Pleasanton School District Homework Policy

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By Tim Hunt

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About this blog: I am a native of Alameda County, grew up in Pleasanton and currently live in the house I grew up in that is more than 100 years old. I spent 39 years in the daily newspaper business and wrote a column for more than 25 years in add...  (More)

About this blog: I am a native of Alameda County, grew up in Pleasanton and currently live in the house I grew up in that is more than 100 years old. I spent 39 years in the daily newspaper business and wrote a column for more than 25 years in addition to writing editorials for more than 15 years. I have served as a director of many non-profits in the Valley and the broader Bay Area and currently serve as chair of Teen Esteem and on the advisory board of Shepherd?s Gate. I also served as founding chair of Heart for Africa and have travelled to Africa seven times to serve on mission trips. My wife, Betty Gail, has taught at Amador Valley High (from where we both graduated) since 1981. She and I both graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, as did both of my parents and my three siblings. Given that Cal tradition, our daughter went south to the University of Southern California and graduated with a degree in international relations. Since graduation, she has taken three mission trips and will be serving in the Philippines for nine months starting in September.  (Hide)

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Pleasanton schools facing the challenge of declining enrollment

Uploaded: Mar 15, 2016
Responding to the commentator who observed that I was out-spoken against a third comprehensive high school. I sure hope I was.
What we have been seeing for about a decade in Pleasanton is a large bubble of students going through the pipeline. To accommodate “the bubble” requires wise planning to design flexible facilities to accommodate the large number without creating facilities that will be empty in a few years. That’s why, when tapping into state money, one of the prior requirements was half portable classrooms so districts were not stuck with empty facilities after students moved through.
Pleasanton, in my memory, has never closed a school and only sold two surplus sites over the years. By contrast, both Livermore (four) and Dublin (one) have closed school sites that could not be used. In the rapidly growing San Ramon Valley district, the challenge for school administrators is that all of the growth—other than neighborhoods turning over—is in the southeast quadrant while the schools with room are located in the north end of the district.
In the 2013-14 school year (the last year the state web site has information listed), the smallest enrollment for Pleasanton was in the first grade, with kindergarten and 2nd grade the next two lowest. Each was 250-300 students below the equivalent classes in high school.
Those trends are worrisome because declining enrollment means declining money. Much of Pleasanton’s enrollment growth in the last decade has come from neighborhoods transitioning (long-time empty nesters selling to younger families with children). Some of that will continue, but it likely will slow down (the city approved and developers built a lot of homes in the 1960s-1990s before residential growth slowed).
It remains to be seen how student enrollment will be affected by the new apartment complexes being built all over town. We will know more in the next couple of years—typically apartments do not attract that many families, but the combination of well-regarded public schools, a great lifestyle and high housing costs may encourage families to choose the rentals.
NOTE TO WRITER: Yes, my wife has taught throughout her career at Amador Valley (we are second generation Amador family—our daughter graduated from there as well). A third high school likely would have had minimal effect on teacher compensation—it e is primarily a capital expenditure. There is certainly an operating cost (utilities, administration and support staff) but that is minor compared to the cost of teachers.


Posted by Zenmonkman, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Mar 15, 2016 at 5:10 pm
Zenmonkman is a registered user.

I'm not sure of the argument that kids are overworked. If they were, then the school would be ranked higher in the state / nation than it is. I know the schools in Pleasanton are great. But, I'm not so sure kids are using their time just studying ... and in turn, that is the reason for declining student population.

First, the question of student time. Ask your kid how much time they spend on Facebook and other social media or gaming per day. I bet you'll be surprised how many hours it totals. Now, if you're saying that kids need a balanced lifestyle, then say that. Moving a kid to a private school use to mean having kids study MORE not LESS. Anyway, enough of that argument.

I believe the there are two population bubbles in play. One, the Baby Boomers. Two, the Millennials. I believe that both are highly correlated, that is, the Boomers gave birth to a lot of Millennials. The Boomers are empty nesters and their kids have gotten older, in other words, they are out in the work force now. That's where the bubble is right now (no jobs, lots of college debt, et. al.)

I think the tail end of the Millennial bubble will the be last of high income babies for a long time. Millennials are waiting longer to have kids, and the pricing is preventing them from moving into high priced residential housing like Pleasanton. The Millennials I know from Pleasanton are moving to Sacramento, Hayward, and beyond.

My point: Stay put. Don't expend. Nestle down and let the kids plow through their current situation. Big moves for kids are not fun. Creating a new legacy takes decades. Pleasanton needs to reel in its administration. With those savings, you can rent/lease extra portables without long term capital outlays. REmember, school administrators (through-out California and other states) feel they are entitled to big pay, big pensions ... it's the place where educators go to get on-the-job retirement. It's part of the their culture. Rein them in ... and there will be enough dough to rebuild the Roman Empire.

(Sorry for rambling)

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Posted by Zenmonkman, a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood,
on Mar 16, 2016 at 6:01 pm
Zenmonkman is a registered user.

@ Foothill Dad:

"I would strongly urge you to read up on this subject a bit, before you post. Read up on "the epidemic of insomnia in high schools"."

Foothill D, interesting you say that. It just so happens I spent a year as part of a blue-ribbon research team for a renown scientist for a book he was writing on home and personal health. It went on to be a New York Times Best Seller, and yes, my name shows up in the acknowledgement. We covered many topics of health, but one of my sections was teenage insomnia. So let's just say, that my level of research and understanding of the subject would pass any criteria you might put forth, or for that matter even imagine. The subject goes deeply into areas of cellular and cognitive development, et. al, areas covered by the medical specialists in the area. Incidentally, my research was the basis of their further study, although their work went much farther into biological cross-field analysis, as you can well imagine.

