Hooray (again) for Canada – Simcoe County District in Ontario Implements Decent New Homework Policy

In April, I wrote about a school in Barrie, Ontario, Canada, which, after eliminating most homework, found that students were more engaged and less tired and teachers were more focused. Now, the County District in which that school is located, Simcoe, just instituted a new district-wide homework policy.

Some of the things that I particularly like about the policy:

  • the homework must be differentiated
  • teachers must keep to a minimum the number of assignments that are due the following day so as not to interfere with extra curricular activities and “activities that support personal and family wellness”
  • homework shouldn’t be due immediately after holidays, significant faith days, or lengthier school breaks (December or March Break)
  • group projects must be worked on at school during the school day

Read the policy here.

And a big congratulations to the principal, Jan Olson of Barrie, Ontario’s Prince of Wales elementary school, who started homework reform in his District.

22 Comments on “Hooray (again) for Canada – Simcoe County District in Ontario Implements Decent New Homework Policy”

  1. FedUpMom says:

    The policy was interesting, but I’d like to see something that empowers parents more. Also, I’d like to see a ban on punishing students for unfinished homework.

    Will this policy result in real change for the students?

    November 4th, 2009 at 9:52 am
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  2. PsychMom says:

    While there is recognition of certain aspects of family life and well…human life, the policy still adheres to a framework where homework is a “given” and the family must incorporate it for student learning to go on. The line is still too blurry for my liking, between home and school.

    November 4th, 2009 at 10:26 am
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  3. HomeworkBlues says:

    I agree with the above. At least the policy recognizes that families exist and that parents have a greater role to serve in the lives of their children than just being homework cops. But it does not give parents a voice, it does not give children a voice, it does not go far enough. Here is my dissection of the list:

    * the homework must be differentiated

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

    Let’s get real. We talk about this differentiated myth on gifted sites all the time. It’s been suggested teachers tailor assignments to meet the needs of the child. I’m still waiting for a policy that says, Harris Cooper says XYZ, makes sense to me, so we are tossing ALL elementary homework out the window in favor of family time, books, play and the outdoors. Why is this not happening yet, given the mounds of research available on this topic? What I see is the same old same old just with a new little twist.

    Short of that epiphany, differentiation can work like this. Take my daughter, for example. As you know, because I’ve said it a thousand times, she is a ravenous reader. Copying words out of a dictionary for her is an onerous tedious assignment and she cannot stay focused on it. Let her read instead. Substitute a strength for a weakness (if you can even call an unwillingness to do such rote work a weakness). I’ve tried to do that in the past and have failed. There should be more encouragement for parents to speak up and inform teachers of those differentiated needs.

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    * teachers must keep to a minimum the number of assignments that are due the following day so as not to interfere with extra curricular activities and “activities that support personal and family wellness”

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

    Okay, it’s a start. But when my daughter was in 6th, the teachers repeated this mantra a few times during the year. It’s an hour and a half unless you’re a perfectionist. Lovely. What if you’re a perfectionist?

    Minimum is a great word. Will they keep to it?

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

    * homework shouldn’t be due immediately after holidays, significant faith days, or lengthier school breaks (December or March Break)

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

    No argument there. Our principal said much the same thing and that went out the window. When I asked him about it, he fudged and wrote back, teachers are only allowed to give one assignment each over break and they cannot accelerate the curriculum. Huh?

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    * group projects must be worked on at school during the school day:

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

    Amen. It’s a start here. Better than other school districts. I agree with the above comments. It doesn’t go far enough. It still treats homework as a necessary evil (evil yes, necessary no). It still ropes parents in to be unpaid involuntary teachers at home. And most importantly, it does not say WHY there is homework.

    On the other hand, spare me. I wouldn’t want to get an earful again about how it teaches responsibility (and raking leaves doesn’t?), allows parents to know what their children are doing at school (I still didn’t know because the homework often did not correlate), promotes learning at home (it’s my home, let us decide how we want to learn) and creates mother child bonding (thank you. I am well capable of coming up with my own bonding techniques, thank you very much).

