Moms (and Dads) on a Mission – Calgary, Alberta Family Gets to Opt-Out of Homework after a Two-Year Struggle with their Children’s Schools

Almost two years ago, I wrote about Shelli and Tom Milley, the parents of three children in Calgary, Alberta, who were trying to change homework policy and, at the very least, get an opt-out policy for their own children. At that point, the two lawyers had already been discussing the issue with the school for over a year, had gotten the school to appoint a homework committee and had even gotten Shelli as one of the members of the committee. When it was clear the committee wasn’t really going to be very independent, Shelli resigned.

She and her husband, however, continued to seek support for a better homework policy, and were basically a 2-person taskforce of their own, writing letters, enlisting support from community members, teachers, and members of the School Board, and getting advice from Vera Goodman, author of Simply Too Much Homework (and a Calgary resident herself), Jan Olson, the principal of the Barrie, Ontario school I wrote about last week which had eliminated homework, and me.

And now, just yesterday, the Milleys’ tenaciousness paid off. The school finally agreed that their children could opt-out of homework altogether. The Milleys have allowed me to share their opt-out agreement. You can read it here.

28 Comments on “Moms (and Dads) on a Mission – Calgary, Alberta Family Gets to Opt-Out of Homework after a Two-Year Struggle with their Children’s Schools”

  1. PsychMom says:

    Wow, that’s quite a document. I wonder if the teachers will recognize that if they have to arrange lessons so that one child can get it done in class, then he/she might as well make it work that way for all of them. How could a teacher not be on board with this? It make their lives so much easier.

    November 12th, 2009 at 10:05 am
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  2. Mary Sullivan says:

    PsychMom–I agree, but I think this is a case of “short-term pain, long-term gain.” Teachers may be too put off by the short-term “pain” of readjusting their methods and assignments to appreciate the huge long-term gain they would experience by doing that. Also, some teachers may lack the skills, training, or support (e.g., adequate in-class assistance for students with learning disabilities) to maximize their time with kids. Finally, some will just dig their heels in irrationally against a “difficult” parent or family.

    Congrats to the Milleys–you can tell from that document how much blood, sweat, and tears it took to get that in place. It should not have been that hard! I hope other families in their district will be inspired and request the same arrangement. If enough did so, eventually HW practices would have to change.

    November 12th, 2009 at 11:04 am
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  3. PsychMom says:

    Yeah, I hope the Milley’s can share this argreement with all the parents and maybe others will want the same arrangements for their children.

    November 12th, 2009 at 11:27 am
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  4. PsychMom says:

    The Milley’s are getting some national exposure today. there have been over 350 comments to this article. Homework’s about to explode in Canada I think.

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/family-and-relationships/how-one-family-won-the-battle-to-ban-homework/article1367357/

    November 18th, 2009 at 12:48 pm
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  5. momforhomework says:

    I am all for homework. There is work involved on the parents part, not just the teachers, in order for children to learn. Homework is helping kids not hurting them. If you approach it differently, the children will too. Yes, it is time consuming, but it’s truly worth it. You need to see that. Look at the positive. I actually find this quite pathetic and sad. You parents need to grow up, and set a good example for your children.
    I’m a mother of two, ages and 8 and 5 and they do homework together every night. I get to see them grow in so many ways. They excel in school because I take the time show them that homework is bettering them. I absolutely DO NOT do their homework for them. Not ever. But, I do help them come up with strategies problem the solving skills that they can use to get through it themselves. That is something your children are going to lack – problem solving skills, and ambition. Good luck with your lazy, ungrateful adults that they will grow into.

    November 18th, 2009 at 2:19 pm
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  6. HomeworkBlues says:

    “They excel in school because I take the time show them that home work is bettering them.”

    Your five year old excels at school? In what, coloring?

    November 18th, 2009 at 3:32 pm
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  7. FedUpMom says:

    momforhomework says:

    ***********
    That is some­thing your chil­dren are going to lack?—?prob­lem solv­ing skills, and ambi­tion. Good luck with your lazy, ungrate­ful adults that they will grow into.
    ***********

    Hey thanks, momforhomework! Good luck with your kids too!

    Write us back in a few years. If your kids are 5 and 8 you’ve barely started the homework trek. Will you still be singing the praises of homework when your high-schooler is struggling with 7 hours a night?

