Schedule changes lead to more homework complaints in 300, 308
By Emily McFarlan Miller firstname.lastname@example.org December 25, 2012 7:20PM
Jake Dziewulski (from left) converse with fellow students Haley Hetherington and Rachel Gehr before a test final in history class Friday at Jacobs High School in Algonquin. How much homework are students given now days then from past years? Is technology changing the way students are doing homework? December 21, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 27, 2013 6:22AM
ALGONQUIN — Students donned holiday sweaters and pulled out sheets of lined paper and pencils for finals on Friday, the last day before winter break at Jacobs High School.
It’d be a relief to be done, to forget about schoolwork for a few days. Except over Thanksgiving, AP (Advanced Placement) chemistry students had gotten notes on two chapters they were responsible for over the break, remembered senior Jexenia Bennett, 16, of Algonquin.
That comes as high schools in both Carpentersville-based Community Unit School District 300 and Oswego Community Unit School District 308 have moved this school year from block scheduling to eight-period school days.
And that has brought with it complaints from students and parents about an increase in homework. It’s part of the reason Brad Clark, an English teacher at Jacobs, included a question about how much time students spend on homework each night in the mock election last month at the school.
Most Jacobs students reported that they do one to two hours (28.3 percent) or 30 minutes to one hour (27.9 percent) of homework each night.
Students who maintain a 4.0 grade point average are more likely to do more homework: nearly 40 percent said they do two or more hours of homework each night. And twice as many female students (26.5 percent) as male students (13 percent) said they do two or more hours of homework, according to mock election results.
Juniors also spend more time on their work, with 30 percent doing more than two hours each night and nearly 35 percent, one to two hours, election results said.
Anecdotally, junior Derrius Carter, 16, of Algonquin said that’s probably an hour more homework each night this year than he had done last year.
With the move from block scheduling to the eight-period day in District 300, doubling students’ classload, “it became that much more critical” teachers take into account how much homework they assign their students, Clark said. That was something he said department leaders had stressed to teachers.
Previously, the high school year was split into four terms in the Carpentersville district. Each day of the term was divided into four 86-minute blocks and a required advisory period of 20 to 30 minutes.
Now, an eight-period schedule splits the school year into two semesters. Each day is divided into eight 45-minute periods, and only freshmen and sophomores are required to take a 45-minute advisory period or study hall.
Clark said that at the start of the school year, he had students in AP and honors courses telling him they stayed up all night doing homework without sleep. And he had a mom tell him during parent-teacher conferences she’d promised her son she’d confront all his teachers about “the overwhelming amount of homework he had every night.”
“We were all learning at the same time how much is enough, how much is too much. Unfortunately, the students are the ones who suffered from the mistakes,” he said.
Now at the end of the first semester, Clark said, most teachers have figured that out. At least, he said, he hasn’t heard the same level of concern from students and parents as he did at the beginning of the school year.
Carter said he thinks both teachers and students are adjusting to the new schedule.
However, Bennett said she still has a couple hours of homework each night just in AP Chemistry.
“It’s a hard class, but the homework honestly helps,” mimicking questions that show up later on tests, she said.
“That’s the irony of it,” Carter said.
Teachers and even school board members in Oswego Community Unit School District 308 have faced similar complaints about the overabundance of homework following this year’s switch from block scheduling to a “Flex-8” schedule of eight periods a day.
“We certainly are getting a lot of complaints from parents because the 48 minutes in the classroom are spent teaching, and that doesn’t leave the student any time to get their work done,” said board member Laurie Pasteris.
That is complicated by the fact that neither Oswego high school offers study hall to their students. At a November meeting, board members asked for a review of the Flex-8 schedule and the possibility of adding a study hall into the daily routine.
“A lot of your AP kids or student athletes could use study hall,” said board member Alison Swanson. “Pretty much any kid could use a study hall. I’m not sure I enjoy the idea of giving my kids seven hours (of class) and doing homework while they’re eating lunch.”
But one teacher present at the meeting balked at the idea of wasted class time that could be spent on instruction.
“Common Core standards dictate that rigorous instruction be the focus of each class period, not that the class period should be given an excessive amount of time for students to get their work done,” said junior high school teacher Donna Thill.
“We all have homework. It’s something that should be expected.”
But the conversation about homework in Fox Valley schools goes beyond how much is too much.
One shift caused by the Common Core standards that schools across the state are implementing is in the importance of homework, according to Erick Hornberg, a U.S. history teacher at Jacobs.
“The old-school thought was the amount of homework assigned had to do with the amount of rigor, which is not actually true. The amount of homework doesn’t have anything to do with rigor,” Hornberg said.
Instead, it’s much for important for students to show their mastery of a skill in class, Jim Dzialo said. That’s part of the reason the Jacobs social studies teacher said he’s collecting less homework and giving more in-class assessments — that, and it’s harder for students to copy work on those assessments.
Dzialo also is part of a pilot program using iPads in District 300 high schools. He swept his finger across a tablet at his desk at the high school, showing off the AP Human Geography curriculum he’s built online and the assignments students can download as PDF files, then complete and turn in by sending to his Dropbox account.
And neighboring Elgin School District U46 is considering implementing a homework policy district-wide similar to the one Tefft Middle School in Streamwood started about 13 years ago. That’s a policy that doesn’t accept students not turning in homework, according to Tefft Principal Lavonne Smiley.
“We’ve really taken it on as far as setting that expectation that homework is important,” Smiley said.
Once students have missed three homework assignments at the middle school, they must attend “P.M. school” to finish those assignments with a teacher in that subject, the principal said. The school generally has 25 to 30 students doing homework every evening in the building.
“At one time we were seeing over 100 failures in a year. We’ve really reduced that by 90-some percent,” she said.
“We really see homework as something that impacts grades. We really feel because we’ve taken on the issue of homework, it’s led to higher grades and higher academic performances at our site.”
Staff Writer Jenette Sturges
contributed to this report.