    November 4th, 2009 at 11:50 am
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  4. Disillusioned says:

    I sometimes wonder if we should try and present the worst case scenario for no homework. If children don’t learn respnsibility in elementary school…..what is the worst that could happen? I don’t think we would have anarchy in the streets or rebellious nine year olds taking up arms. Seriously, I don’t think anyone who supports this argument gives any critical thought to what would happen if young children didn’t have a sense of responsibility. Use the gift of your imagination to try and envision a world where ten year olds are not responsible. Would it make the world worse off?

    Same for letting parents know what is going on in school. If the schools did their jobs and educated our children during the school day; what is the worst that would happen if the parents didn’t know what’s going on? What doomsday scenario would play out if we only got a once a month update from the teacher?

    Perhaps if proponents of homework gave some critical thought to what would happen if the above scenarios played out; we could move beyond it and imagine a better quality of life for families and our kids.

    November 4th, 2009 at 1:47 pm
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  5. HomeworkBlues says:

    EXCELLENT point, Disillusioned. I’ll give you another example, this one a home issue. I have a former friend (we had a tiff) who made a big big big deal out of her daughter cleaning her room. So the child was constantly punished. She was not allowed to play until she cleaned her room. I’m not making this up. She couldn’t play with my daughter until, you guessed it, SHE CLEANED HER ROOM!

    It was used as a bargaining chip. You clean your room, you get to play. Whatever the girl wanted, the clean room was trotted out as the condition. Clean room, you get the reward. We were seen as sloppy slackers, parents who (gasp) let our child out of her cage before the room was spotless.

    The girl is now 18 and in college. Is her room clean? You guessed it, NO!

    I watched this. Me, how did I handle it? Well, I remember vividly my mother always harping on me about the clean room. I got punished too, I got smacked for not doing it. I figured it this way. Early on, I decided I was not going to turn clean room into a battle. Godness knows, homework was enough, we didn’t need more family stress.

    I was influenced by “How to Talk so Your Kids will Listen” by Faber-Mazlish. I love them. Alfie Kohn, as you know, is another seminal influence. Faber-Mazlish spoke of cooperation instead of coercion. And urged parents to drop the carrot and stick charade.

    I sent my husband in with my daughter. He came up with wonderful little games and they turned the room cleaning into an adventure. I never hassle my daughter about her clean room. Is it clean? It’s clean enough for me. And ever so often, she goes at it like a hound after a blood scent.When friends come over (seldom, because of homework), she feverishly whips the clutter into shape. One night, she got into a cleaning frenzy and wouldn’t stop, wouldn’t go to bed, had to clean her room. And this is a kid with ADD!

    Look, I’d rather she had time to clean her room. She doesn’t, to the degree she would like. I always laugh (or I’d cry) when teachers espouse the old responsibility canard. As if we parents couldn’t figure out a thousand ways to teach our children this much ballyhooed responsibility at home. Here, for starters, are a few:

    1. Mow the lawn
    2. Rake the leaves
    3. Put dirty dishes into the dishwasher
    4. Laundry
    5. Balance your personal budget
    6. Fold your clothes
    7. Bring Daddy some hot tea in bed because he’s sick
    8. Write thank you notes
    9. Volunteer at the homeless shelter
    10. Tutor children in reading
    11. Walk the dog (we don’t have one but you get the picture
    12. Take your younger sibling out to play
    13. Call grandma
    14. Comfort a distressed friend
    15. Attend a worship service with your family
    16. Volunteer at the museum
    17. Get a part time job

    Shall I stop now? As Alfie Kohn writes, homework stems from a misguided notion that we must constantly keep children busy. As if children are selfish egocentric brats who would never do a single responsible or moral thing unless we forced them to or rewarded them for doing so.

    November 4th, 2009 at 2:32 pm
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  6. HomeworkBlues says:

    Disillusioned, i didn’t make my point clearly enough. The point being, what if mom had eased up and the girl DIDN’T turn out to be a maniacal room cleaner? What then? So what? Would the world come to an end? What are parents so afraid of? Because so many of my daughter’s friends had parents who were always harping about the clean room. I can’t tell you how many playdates were dashed, how many invitations canceled because the deal broke, the clean room bargain.Those parents would look askance at me as if I was raising Tarzan because never once did they hear from me, I’m sorry, we have to cancel. She was only allowed to play if she cleaned her room, and she didn not.