    November 18th, 2009 at 4:45 pm
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  8. Disillusioned says:

    “That is something your children are going to lack- problem solving skills and ambition. Good luck with your lazy, ungrateful adults that they will grow into.” Wow! I notice most posts like this are hit and run. No one who posts these comments ever comes back to discuss or defend them. Momforhomework- good luck with your judgemental, neurotic, uptight adult children. I’m sure they’ll rebel around thirty, have an early mid-life crisis and blame you (don’t they always blame mom!).

    November 18th, 2009 at 5:02 pm
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  9. PsychMom says:

    There is more in the Globe and Mail today about homework rebels…

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/family-and-relationships/more-homework-rebels-speak-out/article1368986/

    November 19th, 2009 at 8:29 am
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  10. PsychMom says:

    To Momforhomework…I think it’s sad that you are devaluing the real influence you should be having on your children, that is, providing food, shelter, rest, respect for themselves and discovering their passions in life.
    You seem to only think that helping them with schoolwork makes you a good parent and that’s so hollow, when we know that homework contributes almost nothing to academic ability, particularly in elementary grades. And homework certainly adds nothing to their growth as a human being.

    November 19th, 2009 at 10:37 am
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  11. Vera Goodman` says:

    TO THE EDITORS
    from
    VERA GOODMAN

    Sara and I have coached and mentored Tom and Shelli Milley as they worked with their school and teachers to come to an Opt-Out of Teacher-Assigned Homework agreement for their two children. This is a precedent setting document and I congratulate the Calgary Catholic School District for recognizing the rights of parents to organize out-of-school time for their children.

    Shelli saw the article about my new book, Simply Too Much Homework in the Calgary Herald a couple of years ago and contacted me. We have worked together ever since. My book advises parents to initiate debates and discussion with their school to arrive at a homework policy that will work both for those who want more homework and those who want less or none. So, that`s what Shelli did.

    I am particularly happy that the Milley`s can now choose to do homework, or to ride bikes to get their Vitamin D, or to take lessons in things not covered by school, or to attend religious events or to just hang out and play games together. This will be especially wonderful on weekends and holidays!

    I wrote Simply Too Much Homework! because I work with the families of students who have not yet learned to read well. I realized that homework was one of the big factors that led students to hate reading and school and to fight with their parents when they should be having fun together. This is ridiculous, especially since the research shows that homework has more negative effects than positive.

    I want to congratulate Shelli for staying true to her passion even when the times were difficult and she felt like quitting. The evidence she has gathered and the research she has done make her a foremost authority on homework. Her determination will help many other parents to approach their schools with confidence and to negotiate a freer life for themselves and their children.

    Bravo!

    November 21st, 2009 at 7:55 pm
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  12. FedUpMom says:

    I’m glad the Milleys are raising this issue and I wish them every success in their efforts.

    However, I am deeply underwhelmed by the document they produced. It was a struggle for me to find the “opt-out” clause — I’m guessing it’s the clauses saying that the teacher won’t grade homework? That’s not really the same as “opt-out” to me. The teacher might not grade the homework, but she can still harass the child for not having done it.

    I personally would never sign a document that contained this sentence (under “Student Responsibilities”):

    “If the children are not using their time responsibly by misbehaving, refusing to work to their potential or are exhibiting other unacceptable actions, consequences or disciplinary actions may result.”

    “Refusing to work to their potential … ” — that describes many gifted kids. No, “consequences or disciplinary actions” are not a reasonable or helpful response. If a child refuses to do schoolwork, you need to take a good hard look at what the schoolwork is and who the child is, then find a way forward that respects the child. Very often the work that a child refuses to do is just plain not worth doing. Finding a bigger stick is not the solution.

    I see a lot of language about “differentiating” assignments. I’ve never heard this term from either of the schools I’ve dealt with, but I’ve read a lot of discussion at kitchen table math. According to the posts there, “differentiation” is the word that schools use to defend their “inclusive” classrooms. That is, a typical classroom might contain 25 kids, ranging from severely learning disabled to profoundly gifted, and one teacher. How could this possibly work? Aha, “differentiation!”

    In practice, the teacher mostly addresses the lowest-performing kids in the class, in the hope that their standardized test scores can improve (at least in the US.)

