Moms (and Dads) on a Mission-Two Months into Toronto’s New Homework Policy

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

The Price of Homework Reform is Eternal Vigilance
by Frank Bruni

The news from Toronto is good.

Homework reform has been rolled out across the Toronto District School Board and has received wide spread attention. The media coverage the first few days of classes was nothing short of extraordinary.

The feedback that I am getting from the parents that I know is positive. Children are bringing home less and are able do more with their families and friends and participate in other activities. In our own household homework reform has been wonderful. My teen has more time to pursue individual interests, read for pleasure, and, in what is contrary to what we have been told over the years, is enjoying better grades.

However, the transition has not been without hiccups. Some teachers and schools have been slow to adapt and there has been some “interpretation” of the policy that, in my view, is inconsistent with its intent.

In addition, the policy was published in the student planner, a day timer that is given to all elementary students in Toronto; however, key parts of the policy were omitted. Quite by accident, so I was told.

My point is that even when parents are successful in getting the kind of homework policy that they want (or can live with) there is still work to be done.

Having a new policy is not enough. It has to be accepted by all stakeholders and implemented well. It is up to parents to continue to insist that the policy is adhered to. That means when it doesn’t appear to be working SPEAK UP.

I have encouraged many parents to do so and am I working to try to have the published omissions rectified.

Parents and students have influence; they just have to learn to use it.

2 thoughts on “Moms (and Dads) on a Mission-Two Months into Toronto’s New Homework Policy

  1. Frank writes;

    The Price of Homework Reform is Eternal Vigilance


    Frank, I love your twist on this. It’s one of my favorite quotes, from Thomas Jefferson: “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.”

    You go on to say:

    My teen has more time to pursue individual interests, read for pleasure, and, in what is contrary to what we have been told over the years, is enjoying better grades.


    I’m so happy for you and also so jealous. My daughter attends a selective math science magnet and the school doesn’t even have a homework policy. I asked the counselor once if there were limits on homework and she replied no. I then inquired, so each teacher may assign as much as he wants? She replied, yes.

    My daughter likes the school and wants to stay. But she does not want to be worked to death. As a parent, I’d like to be in the position of instilling a love of learning and growing a consummate intellectual, and conveying the value of hard work. Instead my primary job is to make sure the homework tsunami doesn’t swallow her up. I always find myself at cross purposes, the school sends it home and I have to constantly fight for balance without dividing my daughter’s loyalties.

    I’m always pushing my sixteen year old to go out and ride her bike and walk with me and she wails she cannot.

    Take this weekend for example. Marching band is over and so we had a week long breather until the follow up activity begins. It’s the only activity my daughter can make time for, and she doesn’t even have time for that. We are always robbing Peter to pay Paul. Homework eats up every minute, and it clouds our concentration.

    There were a number of events my daughter wanted to attend this weekend. We knew there was no way she could go to all of them so we sat down Friday after school and made a list of our must haves. I asked my daughter to bring her school planner to the table.

    Well, there was enough weekend homework to occupy every waking moment. But I don’t allow that. We already made too many mistakes in elementary school, gave too much up. Just when we should be revving up, gearing for college, I find myself fiercely trying to protect my daughter’s health and sanity.

    Mind you, this list didn’t contain a manicure and a shopping spree at the mall. It included Art Spiegelman, the famous New York writer at a bookstore, a pottery workshop,a chorus cabaret at school and a Japanese lecture. And even if it did include something as frivolous as nails and shopping, it’s her free time. Shouldn’t she have that right?

    But my precise point is that homework keeps us from enjoying intellectual pursuits such as meeting a writer who impresses her and visiting a downtown art museum.When my child was younger, I’d peruse the Weekend section every Friday, hunting for outdoor classical concerts and Family museum days. I don’t even look at the section anymore, it’s too depressing. I know we can’t go anywhere so why look?

    Well, the first casualty was Art Spiegelman, quickly followed by the Japanese event (and she studies Japanese in school!).. My daughter read Maus in 7th grade and wanted to tell Art Spiegelman the impact it had on her. We concluded sadly there was no way. I should add she discovered the Spiegelman lecture at Politics and Prose because she read the newspaper account of his new book earlier in the week.. And then felt dreadfully guilty that by reading about this author and his new book, she did not have enough time to finish all her homework.

    So yes, the good news is, we did get out this weekend. It’s a lot better than my friend who tells me the entire weekend is one long indoor homework marathon. But our jaunts were not furloughs,a break from endless assignments.. I simply insist we must go out but the homework cloud hangs over all our heads, it’s always there, the unspoken stress, the rush home, the silent prayer that she not get tired or distracted or sad, that if only we could just flip the switch and the machine would run.

    Saturday morning, I awoke my daughter and we raced to the museum. When we arrived, we discovered the pottery workshop had been moved and was actually held the weekend before.

    We could hardly contain our disappointment. I almost lost it and then regained my composure. If the weekend was ours, this would not have been a big deal. The administrator felt so bad for us, she gave us all free tickets. That would have been a delight. We love art.

    But you see, there is so much weekend homework, that in order to make time for this workshop (the only one in two years she’s been able to make), we had to give up Art Spiegelman. And now there’s no workshop. It’s that careful planning, the strategizing, knowing that if we take three hours away from homework, it has to be really really good, really worth it. How on earth did our country ever come to this? I know, we’re trying to emulate China. Remind me again, why?

    Frank, any advice? I am planning to talk to the principal but I need some strategies. Typical suggestions won’t work here because it’s high school and it’s selective.

    Thanks and bravo, Frank. Keep up the vigilance. You are right. The victory is never fully won.


  2. Dear Homework Blues,

    I feel for you and your daughter.

    Fighting the homework onslaught can seem like a full time vocation.

    I’m not sure I have a “recipe” for success in this area however, I think I can share some thoughts that might be helpful.

    First, by-pass the school and go directly to the local school board.

    Second, never loose your temper and bombard the school board with facts.

    Third, find allies on the school board and the in the press and get them committed to see reform through.

    Lastly, don’t quit. Educators, like most professionals, dislike change but if you continue to position your initiative as “what is in the best interests of the children” it will insure that you are not perceived as self serving and at least get you a fair hearing.

    Good Luck.



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