    Funny, isn’t it? My daughter is the one who passionately cleans her room (sometimes) and the other kids hate this chore. Surprise surprise.

    But what if parents let up a little and the kid turned out not to have perfected this skill? As Disillusioned says, what’s the worst case scenario? The kid with the hopelessly sloppy room would likely turn into an adult who would either hire someone to clean it or figure out how to do it herself. Or hire a coach to teach her. Can you just picture this? Kid is in therapy, crying that mom never made her clean her room and now her life is a hopeless mess. What’s the doomday scenario everyone is so deathly afraid of?

    November 4th, 2009 at 2:42 pm
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  7. PsychMom says:

    It’s funny you should mention this Disillusioned because especially part 2 of your arguement, about parents knowing what’s going on at school in the absense of getting homework, rings so true. My parents NEVER knew what either of their children were doing at school. The only info they got was report cards. And my mother, who was a stay at home Mom, saw what some of the handouts were and signed permission slips but my father would have never seen anything related to school, ever. And after I left for university, they never even knew what I was going there for. Again, my father, especially, told people I was studying to be a doctor….he didn’t understand psychology and I don’t think he cared to know. Don’t get me wrong, he was extremely proud of me, but this involvement with my schooling never occurred.

    So to me…that “how-will-we-ever-know-what-they-are-doing”-arguement holds no water whatsoever.

    And as for homework teaching organization and responsibility….you’re right again. A 10 year old is held to what level of responsibility? Let’s itemize that….
    I mean truly responsible….
    uhhhhh, let’s see…….not hitting their siblings,
    saying please and thank you and holding the occasional door for an old person….tidying their room (not officially clean it)……………after that….I’m stuck.

    If the kid goes to the dentist at age 10 and has 15 cavities, is the dentist going to look at the kid funny or the mother?

    If the kid falls off his bike, smacks his head on the pavement and doesn’t have his helmet on, who gets blamed?

    My 8 year old doesn’t want to sit in a booster seat anymore but the law says she has to til she’s 9. If she’s not sitting in her booster in the car, who’s responsible?

    The kids are not accountable…so what’s the big deal about homework creating responsible people.

    That’s a create arguement Disillusioned…thank you. I may need to use that.

    November 4th, 2009 at 2:51 pm
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  8. PsychMom says:

    Great arguement not “create” arguement…..hate mistakes

    November 4th, 2009 at 2:52 pm
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  9. zzzzz78759 says:

    Sorry, I do believe that children need to learn responsibility. I don’t think homework is it but my daughter does need to do her work before she gets to go do the fun stuff. Can’t say I would ever cancel a playdate but the room cleaning would commence the day before to make sure it got done.

    She has other responsibilities, including feeding the cats, cleaning up her dishes after she eats, helping with laundry, cleaning the living room, cleaning the car, etc. We don’t have a yard to mow or rake so we can’t do that. But yes, cleaning is a big part of her responsibilities and the chores must be done.

    I don’t know what evil might befall her if she didn’t learn these responsibilities but I do know that if she didn’t do them, I would have to.

    November 4th, 2009 at 2:58 pm
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  10. HomeworkBlues says:

    But zzzzz, I agree with you. I took a different tack on the room cleaning because knowing my daughter, constant nagging is the kiss of death. The point is,I didn’t make an issue of it, and she has a clean room. Wish I’d done that with toilet training. I got myself into a heap of trouble when I started reminding her. It was all going so well but I heard other parents incessantly remind and I thought, hmmm, they must know something I don’t. Big mistake.

    I’ve always argued that homework prevents responsibility rather than promoting it because it takes our kids away from more meaningful pursuits and household chores. I can see your point of view, you want to create a responsible child. But I also believe that children must have certain non-negotiables. They must be allowed to play, to create, to have down time. They have to play even if they didn’t clean their rooms. I know it’s a bargaining chip, that parents feel it’s the only way it’ll get done. But it isn’t.

    In the old days, when our parents hassled us about our rooms, we had time to do it. Kids today do not. I once read an article where a mother lamented that homework is preventing her son from doing household chores so that he will go off to college without these basic skills. We have scenes that play out like this: “Mom, I want to do my laundry.” “Honey, that’s okay, I’ll do it, you have homework to do.”

