Moms (and Dads) on a Mission–Update from Toronto, Canada

Today, Frank Bruni, the moving force behind Toronto, Canada’s family-friendly homework policy, writes about how the year-old homework policy is working. You can read Frank’s earlier entries here, here, here and here.

My Thoughts on the Anniversary of Toronto’s Adoption of its New Homework Policy
by Frank Bruni
April 16, 2009

It is one year today that the new homework policy was adopted in Toronto and it has been in force since September.

Amazingly, (forgive the sarcasm) the sun still rises in the morning, the birds still sing, and our kids have not become duller.

What has happened is that Toronto students have more time. More time with family, more time for extra curricular activities, more time to be kids.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still challenges. The new policy is a work in progress and there may be individual educators that are having a tough time adjusting. In addition, like most new policies in any organization, now that it is not front and center, it quickly becomes part of the background noise that is our everyday lives.

Still there has been much progress.

In my own case, I have noticed a marked change in my teen’s attitude towards homework. While most kids would, I think, prefer no homework, he is more engaged in what does come home because the busywork has all but disappeared. The number of nights where there is no homework has increased dramatically and he reads, every night, he reads for pleasure. Because the homework that is assigned is done so in blocks, my son has had to learn time management, surely a good thing.

And no homework on vacations – pure heaven!!

Yep, things are good in Toronto, not perfect, but better.

For those of you fighting this battle in your own communities don’t give up! There is currency at the end of your struggle, the most important currency of all – time.

15 Comments on “Moms (and Dads) on a Mission–Update from Toronto, Canada”

  1. PsychMom says:

    Ah, but Frank, did you read Margaret Wente’s column in the Saturday Globe and Mail? The university professors are depressed about the kids coming to university who can’t think critically, who can’t write and who take no responsibility. High schools are not failing anyone anymore and good heavens, students don’t even have to do homework anymore!

    I hope the Toronto School Board is able to stick to this new policy for an extended period so that the effects can be realized. But I’m afraid that parents and politicians who buy into the “We’re not producing a competitive workforce” idea will win out.

    April 20th, 2009 at 9:06 am
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  2. Amanda Cockshutt says:

    I read that Margaret Wente article as well. From the perspective of a university professor, she’s right, many students are arriving at university without the skills necessary to succeed there. We will have to be vigilant to make sure that the message is that it is the standard set and the quality of work done that is important, not the volume of homework.

    A dozen years ago I could tell some of the time who went to a strong highschool and who didn’t. Now, I can much more clearly see who has gone to a strong school (increasingly those with an IB program), and those who have gone to weaker schools. I am appalled at the writing skills of my first year students, their math and basic sciences are weak. It puts the universities in a difficult situation. We are taking a group of students all of whom have 80s and more often 90s from highschool, and we put them in a class with an average of 65% and a 20% failure rate. Is it our fault or the schools’ who have fallen short?

    Anyway, that’s off topic. The key is that the students won’t be more prepared by doing more homework, but they will be better prepared if the work they do is held to a higher standard and they are taught how to do good work.

    April 20th, 2009 at 9:26 am
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  3. Amanda Cockshutt says:

    Oh, and I forgot to indicate that I think that high school is when homework should start. It would be unreasonable to go off to university never having done any homework. That doesn’t mean that kiddies in kindergarten need to be hauling home the stuff.

    April 20th, 2009 at 9:34 am
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  4. PsychMom says:

    Absolutely agree Amanda! Homework is more valid in high school….class time was spent (in my day) on learning a new concept. This was especially true for math. Then, at night at home, you spent time practicing (trying out) what you had learned that day. Makes perfect sense.

    The other point from the Wente article was that not everyone should go to university…and we’ve got a generation of parents who think that’s what all kids are aiming for or should be aiming for. To me, it gets to the whole issue of what education is for….and I get depressed when I think that we are teaching our kids that the only goal of education is to get somebody a job!

    I know it’s lofty thinking, but learning new things should be stimulating and life enhancing, not pre-requisite and merely a stepping stone to earning money.

    April 20th, 2009 at 9:58 am
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  5. Amanda Cockshutt says:

    Indeed. The pendulum has swung too far. We should be praising the value of trade schools and apprenticeships. Students should choose these things based on their interests and aptitudes. It is hard to tell people that the $80,000 that they will invest in their child’s university education is not intended as a ticket to a job. The entitlement mentality is taking over.

