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‘How would you dictate that?’

December 20, 2019 by Brian Jopek

Homework will be studied at the Minocqua-Hazelhurst-Lake Tomahawk School District and it won’t be students doing that studying. 

The school board on Monday discussed homework and whether it needs to be done to the extent it is. 

The matter was put on the agenda by district administrator Jim Ellis, who explained he’d been asked to do so by board member Christy Seidel. 

“So, I have been doing a lot of research on homework,” Seidel said. “Typically, the recommended amount of homework for kids is 10 minutes per grade level but from what I’ve been seeing, most of it is a lot more than that.”

She said she was looking at it from her personal experience with the amount of homework she said her three children have. 

“They are great students, they get great grades,” Seidel said. “But I’ve also been talking to other families about how overwhelming homework is when there’s other things you add into that. Family time, sports, church activities, volunteer time here and there.”

What she told her fellow board members and administrators present she was hoping a homework committee could be formed “to do some research and see if there’s a way to reduce homework here at school.”

“Make it like a district wide policy, if you have it,” Seidel said. “Other schools are talking about ... I mean, you can just Google ‘homework’ and so many articles come up. It’s not new. I mean, the earliest articles I found are from 2014 and they’re doing other things like saying ‘OK, instead of homework, our kids are going to read a half hour a night.’ So, it’s just something I’ve been thinking about for quite awhile now.”

‘It depends on the kid’

School board member Lynn Redenbaugh said she didn’t disagree with Seidel, but said she felt it was something that would be difficult to measure.

“It depends on the kid,” she said. “A lot ot classes give you time to work on it in class and some kids would rather talk or whatever ... some kids crank it out and don’t have any homework. So, it’s going to be really hard to measure.”

School board member Joan Christgau said it also depends on the teacher and project worked on at a given time. 

“How would you dictate that?” she asked. 

“And the kid had a project that probably took, you know, three hours but never touched it,” Redenbaugh said, indicating there had been two weeks to get it done. 

“I see what you’re saying,” Seidel said. “I think this is just from a personal experience. I do see a lot of homework come into our house and on the flip side, what happens to that? Does it get checked?”

She said she believes homework assignments need to be looked at overall at the school level and specifically to the individual teacher. 

“Are you assigning homework and what is the purpose of it,” Seidel said. “Is it getting done or is it not getting done because studies also show that even though homework may or may not make them a better student.”

She said the people who have done the studies she’s read about aren’t “firm on the whole thing yet.”

“Everybody’s very different and it’s hard to gauge, but I definitely think it’s worthwhile,” Seidel said. “I mean, if you look at other countries that don’t have homework, their test scores are a lot higher than the United States.”

“Yeah, but a lot of those countries, you’re not talking apples to apples because they have no poverty,” Redenbaugh said. 

“And you’re not probably comparing the same kinds of schools,” school board president Mary Whitman said. 

“So, you don’t think it’s even worth while to check into?” Seidel asked. 

Christgau said she feels it’s too close to dictating.

“These are people that are educated in this subject and they know what they’re doing,” she said. 

Whitman suggested sending it to the district’s leadership committee. 

Seidel said she thinks the motivation behind the homework should be looked at. 

“How much are they assigning?” she asked. “Like Lynn said, why are the kids who have the homework not getting it done?”

“Are they too busy yapping?” Redenbaugh asked. 

Seidel further explained the homework situation in her home, using her son, a wrestler, as an example.

“In one of my son’s classes, he has independent reading,” she said. “Plus, they have another book they’re supposed to read in the class and then he also has three pages of words to go ... and he’s a wrestler so he’s not getting home until almost 5:30 and then you include dinner and it’s just like, as a parent, I don’t have time to spend with my kid.”

Seidel said she’d just like to know more about the homework situation. 

“Maybe just on a personal level,” she said. “I could talk to teachers.”

Ellis then said it would go to the next meeting of the district’s leadership team as Whitman had earlier suggested, making his comment primarily to assistant principal A.J. Salquist and Dayle Vanderleest, director of special education and pupil services.

“It’s a group of teachers,” he said. “They know first hand better than the three of us what the thoughts are there.”

“You can express the concerns and not make it sound like this is what we want,” Christgau said. 

Seidel encouraged those at the meeting to research the matter for themselves.

“It really is interesting when you dive into the subject,” she said. 

“If it were me, I would want to ensure that the homework is being evaluated,” Whitman said. “Sometimes, I think it’s homework assigned just for homework’s sake. That I don’t think should be.”

“That’s my point,” Seidel said. 

“But I don’t think that’s much of the case,” Whitman said. “The other issue, of course, is how much the parents are involved.”

Seidel replied there are students who have parents who aren’t very involved. 

“It (homework) does take away from that time when you could be doing other things,” she said. “If it’s just homework to be homework, these are things I think should be looked at.”

Other Lakeland districts

According to administrators at other Lakeland area school districts, homework really hasn’t really been a problem.

At North Lakeland, district administrator Brent Jelinski said he wasn’t aware of any issues relating to homework for students, but also said it’s something discussed “as a school organization on a regular basis.”

Lakeland Union High School district administrator Rob Way and Lac du Flambeau district administrator Larry Ouimette each said they were unaware of any issues.

Arbor Vitae-Woodruff district administrator Jocelyn Smith explained some of the things done there with regard to homework. 

“We have not had any concerns since we have multiple opportunities during the school day for students to complete the work required,” she told The Lakeland Times on Wednesday. “We also provide transportation after school for those needing the support.”

Smith said there are nightly expectations of reading and math for all AV-W students.

“We also have in-house opportunities for students to complete these expectations,” Smith said. “We celebrate our nightly readers and math students monthly and track data. Our math and reading scores have increased dramatically since the inception of these two nightly expectations. We believe in the importance of these expectations.”

Brian Jopek may be reached via email at [email protected]

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