    It’s hard for me to get worked up about issues relating to grading, e.g., whether it’s fair to give zeros, or whether homework should be graded. There’s just too much emphasis on grades already. It robs children of their own point of view. Education should be about a lot more than figuring out what the teacher wants and how to make her like you.

    November 22nd, 2009 at 9:54 am
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  13. HomeworkBlues says:

    FedUp, excellent comments. I feel as if Kitchen Table Math should be required reading (but then again, I’m not about to legislate people’s free time. Still, every teacher should read it).

    Great summary: “Education should be about a lot more than figuring out what the teacher wants and how to make her like you.”

    That’s really what it is. Figuring out what the teacher wants and vying for teacher’s pet. As we have said numerous times on this blog, the hidden agenda of today’s education is compliance.It boggles my mind how many parents have bought into this, hook, line and sinker. Because from where I sit, the Emperor is naked as a buck.

    November 22nd, 2009 at 11:21 am
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  14. HomeworkBlues says:

    I am proud of the Milleys’ hard work and tenacity. It is indeed a pioneering precendent-setting document and I truly hope it will embolden parents up and down and all across the continent to speed up the anti-homework movement.

    And how wonderful that they enlisted the support of Vera Goodman. But Vera, this sentence jumped out at me:

    “This is a precedent setting document and I congratulate the Calgary Catholic School District for recognizing the rights of parents to orga­nize out-of-school time for their children.”

    CATHOLIC School District? I must have missed that earlier. I thought the Milleys had their kids in public school. I still commend them for their hard efforts. But it’s not lost on me that they are paying tuition and yet had to claw and fight for over a year to get this.

    I’m not going to get on my homeschool soapbox again. I know not everyone can, not everyone wants to. But my heart sinks when a private school, clearly up against hard financial times right now, would have to be so pushed before making changes. And as FedUp says, the document is underwhelming.

    But…it’s a start. And a huge one at that. No one, to my knowledge, has ever quite done anything like this. We refused to do some homework. We ignored some homework. In private school, we talked to the school and sometimes they listened. If I had to do it all over again, I would have told, not asked. I wouldn’t have spent quite as much time explaining. A well researched passionately crafted document would have done the trick. This is what we have chosen to do, here’s why. Even in the most respectful tones (compared to public school, that private one was like Montessori of the Alps), the bottom line would have been, my home, my rules.

    Still, this opt out clause is a landmark beginning and I applaud the Milleys. Now let’s take it a step further and start pounding down the doors of public school. Because I don’t want to be fighting this long at a private one. I’d have long taken my child and homeschooled by then. Or switched private schools.

    November 23rd, 2009 at 12:54 pm
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  15. PsychMom says:

    Though I’m not positive HWB, it may be that the Catholic system is publicly funded in Alberta..it is in Ontario. It happened awhile back (20 years at least) that the Separate School Boards fell under public coffers in some provinces in Canada. In fact I’m sure it is true that many religous schools in Alberta receive public money and that students attend free of charge.

    November 23rd, 2009 at 2:15 pm
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  16. HomeworkBlues says:

    PsychMom, that actually occurred to me after I posted. That it may be publicly funded after all but I’m too busy to research it today.

    I hope it’s not a private district.Can you imagine expending all that energy along with your pocketbook? Hey, I can get those ulcers here for free!

    November 23rd, 2009 at 2:32 pm
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  17. momforhomework says:

    Homeworkblues, um the comment about my five year old excelling at coloring was very mature. Actually, she does excel. She’s reading at a grade one level already thank you very much. And my eight year old in grade three is reading at a grade five level. Hows that for excelling? Grow up. And as for PhyshMom, I don’t think that helping them with homework is the only thing that makes me a good parent. And homework is certainly not the only thing that helps my children grow up to be well rounded adults. That’s NOT what I said. The discussion is about homework, I didn’t feel the need to go into exactly everything I do that makes me a good parent, or everything that my children do that makes them who they are. I did not say that’s it’s absolutely going to shape who they are as a human being. But, I do believe that it teaches them responsibility. It also gives them a sense of accomplishment. And as for the comment about when they are in junior high/high school, I am very much prepared for the hours of homework ahead. I am also a teachers aide at the public high school. So I know how much homework there is going to be, and I also see how great the students here are doing. Wow, how did we all survive growing up having to do homework ourselves? As far as I’m concerned the world is getting lazier and lazier, and all why would we want to teach our children that? Hard work pays off.

