In Beltsville, homework is a different story.

Robin Wiltison, the principal of Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, was frustrated that parents were frustrated. Homework was a problem that took up the bulk of parent-teacher conferences, as mothers and fathers told Wiltison and teachers that their children would forget their homework and they, the parents, often had no idea their kids had any assigned.

"I have so many torn emotions about this," said Wiltison, who toyed with the idea of eliminating homework at MLK, a "late school" that runs until 4:20 p.m. "But I'm not sure I could blow it off and not do anything."

Instead, the middle school introduced teacher-run websites, where students' homework assignments were posted online, sometimes even before the bell rang at the end of the day. Some teachers just list page numbers or the math problems that students needs to solve, while others share their teaching philosophies and inspirational quotes.

Going into its second full year, the Web system has significantly cut down the confusion surrounding homework and its purpose, resulting in happier parents, Wiltison said.

"They're on the Metro coming home from D.C., they're checking the sites on their phone, calling their kids. So in the hour it takes them to get home, the ball is already rolling," she said. "It's like, 'I know it's there, have it ready when I walk in the door, after dinner I'll check it.'"