    I agree that children need to learn some responsibility. I just see some parents and the schools carry this to some insane degree. They’re kids! And as we all know, the responsibility canard is a charade. Do schools really truly care how responsible your daughter grows up to be? Is this about them or is this about you? The responsibility drumbeat is a way of diverting parents’ attention to the real deal. Namely, why didn’t this get done at school?

    November 4th, 2009 at 3:15 pm
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  11. PsychMom says:

    Two kids from the same family…one keeps a tidy room, the other has “experiments” involving decaying food under the bed. No one ever was told they had to clean their room before anything else was done. Neither turned out to be involved in any criminal activity whatsoever, and now the tidy one has a cluttered life and the messy one, cleans the ceiling once a year (who does this????) and is meticulous.

    There is a personality factor to the whole thing too.

    November 4th, 2009 at 3:37 pm
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  12. Disillusioned says:

    PsychMom and HomeworkBlues- Oy Vey, my third grade daughter just told me her teacher kept her in at receess to grill her on mom doing her homework. We have been doing some math worksheets on a whiteboard at home and I am copying them on to the worksheets.

    I just wrote her teacher an e-mail stating as much. Also, my daughter told me that the teacher said we should hire a math tutor for multiplication tables. Oy Vey…I think it is going to be a long year!

    November 5th, 2009 at 12:09 am
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  13. PsychMom says:

    Hi Disillusioned:

    When I hear stuff like that it makes me crazy…If a teacher has a problem with something a parent is doing, then the teacher should take it up with the parent, not place the child in the middle, forced to choose between protecting her Mom and obeying the teacher. Don’t teacher’s recognize the power role they are in?

    Tutor for times tables….more horse hockey. I’m echoing HWB and FedupMom….what has happened to our education system?

    November 5th, 2009 at 8:55 am
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  14. HomeworkBlues says:

    Disillusioned, I’m so sorry your daughter was kept in at recess. May I harp on this “recess as punishment” theme for a moment? This has to stop. This is an archaic practice that didn’t work thirty years ago and still does not work today. It ‘s even more grievous now because in the ancient days of my upbringing, we at least had ample time to play outdoors after school.. Back then the mantra was, all children must get one hour of play and sunshine every day. Dr. Spock said so.

    When I substituted at my daughter’s private school, the teachers would point out the troublemakers and tell me to use recess as the carrot and stick. I never did. Because often the kids that need recess the most are the ones getting punished the most.

    But at least this school never used undone homework as the stick. That didn’t start until we switched to public school. My daughter’s fifth grade teacher kept my daughter in because, you’re ready for this? On Monday she was to write her definitions on a sheet of paper and for Tuesday she was to write sentences in the notebook. I could barely keep this straight, you can imagine how hard this was to remember for an ADD 10 year old. So my child would invariably do the reverse, definitions in the notebook and sentences on a sheet of paper. For some reason, the teacher would get very bent out of shape if the kids got it wrong. In a meeting, I blythely suggested, why doesn’t my daughter just rip out the page on Tuesday and glue in the page on Wednesday and she just glared at me.

    Oh, the tutor business. At Kitchen Table Math, they had a whole discussion on “nominally high performing” school districts (FedUpMom has written about this) and how the scores are high because the school outsources everything to the parents.The message is loud and clear. It’s your job to hire the necessary help when your child has difficulty.

    Is it now becoming more and more clear why more middle and professional class parents are homeschooling? If we are required to do it all ourselves, may as well make it official.

    November 5th, 2009 at 9:01 am
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  15. Disillusioned says:

    HomeworkBlues and PsychMom- Thanks for your support. Her teacher wrote me back stating she did have some questions re: my daughter’s homework and we should talk about it at the next parent- teacher conference. I’ll just let it sit for now.

    The frustrating part is my daughter likes her teacher. I volunteer in the classrom on Friday so I’ll let her teacher lead. However, I won’t let her scold me for my homework practices. Thorny issues like this make me re-think volunteering in the classroom but my daughter likes to see me there. One thing I do notice; there is alot of classroom management going on but not much teaching.