    November 24th, 2009 at 3:23 pm
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  18. Sara Bennett says:

    Dear Mom For Homework,

    Can you please post some examples of the kinds of homework the students are getting at your high school? I’d love to see whether the homework is thought-provoking, interesting, relevant, and has any educational value whatsoever. I’d also like to know whether it’s graded for content or compliance, whether it’s checked, and whether the teachers provide any feedback (and, if they do, when).

    Thanks.

    November 24th, 2009 at 3:47 pm
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  19. momforhomework says:

    The homework assigned is never unnecessary. Extra work, if students are struggling in a particular area, will be sent home depending on that specific students needs. Essays on topics, current and past events, in social studies to see how the students are grasping the concepts being taught. Work sheets in science such as the table of elements and how to do the equations. Same with math, work sheets to see how the kids are grasping the concept. Most of the homework is to allow the teachers to see if and how much the kids are retaining and understanding what is being taught. The extra homework, to help when students are struggling, is so that they can have more time to learn it, and they can sometimes use these assignments for extra credit if they seem to be falling behind. The homework helps them quite a bit.

    November 24th, 2009 at 4:15 pm
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  20. FedUpMom says:

    momforhomework says:

    **********
    The home­work assigned is never unnec­es­sary.
    *********

    That’s amazing. You must be living in an alternate universe. Where I live, most of the homework I’ve seen so far is unnecessary.

    *********
    Most of the home­work is to allow the teach­ers to see if and how much the kids are retain­ing and under­stand­ing what is being taught.
    *********

    That is a really bad use of homework. There’s no way for a teacher to know who really did the homework, or under what conditions.

    In a really well-run classroom, students aren’t afraid to speak up and ask questions if they didn’t understand something. That’s how the teacher can tell how much they understood.

    ************
    the com­ment about my five year old excelling at col­or­ing was very mature. Actu­ally, she does excel. She’s read­ing at a grade one level already thank you very much.
    ************

    I’m sure your five year old is a bright little girl, but it bothers me that kids are starting the academic rat race at such a young age. She’s only a few months into her kindergarten year, and she has already been assessed for a grade level of reading. Yikes.

    November 24th, 2009 at 5:27 pm
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  21. Disillusioned says:

    momforhomework- “I do believe it teaches them responsibility and gives them a sense of accomplishment.” Do you believe your kindegartner needs a certain level of responsibilty and sense of accomplishment at five years old?
    If so, can it be instilled in other ways? If not, do you see anything wrong with an opt-out policy for parents who do not share your conviction regarding homework creating a sense of responsibility in young children.

    For me, the point of an education is to better one’s quality of life. If we erode that quality of life (i.e. tons of homework) for eighteen years; are we better off as a society when these kids graduate high school? True responsibility (being self-sufficient) is an incremental process. Being compliant for the sake of being compliant is NOT being a grown up. Questioning the status quo to see if there are better ways of doing things is NOT being lazy.

    November 24th, 2009 at 10:38 pm
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  22. PsychMom says:

    We came up with a new version of “homework” last night at our house. Nothing was solicited from the teacher or school…the idea was a initially mine, enthusiastically endorsed by my daughter and then peacefully and happily acted upon last night by both mother and daughter and brought into school today….to the oohs and ah’s of classmates. It took no more than 10 minutes to pull it off either.

    The topic is insects and dragonflies the particular insect my daughter has been researching. I bought a glass dragonfly at a craft show eons ago and suggested to her that she could borrow it if we could come up with a way to keep it safe from breakage. We did, and created a whole dragonfly habitat around it (habitat=diorama, but you never saw me use that word). It turned out really well and she was so proud of it….she knew all the constituent parts that were needed and was inventive in thinking up ways to improvise.

    What a difference it made that the idea originated from home and ended up in school…rather than the other way around.

    November 25th, 2009 at 8:23 am
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  23. HomeworkBlues says:

    “Homeworkblues, um the comment about my five year old excelling at coloring was very mature.
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
    It wasn’t meant to be necessarily snarkey. I actually had a valid point to make. But let’s see. You did wish us all luck with our, what was it, wait here it is!