The fact of the matter is that the sleep variable impacting adolescent's health is the TIME THEY GET UP, not the activity at night. So, it's not the homework that keeps kids from sleeping, it's getting up too early. The national movement's going on in the country are not to reduce workload per se, but to start school at a later time, coinciding with the natural sleep functions of adolescents.

The other factor related to early rising is, of course, getting to bed too late. What most studies found is that "light" keeps us awake and also impedes sleep. Modern homes are more incidental light-- so the modern problem of teen / adult sleep. So, if you want to go to sleep, turn off all the lights, and make sure it's dark. But, what most people don't understand is that their bedrooms are filled with light, i.e., light from their clocks, nightlights, other devices, and of course, falling to sleep with the TV on.

When it comes to adolescents, studies found that many teenagers are glued to their mobile devices, some going so far as too sleep with them, and waking up to notifications until the early morning hours. Now, the screen on the device is very bright. So the longer the adolescent stays up with their device, the less sleep they get because they keep bombarding their eyes with LIGHT ... (that only makes sense). But, the troublesome thing is that this is not related to just a small percentage of teens, but a very large percentage teens. (I don't want to pull out all the documentation just to prove a small and obvious point ... but ask around and you'll find teens admitting to late use of digital devices)

Again, it's not the homework at night that's the main problem, but the getting up early. And in most cases, teens stay up late, not because they are doing their homework (although I concede that in the entire nation, Foothill is the exception and that teens excessively labor over homework until the wee hours of the morning -- and do not use their cell phones, except during lunchtimes and Saturdays ... there you win on this point). But, in the rest of the nation what keeps most kids up late into the night is the use of their cellphones. That means the LIGHT emanating from the phone is the culprit that disturbs sleep.

So to conclude: Yes, I have done more than a little research on the subject, and have a New York Times Best Seller under my belt as a researcher on the exact subject you want me to research. Next, kids are asked to get up too early for school, working against their natural clock, causing lots of sleep problems. Finally, staying up late only agitates the problem, and the main cause of staying up late for most people is bedroom lights, TV's, and for adolescents it's their CELLPHONE (Facebook, et. al)!

Whew! I knew that my comment above was going to cause some grumbling, and in that case I would have nodded and left it alone. I guess when Foothill D. called me on my expertise it gnawed at me in the wrong way. Anyway, enough said ... the subject was about decreasing enrollment and NOT HOMEWORK & SLEEP DEFICIENCY IN ADOLESCENTS.

Nite1 Nite! Time to hit the hay! Lights out everyone!

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Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

In new L.A. Unified policy, homework will count for just 10% of a student's grade.

Some educators also object to a one-size-fits-all mandate they said could hamstring teaching or homogenize it. They say, too, that students who do their homework perform significantly better than those who don't -- a view supported by research.

But Los Angeles Unified is pressing forward, joining a growing list of school districts across the country that are taking on homework -- including Fontana and Pleasanton, N.J. In many districts, limits are being placed on the amount of homework so students can spend more time with their families or pursue extracurricular activities like sports or hobbies. The competition to get into top colleges has left students anxious and exhausted, with little free time, parents complain.

In Davis, a policy that took effect this year specifies homework maximums, with some exceptions for advanced courses. And it prohibits assigning homework over weekends and holidays while also addressing the quality of the assignments.

That effort, and others, aligns with national trends and widely accepted research.

A good thumbnail is 10 minutes per day multiplied by the grade of the student, said Duke University professor Harris Cooper. So a sixth-grader should be able to handle 60 minutes. Cooper said homework patterns have followed 30-year cycles: the Soviets' launch of Sputnik in 1957, for example, also launched a crusade in this country to increase homework. The trend is now swinging against more-is-better.

The L.A. approach is intended to account for the myriad urban problems facing the district's mostly low-income, minority population. It's also aimed at supporting L.A. Unified's increasing focus on boosting measureable academic achievement.

According to the new policy, "Varying degrees of access to academic support at home, for whatever reason, should not penalize a student so severely that it prevents the student from passing a class, nor should it inflate the grade." It was distributed to schools last month.

Veronica Castro, a Santee junior, cooks and cleans for her family. She also shares a room with her sister, who likes to watch television. Another TV blares in the living room next door: "Sometimes homework is the last thing I have to do instead of the first."

Santee science teacher Cesar Alcaraz said he already takes students' home environments into consideration and hopes the policy will curb poor homework practices by teachers.

Homework should not be used to punish or reward; grades should be based on learning so that it "accurately represents what a student knows and is able to do," the policy says. Grades should not be based on how students attain knowledge "nor [on] their behavior, attitude, effort or attendance."

Previously, teachers could determine how much weight should be given to homework, tests and other assignments.

The homework change accompanies another policy being tested: More than three dozen campuses are experimenting with boosting a student's grade for improved performance on state standardized tests.

Both policies were quietly developed this year under the auspices of Chief Academic Officer Judy Elliott. Both emphasize measurable results in a school system in which teachers, principals and even the superintendent will be evaluated on student performance.

The new policy is commendable but should be combined with helping teachers improve their use of homework, said Etta Kralovec, co-author of "The End of Homework" and a University of Arizona associate professor.

Wheelock College associate professor Janine Bempechat said the district should focus on providing students the support they need to complete their homework, which remains crucial. "To make homework worthy of only 10% of a student's grade sends a message that it is not important," Bempechat said.

Though many Santee students have burdens outside of school, "students need to realize that they're held accountable," said Chris Johnson, who teaches Advanced Placement English and history.

"They have to rise up to meet that, organize their time and be much more mature at a younger age than many students," Johnson said. "If it takes till midnight, then you burn the midnight oil."


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