorporated suggestions of the task force into policy, and that policy was sent to various community and teacher groups for reactions.
Board members say certain parts of the policy are particularly crucial. These include statements that homework should be assessed by the teacher after it is performed, should relate directly to instructional objectives, and should not be used as punishment. Board members support the policy's statement that teachers should communicate to parents and students early in the school year what homework expectations will be.
One issue, however, not all board members agree on is whether a homework policy should spell out guidelines as to how long students should spend on homework. Fairfax County and the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church have stated time guidelines in their homework policies.
Bocek is the only board member who has supported time guidelines. At a School Board meeting earlier this month, she suggested writing into the policy that elementary pupils have no more than one hour of homework four nights a week and that secondary school students spend 20 minutes per subject on homework four nights a week.
"Other school districts are much more specific," she said. "Homework is a direct and essential link between the teacher and the parent. It reinforces and builds good study habits and is an important tool for reinforcing learning skills. Certainly we can't do too much to reinforce those skills."
Although other School Board members said that they believe that homework does have important merits in strengthening work habits and promoting a sense of personal accountability, they are opposed to time guidelines.
Dorothy Stambaugh, vice chairman of the board, described such guidelines as "hellacious," saying time limits would be impossible to enforce.
Florence Rogers, a parent of two children in the Arlington schools and a member of the homework task force, agreed. "There is no such thing as 10 minutes' worth of homework," she said. "The only way you can assign a certain amount of minutes of homework is to have students work those amount of minutes and then stop."