    “:Good luck with your lazy, ungrateful adults that they will grow into.”

    Um, not very mature, is it? But I digress. Back to my point:

    “Actually, she does excel. She’s reading at a grade one level already thank you very much. And my eight year old in grade three is reading at a grade five level. Hows that for excelling? Grow up.”

    You completely missed my point. My daughter was reading in kindergarten too. At a third grade level, in fact, but who’s comparing? By the time she was in third grade, testing, for what it’s worth, showed her reading at post high school. We laughed. We thought it said more about the poor quality of reading in high school (no doubt killed by too many worksheets and reading responses in elementary) than her prodigious reading in third grade.

    It’s the “my five year old is excelling” that jangled my antenna. My sense is she’s in public school and her reading, in this era of No Child Left Behind is no doubt constantly assessed, monitored, quantified. And you’ve bought into the whole “excelling” thing. She’s excelling. At age five.

    Don’t miss my point. My daughter was a very advanced reader too. To this day, she continues to be a ravenous one, it’s her favorite activity. But when a little five year old looks at me, I see the grace and beauty of childhood. I’m in awe of these small children because they are so full of wonder,imagination and joy. I don’t want to hear how they are “excelling.”

    Not telling you how to live your life.But these worksheets are not optional and I don’t want them. You’re buying into the rat race just a little too early. Let her run and be a kid. It’s all too short as it is. You child will learn more from planting a garden, going to a museum, reading to abandon, running in the woods, building an imaginary forte, constructing a building out of leggos, playing dress up with her friends, making cookies with dad, than all the worksheets you so proudly proclaim.

    You may argue that the worksheets don’t take all that long and she has plenty of time to do lots of wonderful stuff between full day kindergarten (if it’s indeed full day) and bedtime.

    Fine. Maybe you do. As for me, my daughter did not get kindergarten homework. Her private school got that one right! I don’t want kindergarten homework. I don’t care if it takes thirty minutes, ten minutes, five minutes. It’s unnecessary and the risk is unwarranted. I don’t know a single early childhood expert worth his or her salt who advocates homework in kindergarten. Your school offers it for one reason and one reason only; not to grow passionate life long learners but to raise test scores.

    November 25th, 2009 at 9:40 am
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  24. Withheld says:

    It’s 2009! This movement should have happened 30 years ago. I was in high school from 91 to 97. For me, homework not only interfered with my life but it actually caused my grades to suffer – so much so that I finished high school with only one 30 level subject and with extremely poor grades. Basically my homework did the exact opposite of what it was intended to do.

    Here’s my story – simple and blunt: I lived approximately 50km from my highschool. Twice daily I travelled on the schoolbus for at least 80 minutes. After school was finished at 3:30pm, I would have to wait 30 minutes before the bus came. The bus had to first pick up children from other schools. At roughly 5:30pm I arrived home. I had enough time to make a quick sandwich and then I did chores for 90 minutes. As you can guess, I lived on a farm, we had livestock – our livelyhood. At 7:00pm we sat down for dinner and watched a little TV (oh.. so lazy, watching tv when I had homework to do). At 8:00pm, very begrudgingly, I sat down to 3 hours… no, I’m not kidding, 3 HOURS of homework. At 11:00pm, if I could actually keep my concentration, I would be finished, then get ready for bead. Because of the fact that my brain was busy the whole damn day with no wind-down, I would have problems falling asleep. Normally, I would eventually fall asleep at about 1:30am.

    Each day, I woke up at 6:05am. Got ready. Ran 0.5km to the bus (because of some sort of property bullcrap, the bus was not allowed to come to the house to pick us up. The bus was there at about 7:20am. I would doze but never sleep through the whole trip to school. At 8:45am, we arrived. 9am to 3:30pm I’d be in class. In grades 11 and 12, I had the odd study period, but having so little time to myself, I slacked off, plus I was tired. In most of my classes, it was quite funny and odd. We would either be listening to the teachers life story or be going over answers FOR THE WHOLE CLASS TIME of the previous night’s homework. At the end of the class, we’d be given at least 30 minutes to an hours worth of homework. Always, at the end of the day, it totalled to 3 hours. During classes, we barely learned anything – keyword “LEARNED”. There were few lectures, for the most part, we were learning from the instructions in the textbook. I don’t learn well that way, I learn best by watching and listening… that’s just how I am.

