School board committee: Don't ban summer homework

Posted: Thursday, January 25, 2001

A committee of the Juneau School Board will recommend the full board not ban summer homework.

Committee members said students should know before they register for a course whether it has summer homework. But they said the school board shouldn't tell teachers whether to assign homework.

Parents of some advanced students at Juneau-Douglas High School have said their children need the summer to pursue their own interests or be with family. Summer homework has caused some students to drop advanced courses, they said.

Teachers have said summer homework helps students learn what's expected of them, helps teachers know their students' abilities sooner, and lets everyone start the school year productively.

Some parents asked the board earlier this school year to set a policy against summer homework. Teachers, under supervision from the principal, now decide about homework and other course requirements.

"Please allow parents to decide how best to use the summer vacation for the education of our children," Bill Diebels Jr., parent of a freshman and a seventh-grader, told the three-member Program Evaluation Committee on Tuesday.

Sophia Brubaker, a parent and a middle school teacher, said summer assignments for her daughter created a crisis. The family had planned a reunion, and her daughter was taking her first job.

"She was really devastated," Brubaker said of her daughter. "I don't think I'm overstating it when I say it ruined our summer."

Diane DeSloover, a parent and an elementary school teacher, questioned whether teachers have the right to assign homework to be done outside of their nine-month contract.

"The issue of teacher rights is at the heart of this discussion," she told the committee. "The decision you are making will clearly speak to this community about the power this board is handing over to individual teachers."

Parents also were concerned because summer homework is assigned before teachers have prepared students for the work, and is done when teachers may not be available to help.

Some teachers of advanced courses have assigned summer homework for several years, said JDHS Principal Deb Morse. She said the school will include homework requirements in course descriptions, which hasn't always been done. And students should know what the assignments are before the school year ends, so they can ask questions of teachers then, she said.

The latest concerns were triggered when about 60 sophomores last summer were asked to read a play and write a two- to three-page essay, research a person from ancient Greece and compile a scrapbook of significant items that existed in the subject's life, and decide on a science fair topic.

George Gress, who heads the English department at JDHS, said teachers of advanced English courses support the option of assigning summer reading.

"Parents and students expect the work to be rigorous in advanced classes," he said. "That rigor includes the expectation that our students need to read and consider good literature year-round. Many of them will be applying to good colleges, where they will be expected to read 150 pages per night and to have a solid grounding in a wide range of prerequisite reading."

Board members Alan Schorr, Daniel Peterson and Carolyn Spalding are on the Program Evaluation Committee, which makes recommendations to the full, seven-member board.

Schorr said he didn't think it was wrong for teachers to ask for summer homework, saying the workload is "relatively modest." Committee members agreed the board shouldn't tell teachers how much homework to give.

Eric Fry can be reached at efry@juneauempire.com.



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