    November 5th, 2009 at 9:54 pm
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  16. HomeworkBlues says:

    Disillusioned writes: “One thing I do notice; there is alot of classroom management going on but not much teaching.”

    That’s why it’s all sent home. That canard about teaching responsibility, giving the parent a sneak peek into the child’s day and reinforcing skills? Yea right.

    Wait till your child gets older and they start talking chirping about RIGOR. Our school district boasts that it “offers a world class education, committed to excellence and rigor.” Rigor is code for, oops, I forgot to get anything done today, I think I’ll just send it all home to the family.

    November 6th, 2009 at 12:34 am
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  17. FedUpMom says:

    I think “rigor” is code for “working the child to death.” We should put together a dictionary of eduspeak, since it bears no relation to the language we use everyday.

    Disillusioned, please keep volunteering. It does your child good to see you at the school, and probably benefits other kids too. I ran a chess club at my daughter’s school for 2 years for much the same reasons. Actually, it brought me to a quicker diagnosis of the problem when my daughter started falling apart in 5th grade.

    The big pointy thorn in my side these days is that school teachers and administrators have completely lost sight of learning. Everyone is focused on the mechanics of school instead of the actual learning of real content. They’re more interested in the kid doing all 20 “practice” problems at home like they were told than they are in the question of whether that particular kid needs 20 practice problems.

    Because, of course, the purpose of homework is to get kids in the habit of doing homework, because they’ll have a lot more homework next year!

    When the school actually tells the parents to hire a tutor to teach their kid the multiplication tables, that is flagrant outsourcing. Wow. “We expect you to be responsible whenever your kid actually needs to learn something.”

    On the other hand, a lot of homework is hard to understand as outsourcing to parents, because it has no content. “Character in a Can”, anyone?

    November 6th, 2009 at 9:10 am
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  18. Sara Bennett says:

    If educators did their own homework, I think they’d be calling their schools “vigorous” (lively), not “rigorous” (stiff).

    November 6th, 2009 at 9:14 am
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  19. PsychMom says:

    We have rain mixed with snow this morning…a wet slippery mess. It fuels the funk I’m in following PT meeting last night.

    It didn’t go horribly bad…it just was horribly predictable and uninspiring. The following words or phrases were all used: organizing skills, works hard, needs to catch up, these aren’t lined up, this will be coming home, but I’ll give you more info on that later.

    Classic. Silence, when I suggested that 9 hours was enough for my child a day. Silence, when I said that it was a good thing that the work was getting done in Homework Club because schoolwork at home doesn’t work for us.
    An incredible amount of work has gotten done in 9 weeks, and many new demands have been placed on my 8 year old, and all in all I think she’s done well. I now know why she falls asleep in the car on the drive home at night, though.

    And it’s encouraging that this morning, when the possibility arose that school might be cancelled due to the weather, she was absolutely joyful that it wasn’t.

    November 6th, 2009 at 9:58 am
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  20. HomeworkBlues says:

    FedUpMom, that too. Work the kids to death. Why? No one really knows because no one asks the questions anymore. We cannot see the forest for the trees.

    Rigor Mortis. Sara, vigor instead of rigor. That would make a great slogan! Le’ts get a highway billboard started.

    November 6th, 2009 at 10:13 am
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  21. Disillusioned says:

    All great points. I guess the other thing that drives me crazy is the other moms think all of the school’s policies are o.k. When I tell them I don’t see much teaching going on in the classrooms, they defend the teachers by saying, “well…they have 20 odd kids in their class). I can never understand why mothers think our school is fantastic. Until this changes, nothing else ever will.

    November 6th, 2009 at 1:46 pm
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  22. Damer says:

    No homework would be wonderful if children were actually learning to apply grammar and use spelling. Unfortunately, I encounter many Canadian adults who are unbable to spell, write or read at a reasonably literate adult level.

    As an immigrant to this country, I was shocked to discover that many twenty year old Canadians attending college are barley able to write a decent essay.

    If homework is the only way that children get enough practice writing, reading and spelling; then homework should be essential. It certainly is an essential component of a school day in any other country in the world.

    May 4th, 2010 at 1:49 pm
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