Homework battle pits parents against teachers at School Board meeting

The Miami-Dade School Board met on Wednesday.
The Miami-Dade School Board met on Wednesday. The Miami Herald

Parents and teachers butted heads over homework policy at the Miami-Dade School Board meeting on Wednesday, with parents arguing that many teachers assign far beyond the recommended amount, leaving children little time to spend with their families.

In a debate that lasted for over an hour and a half, parents called on the School Board to increase awareness of the district’s policy — which recommends a scale ranging from 30 minutes of homework for kindergarteners and first-graders up to two hours for high school students — and improve compliance through teacher training. Some parents also asked the board to get rid of mandatory homework altogether in favor of optional, personalized assignments.

“There is not a minute of time for free play or exercise,” said Laurenne Moreland, a school counselor and one of nine Miami-Dade parents who spoke at the meeting.

Other parents shared stories of their children spending four or five hours a night on homework in elementary school and gave examples of assignments they considered to be busy work.

Teachers bristled at the suggestion that the School Board try to dictate the amount of homework they assign to their students, arguing that the real enemy is standardized testing, which takes up a large chunk of classroom time.

“As you know this is an era of high-stakes testing and much of the time is lost in the classroom in preparation for those tests, so as a result homework is necessary,” said Vincent Davis, a United Teachers of Dade executive board member.

It’s a conversation that needs to be had at the schools and that needs to be had with the teachers.

School Board member Susie Castillo

Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho acknowledged that striking the right balance with homework is a difficult and ongoing issue in education.

“Our best shot is greater awareness, greater sensitivity, additional training on the efficacy, efficiency, benefit, but also consequences of homework,” he said.

Carvalho also noted that teachers are not always aware of how much homework their students are getting in other classes and said the district was exploring the possibility of using a “learning management system” that would allow teachers to view the assignments their colleagues give out.

The board item, which called for the superintendent to consult with parents, teachers and administrators and develop a plan for a homework awareness campaign, passed unanimously. Carvalho will present a report to the board at its February meeting with recommendations on how to increase awareness and compliance.

“We need to hear parents and do something about it,” said School Board member Susie Castillo, who proposed the item. “It’s a conversation that needs to be had at the schools and that needs to be had with the teachers.”

The debate was the latest installment in an ongoing conversation about homework at both the local and national levels. One Miami-Dade public school, Henry S. West Laboratory School in Coral Gables, made headlines earlier this year when it did away with mandatory homework altogether.