The following is a direct quote from New Jersey Assembly Bill No. 1714I:
“This bill mandates the assignment of homework during each school week in the subject areas of reading, writing and mathematics for all pupils in grades one through 12 who have classes or courses in those subjects. Each school board shall establish at least one homework center in the district to provide personnel to assist students in the completion of homework assignments. An advisory committee of nine members, will be appointed by the Commissioner of Education to develop a system to monitor the implementation of the provisions of the bill without requiring the filing of a written form.”
This type of bill is an example of micro-managing at its worst. Micro-managing is bad for business but it is disastrous for schools. Research and the best minds in the field of education are trying very hard, apparently without success, to get across the idea that schools should be autonomous with site-based management. As with children, each school is unique and should be given the opportunity to function uniquely. That means having control of the budget and deciding what programs to endorse and how to allocate limited resources like staff time and money for the good of the whole. This bill mandates not only how the limited funds should be spent, it also mandates how the staff should spend its time.
You might say: “But homework is important.” All of the other programs that the state mandates may also be important. A very partial list of such mandates include the following: testing, gifted and talented programs, programs for the handicapped, family living, New Jersey education, multi-cultural education, curriculum, drug abuse, educational objectives, certification and on and on. The fact of the matter is that the more requirements imposed on the school from the outside, the less the school can do for itself. There just is so much time and so much money.
The trend for people in power to make another demand on the school is contributing to the further decline of public education. The school system is going to break under the weight of the rules and regulations imposed on it. This is being proven in places where vouchers are in effect and people can chose schools. They do not chose the schools that are ineffective, they choose the schools where the principal and staff are working effectively to create an environment suited to the needs of their individual child.
The mandating of homework assignments lets school systems know that they are not to be trusted to do their job. If legislators do not trust schools and their staff, why stop at mandating homework assignments? Why not mandate how much time each teacher should spend on each subject with each child during the day? What about mandating how many and what kind of class trips each teacher should taske. The possibilities are endless.
It is not up to the legislators to monitor the school. That is up to the superintendent and school board. Establishing a homework center should be up to the individual school with its limited resources to decide. In order to find the money to comply with this latest mandate, a school may have to give up a very successful program already in place.
The place of homework and its contribution to the school curriculum is an individual matter to be decided by each school. (Just what constitutes a homework assignment could be the topic of a whole new debate.) The time and effort legislators spend on bills like this could be better spent facilitating and supporting schools in site-based management, not directing them from above in offices far removed from the “real world” of schools.