    I think some of the problems come from our attitudes to school work and even homework at younger ages. Kids can get a lot of their marks for effort, then they are shocked later when we tell them that effort doesn’t count for much at university. Further to this, in elementary school, children are enticed to do their work with the promise of rewards like movies and ice cream parties. We are teaching them that you learn to get prizes rather than to become educated! And the pattern is set…

    April 20th, 2009 at 10:43 am
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  6. Amanda Cockshutt says:

    Question for PsychMom: do you any references for that great argument you made previously regarding the development of the region of the brain necessary for organizational skills occurring in the second decade??? This really spoke to me (totally happened with the 2 of my kids in their second decade). I would like to take this research to the teachers who tell me that time management training is important for young children.

    April 20th, 2009 at 10:51 am
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  7. PsychMom says:

    Specific references, no. The article that Sara posted a couple of weeks ago on this site spoke to the topic, but I’m kind of relying on my general knowledge of brain development. They’ve done PET studies and MRI studies looking at the developing brain and showing which areas grow and shrink in 5, 12, 17 year olds and then adult brains. But I’ll try to find you something.

    April 20th, 2009 at 11:36 am
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  8. PsychMom says:

    Here’s a link to something about adolescent brain development that might be good to share with teachers

    http://www.duke.edu/~amwhite/Adolescence/adolescent3.html

    April 20th, 2009 at 12:03 pm
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  9. PsychMom says:

    When addressing this brain development topic with elementary teachers, the come back seems to be that this “training” can’t hurt. But it’s an issue of biological readiness…3 month old infants can’t be toilet trained, they also can’t read. Six year olds have 10 minute attention spans, if that…so sitting them down with 30 minutes of homework won’t be done. The 6 year old brain doesn’t know what 30 minutes is!!!

    I like the idea someone on this dialogue suggested….slap some incontinence diapers on the teacher and tell her to start “training” herself to use them…it’s the same darn stupid idea as homework for children under 10.

    April 20th, 2009 at 12:15 pm
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  10. Amanda Cockshutt says:

    That was my line line about the incontinence diapers.

    Thanks for the info, I will definitely use it!

    April 20th, 2009 at 12:18 pm
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  11. PsychMom says:

    It’s a great analogy to show teachers that it would be a “forced”, unnatural thing for a healthy young adult to have to learn to do…to urinate into a diaper. Just like it’s a forced unnatural activity for young children to think about a plan and organize themselves.

    I think I should say too, that I think it’s important for children to be lead by adults who are well organized and planful because the exposure to ideas and experiences that are well planned and thought out are really important to teach how to think about problems. If, over 5 or 6 years, children are guided this way…it is a natural progression for them to continue on in this way on their own when they’re ready to do so. If their experience is one of confusion, incomplete projects, classroom topics that never get closure (because the teacher is under the gun to cover so much in a week), absenteeism of the teacher…then the kids are going to produce the same kind of behaviour themselves. And homework is going to do little to remedy that situation.

    April 20th, 2009 at 12:39 pm
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  12. Frank Bruni says:

    Such a discussion!

    The Toronto School Board revised the homework policy because of the evidence that there is little or no correlation between homework and student success. Ms. Wente writes an opinion column and opinions are what got us into this mess.As long as we stick to the facts we will be OK.

    If the Universities are unhappy, I’m afraid they are going to look elsewhere for a reason, because it isn’t homework.

    April 20th, 2009 at 2:11 pm
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  13. Amanda Cockshutt says:

    I agree completely. There was no homework up to grade 6 when I was a child, and little until grade 13. And yet, we were better prepared for university. At the time though, an 85% student was a very strong student, and it was acceptable to fail students. Now we are faced with a situation of too much busy work and no standards that the teachers can enforce. It clearly isn’t working!

    April 20th, 2009 at 2:16 pm
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  14. PsychMom says:

    LOL, Yes, how did we go from the Toronto School Board’s enlightened homework policy to Depends…?

    I hope that someone in Toronto is going to be monitoring the outcome of the new policy..so that the change is measured and documented. Because you know, the cycle repeats itself. In 20 years, the issue will be back again.

    April 20th, 2009 at 2:26 pm
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  15. PsychMom says:

    Congratulations Frank, …you’ve spearheaded something great. If a city the size of Toronto can do it…

    April 20th, 2009 at 2:32 pm
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