    There were times – as I was failing classes, where I asked the teachers for help. I remember trying to explain my situation once. The reply was either that I was lazy or laughter and in one case even anger. “Chores aren’t important. It was your parents choice to have a farm not yours, therefore you don’t have a valid argument. You need to tell your parents that your homework is the most important part of your evening.” Well, I agree that education is definitely important. Yes, the farm was my parents decision, but I gladly helped out – it’s just that chores took some time. Did help me stay somewhat fit. But, to be told, that homework was the most important part of the evening was very bitter. What about my family? What about my time?

    I didn’t graduate highschool right away. I had some more work to do. The psychological impact of not completing highschool right away and also not being able to go to University was huge. Up to the age of 25 I felt like a complete failure. It was only recently that I took a look back and said.. “Hey! Wait a minute?” There were several factors as to why I had much difficulty completing school. Besides my somehow surviving on 20 hours of sleep per week (excluding weekends), homework was a huge factor. I couldn’t help where I lived and what our lifestyle was at home, but why did I have to be punished for it. That’s how it feels. There was absolutely no understanding from anyone. For a brief while however, my parents did inquire and voice their dismay at the system for loading us with homework, but they were busy people themselves trying to run a farm and work separate jobs at the same time. My parents didn’t have the time nor the resources to be able to followup and challenge the situation. No parent did at the time. They all grew up with the ‘work ethic’ – “work hard” and then you’ll be worth something. Speaking of psychological – that’s what I thought in school as well. If I didn’t do the work – both during the school day and at home on week nights and weekends – I was useless.

    By nature, I’m not a lazy person. I’d say I am a hard worker. It’s not a sin however to find work that you like and hate work that you don’t like. I hated school. Funny thing is, taking a few courses later and even being in post-secondary was rewarding. I like to learn. I don’t like to learn, when I’m tired, I haven’t been home for 10.5 hours (that was the total time I was gone each day), I can’t concentrate due to being tired and (the Calgary parents that challenged the notion of homework came up with a good argument–>), who the hell wants to put in a day of work, go home and then do another shift???

    Thanks for giving me a good 10 years more of psychological and educational struggles, you “left-over from the industrial age” archaic Alberta school system.

    December 21st, 2009 at 12:59 pm
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  25. H says:

    Wow, Withheld. What a letter. Thank you for writing and sharing. Your story is very potent, sane and heartbreaking and should be required reading for every single high school teacher.

    It’s your fault you have a farm. Yes, let’s shut down all the farms. Let’s stop eating. Because then we’ll all have even more time for homework.

    December 21st, 2009 at 1:36 pm
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  26. PsychMom says:

    What an amazing letter! It’s really wild that the school system trains children to think they must do work at school and then again at home, when, as you quite rightly say, what person in their right mind would want to put in a second shift after a full day’s work. No adult I know likes it or would willingly do it, so why are we asking children to do it?

    Thank you for writing Withheld..and for not “withholding” your story.

    December 21st, 2009 at 1:45 pm
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  27. Tired Mom says:

    I stumbled upon this site by accident, but am definitely feeling the pain of too much homework!! My son is in grade 9 and trying so hard to keep his grades up (yet still struggling). He is up until 11 or 12 every night doing homework and no longer has time for friends or spending quality time with me (Mom). He is really starting to loathe school, which is what the school’s should be preventing. Because he is up so late doing homework, so am I (helping him study or understand some of the questions in math). I am now living on little sleep, my patience is growing thin and I have no time with my son. I think these teachers are giving out so much homework to avoid teaching! Do the work at home, that way you ask your parents for help. The next day I will read out the answers. ??? What is this? Oh, did I mention I’m a single mom, which makes it even harder since I also have to cook, clean and work a full time job.

    January 13th, 2010 at 3:44 am
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  28. PsychMom says:

    Hi Tired Mom:

    I know what your life is like and that’s why I’ve taken the stance that homework has no business in my home. If you can, try to get a copy of Sara Bennett’s book because it has suggestions and strategies you can use to try to manage homework more reasonably. Your son will thank you and you may start to feel like you’ve got control over your own home again.
    Your scenario is being replayed in thousands, if not millions of homes every night in North America….

    January 13th, 2010 at 8:23 am
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