Moms (and Dads) on a Mission–Success in Niagara Falls, Canada

A few weeks ago, I received an email from Dale O’Dair, the father of a first-grader in Niagara Falls, Canada. Dale, who holds a post-graduate degree and whose mother is a retired teacher, was fed up on the Wednesday he wrote me, because he had already spent 3 to 4 hours that week helping his daughter with her homework. He wrote, “I have time in my schedule to start a campaign to find the silent majority of parents in the Niagara Board who oppose excessive homework for primary students and start petitioning the Board to drop primary homework or minimize it.”

Read what happened next. If only we all could have it so easy!

A Little Talk with the Teacher Goes a Long Way
by Dale O’Dair

I spoke to the District School Board of Niagara and they gave me the usual “we can’t do anything until you talk to the teacher and principal routine and then we’ll have the responsible superintendent deal with your grievance.”

I went to the school before classes last Tuesday armed with a lot of information, samples of homework, work we had done on our own to get ahead of the curriculum, the entire grade one curriculum, and a lot of advice from my extended family of teachers who all quit or retired around 1997. I was already going in to discuss the group seating arrangements and figured I would go through the motions with my homework concerns.

In my daughter’s journal the very next day was a note from the principal and teachers of Grade 1 and 2 that, beginning immediately, they would cease to issue homework booklets. The kids would receive no more than 5 minutes of homework, 4 nights a week, and in that time they were to practice their 5 wall words a week. The maximum would be increased to 10 minutes in Grade 2.

They noted that there had been parental concern and apologized for any misunderstanding, since they had not realized that the homework was taking three hours a week. They also stressed that these new restrictions were in line with the 1997 Ontario curriculum concerning the Ministry’s suggestions on homework.

I don’t remember everything that we discussed in our rapid fire 25 minute meeting but it worked. The homework was a result of a few over-zealous parents who demanded more, and my argument that the silent majority of parents were opposed but didn’t want to appear lazy or uncaring was accepted.

It was all too easy. So with that out of the way for the next two years, I am going to find out from the Board what their official stance is on homework. It does not appear that it will be a problem with this principal at this school for the near future.

7 Comments on “Moms (and Dads) on a Mission–Success in Niagara Falls, Canada”

  1. HomeworkBlues says:

    Basically, what I am learning from this effort and Frank Bruni’s in Toronto is that we all must move to Canada. Clearly your school officials have far more sanity.

    November 14th, 2008 at 12:35 pm
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  2. HomeworkBlues says:

    Dale wrote:

    They noted that there had been parental concern and apologized for any misunderstanding, since they had not realized that the homework was taking three hours a week.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

    Dale, this is wonderful. At least your school officials apologized and admitted they just didn’t know. That’s half the battle. It’s far worse when you get a terse email dismissing your concerns entirely, blaming it on the “time management difficulties” of a seven year old, such as we saw with a recent guest blog.

    But I can’t help sighing whenever I hear the words, “we just didn’t know.” Because then the onus, the burden of proof is with the parent. That never stopped me but years ago, before we saw more research on this issue, I would constantly hear, you are the only one complaining, every single other child gets it done in time. (yea, right…)

    When it comes to “We didn’t know,” how could they not know? Isn’t it their job to know? On what basis do they assign homework? When they say, this will take ten minutes, how do they know it won’t take longer? Our county spends hours each week on faculty and staff meetings. Do they never discuss this? So what are they doing with all that training and in-service?

    I’ve said for years that schools need to send out surveys, asking parents all these questions. Have you ever received such a survey in your mailbox? Me neither.

    I don’t even like the minutes rule anymore. If a first grader gets all of five minutes, what’s the point? Why not just tell the kids to read all afternoon? That’s all my daughter wanted to do. Read read read and be read to. And taking apart a computer to see how it works.

    But Dale, I’d jumped for joy if all my daughter got was studying some spelling words. Because what she chose to do on her own was so much more compelling than what the school sent home. She’d read for hours, we would have gone to museums and lectures and outdoor classical concerts after school. She would have played more. She would have been writing a novel. It’s what she did anyway until I coaxed her to stop to tackle a daily rising endless tide of tedium.

    November 14th, 2008 at 12:46 pm
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  3. Frank Bruni says:

    Well done Dale!!!

    Just goes to prove that the is more than one way to get the job done.

    The hardest thing to overcome is the parents that insist on more homework. Their misunderstanding of the merits of homework and its relationship to student achievement are the biggest stumbling blocks to having much wider spread reform on this issue.

    Congratulations on the win.

    Frank Bruni

    November 14th, 2008 at 8:07 pm
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  4. FedUpMom says:

    I agree with HomeworkBlues that Canada sounds terrific. I’ve never heard of a public school here being so responsive. Dale, I completely agree with your characterization of the “silent majority”. I wish the teachers and administrators could hear the conversations I’ve had about homework at the bus stop and in the park! I tried to tell the principal at the public school about this and she said, “I think I know my district better than you do!” Ugh.

    November 15th, 2008 at 1:00 pm
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  5. Angela Norton Tyler says:

    WOW! Talk about “Ask and Ye Shall Receive”! This kind of immediate and positive response gives us all hope. It also reminds us how important it is to speak up and say something because others are too afraid to do so.

    November 15th, 2008 at 3:47 pm
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  6. Dale O'Dair says:

    We have now spoken with most of the parents in the class and there was a lot of fighting and crying as a result of the homework which we have ended.

    The silent majority was real and are grateful that I made a stand for the families. Most were having enough trouble with the spelling test alone, five words a week, and we will see if that can be ended as well.

    November 28th, 2008 at 5:22 pm
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  7. HomeworkBlues says:

    CONGRATULATIONS, Dale. I still maintain Canada seems more receptive to the needs of families.

    Keep fighting the good fight. I am hoping others will draw inspiration and courage and take the first step.

    November 28th, 2008 at 6:28 pm
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