Guest Blogger: A Father’s Epiphany and Homework Reform

Today’s guest blogger, Frank Bruni, the father of a 12-year-old seventh grader, lives in Toronto, Canada. Frank, who has been quoted extensively in the Canadian press, has been a driving force in pushing the Toronto District School Board to review and revamp its homework policy.

A Father’s Epiphany and Homework Reform
by Frank Bruni

Last year, when I was sitting in the doctor’s office with my 11-year-old son, the doctor said, “he should get more exercise.” I thought to myself, “and when he would do that?”

It is hard to describe the impact that that day had on everything that would follow. I started to think about how our family manipulated our lives around homework. In fact, we rarely made any decisions about how we were going to spend our free time without taking homework into consideration. I remembered my own childhood and could not recall having as much homework as my son. He was missing being a kid. It bothered me – it bothered me a lot.

And then I read “The Case against Homework”. It was just the motivation I needed. I was going to tackle this issue.

I started to do more research and although I gravitated to the literature that agreed with my point of view, I was careful to read articles that disagreed as well, knowing those were the arguments that I would have to overcome to achieve meaningful change. I was deeply disturbed by the rising rates of childhood obesity and juvenile diabetes and felt the excessive homework was, at the very least, a contributing factor.

I decided that I was going to try to influence change board-wide, a daunting task, but I was naive at the time. I started with my local representative (called trustees in Toronto) and asked her to hold a ward ( local district ) meeting on the subject. It was one of the most well attended that year, especially by parents. With that success under my belt I was encouraged to make a presentation at a sub-committee of the Toronto District School Board that would be responsible for putting a recommendation forward to the full board. I would have two minutes to make my case.

I remember that evening vividly. I had practised my presentation about 50 times. I knew I could deliver it in two minutes but I was worried about the questions afterward. Did I know my material well enough? What if someone asked me a question about an article that I had not read?

Luckily, everything went extremely well and I learned the most valuable lesson that I have learned thus far. You must have an advocate. Someone on the school board that will help you navigate the organisation and politics of the board. My advocates came in the names of Trustee Josh Matlow and student Trustee Nick Kennedy. Without their advice and counsel this issue would not have the profile it does in Toronto.

Now, the Toronto District School Board is holding public meetings to gather input from parents, teachers and students, and then, along with the available research will come up with proposals for change that will be presented to the school board.

I have learned a few things from that may be of value to those of you who are trying to motivate change in your own communities. First, excess homework is no one’s fault. Even if it were, there is no benefit in finger pointing. Second, avoid the need for personal glory. Politicians hate glory-hounds and will dismiss you very quickly if they think you have an “agenda”. Third, get the press interested in the issue. Politicians hate bad press and react to the perceived pressure that it creates. Lastly, and most importantly, find an advocate on the school board, someone who will take up the cause, and BELIEVES IN IT.

There will be many road-blocks along the way. Persistence and being reasonable will keep you sane and give you hope.

Here in Toronto we are well on the way to meaningful homework reform. With the hard work of parents educators and the Toronto District School Board (and staff) we will achieve it – for the kids.

6 Comments on “Guest Blogger: A Father’s Epiphany and Homework Reform”

  1. Jan Marman says:

    Well presented write up Frank! And I certainly validate your observation that weekend/weekday outings are also planned and sometimes even curtailed for the neverending streams of homework. I fear there is less teaching in the classrooms today (and as such the task of completing assignments falls to kids/parents in the form of mountains of homework). For years I’ve been hearing the same comment too: teachers are spending valuable class time disciplining kids – something the parents should be doing!

    February 13th, 2008 at 3:35 pm
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  2. Judy Gershon says:

    Wow, Frank, congratulations on taking on this beast of an issue. I recently contacted our school trustee, here in Thornhill, wondering if York Region is considering homework reform as well. I don’t know if you came across “The Homework Myth” by Alfie Kohn, but he also makes very compelling arguments against homework through an exhaustive look at the huge body of research on the subject. It got my blood boiling and I’m anxious to try to affect some change here as well. Just thought I’d also mention the “10 minutes a day per grade” notion. Our family of schools has adopted this into it’s homework policy, and while it puts a cap on homework, it has this crazy reverse effect of making teachers feel pressured to assign work each night so that kids are putting in this prescribed amount of time (I think it also gives parents the idea that this amount of homework is “good for their kids”, which the research clearly show is not the case).
    Thanks for the advice…going to start looking for that advocate at the board level!

    February 21st, 2008 at 11:04 pm
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  3. Josh Matlow says:

    I am so proud of the work Frank has done to advocate for homework reform in Toronto’s schools.

    At the Toronto District School Board, we now have a real opportunity to return precious time to family life, allow children to discover more of their own passions and interests and for our school system to be more responsible about we make demands on students and their parents after the bell has rung.

    March 15th, 2008 at 8:19 pm
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  4. Anonymous says:

    How are kids today supposed to grow up to compete on a global scale when they do only half the work compared to students from other countries?

    The purpose of the education system is equip student with the skills needed in the real working world, and that includes time management.

    April 1st, 2008 at 1:27 pm
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  5. Kerry Dickinson says:

    Frank,

    Keep up your good work. I love the Toronto policy. We’re trying to revise our homework policy in Danville, California, and I’m hoping to use some of the Toronto policy as a model. How is your district doing now, after the new policy has taken place? Do you see any real change? Is it still too early to tell?

    April 7th, 2008 at 11:59 pm
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  6. Frank Bruni says:

    First to Kerry,

    The new policy is not in place yet. The Toronto District School Board will vote on April 16th for implementation in September 2008 so keep checking this site for more information.

    Second to Anonymous,

    I have heard your argument before and frankly it doesn’t hold water. Other countries are not giving their kids more homework , so says the research.. Second, the purpose of the education system is not solely to produce employees for business.

    Third, and most importantly, isn’t it important to raise children with a sense of work life balance?

    Seems to me that you don’t teach time management by having kids do one thing all the time. You teach time management by having them have a variety of things to do so that they have to make priorities.

    April 8th, 2008 at 1:26 pm
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