Moms (and Dads) on a Mission–Calgary, Alberta

Unfortunately, not everyone in Canada has been having the same luck as Frank Bruni of Toronto and Dale O’Dair of Niagara Falls.

For over a year now, Shelli and Tom Milley, the parents of three children, have been trying to get their children’s school in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, to institute a reasonable homework policy. They have also asked several times that their children be allowed to opt out of the homework policy.

At the end of last year, as a result of pressure from Shelli and other parents she had organized, her school agreed to form a homework committee. Shelli managed to get herself, and several of her allies, appointed to the committee. The school principal and several teachers were also appointed. Shelli got the committee to read several of the articles I suggested and she got the committee to listen to five different podcasts of leading researchers and authors in the area (including myself)–a tactic I thought was brilliant. In addition, Shelli enlisted the support of Vera Goodman, also of Calgary and the author of Simply too much Homework! What Can We Do?.

Shelli (and the principal) posted a series of articles on the school’s eboard, so that the entire community could become informed.

With all of this information, you’d think the school, like the one I wrote

about the other day, would have changed at least some of its practices.Instead, frustrated by the division in the committee and the lack of progressiveness, Shelli resigned with plans to address the issue at higher levels with the support of her allies.

Shelli and Tom’s children still have way too much homework every night.

Shelli and Tom, both attorneys, have written numerous letters to the principal and their children’s teachers throughout this entire process. Here’s the most recent:

Letter to the Principal
from Shelli and Tom Milley

Dear Principal,

We are extremely upset that you have advised us that we have no ability to choose what is in our children’s best interest outside of school hours. That our evenings and weekends are at the whim of what teachers and the school dictate. Accordingly, we want to make it perfectly clear what we had hoped we had the right to do with our kids during evenings and weekends in the face of the schools current homework policy.

We wanted the right to:

1. Give our children the opportunity to read leisurely by themselves and with us;
2. To have the chance to review and discuss with them their class notes, lectures and work in order to prepare for tests and quizzes without cramming due to the stresses of other homework;
3. Work with them on their weak area’s like spelling and math with out the stresses of other homework; and
4. Provide the opportunity for them to engage in gymnastics, girl guides, boys scouts, piano lessons or any other activity the may have wanted to try;
5. To go to the library with them and other opportunities that we determined would be beneficial;
6. To spend family time playing cards, board games or whatever we felt like doing.

Having to complete homework that takes a shot gun approach at all students, that is inequitable and unfair to students (because a teacher cannot know who is actually doing the work or know of an individual childs home circumstances) accomplishes nothing. It only takes away the ability of parents to do such things as we had hoped we could do like those listed above. Does a teacher really need assignments completed at home to know if a student “is ready to move on or if the concept needs to be re-taught.” Isn’t that what tests and quizzes are for?

By the time we get in the door after a long day of working and school there is approximately 3 hours until the kids have to go to bed. By the time my husband gets in the door there is approximately an hour and a half until the kids have to go to bed. During this time, we are expected to accomplish supper, baths, homework, household chores, getting to activities, getting a teenager to part time work, school activities and other places, dealing with teenager issues and whatever else life throws our way with THREE CHILDREN! Tell me where during this two or so hours are we to find the time to do homework that our kids will be graded on and punished if they fail to do? They have worked hard all day in school and have had about a 9 1/2 to 10 hour day before we are all even home together. Then we have to force them when they are tired to DO MORE WORK AND THREATEN THEM THAT IF THEY DON’T THEY CANT GO TO GIRL GUIDES OR AN ACTIVITY AND FURTHERMORE THAT THEY MAY BE PUNISHED AND NOT ALLOWED TO GO OUT AT RECESS THE NEXT DAY! No wonder they cry almost every night due to homework, hate school and learning. We are forced to make them comply when the teachers tell us to instead of having the right to help them learn when WE can provide the time, place and methods to do so.

When I see my grade 12 child doing 2-3 hours of homework a night, going to bed at 1 am and getting improper sleep, I seriously worry for his health and well being. We regret how his homework often keeps us up late into the night as we are asked to help him with editing, understanding concepts and working through ideas. We regret the way his homework affects our family outings, simply spending time together and how it often renders it impossible for our family to go to our cottage.

Like most parents, I have blindly accepted this for years as being, just the way it was, until I read the research. Then I decided to do what was right for my kids and take a stance. I have provided you in all fairness with ALL the research and with as you have said both sides . Many of those parents that have put their mind to the subject like we have, are afraid to rock the boat for fear of reprisal, for fear that their children will have the finger pointed at them and for fear of getting a bad reputation around the school, but feel the same way.

I understand the position you are in. You have to constantly put out fires. You have to deal with many varying points of view that are for the most part not educated on the subject. We see no harm to anyone but only the opportunity for you to please everyone if you were to implement a “opt out” clause in a school wide homework policy. We now ask you to seriously consider this and give us your thoughts. In addition, we now ask you, if you are you willing to implement an exception to allow our children to “opt out” of homework under the schools current homework policy, given that we are advising you now and have advised you already that we believe that homework is detrimental to their well being and causing them undue stress? We ask you to allow our children to “opt out” of homework without any remedial plans such as an ISP being put in place solely because we as their parents believe this to be in their best interest?

We beg you to seriously listen to what the research says and as the Principal of our school take what as Alfie Kohn says, “a principled approach”.

We beg you to give us as parents the right to choose what is in our children’s best interest and not be held hostage by the system that you are unfortunately made to administer.

Can you kindly advise on our questions above as soon as possible.

Kindest Regards,

Shelli and Tom Milley

19 thoughts on “Moms (and Dads) on a Mission–Calgary, Alberta

  1. I’d be tempted to drop in at school, during the day, to hang out with my kids, just to make the point that if they are going to dictate home life, well, then family time will have to move to the school day.


  2. I have always wondered if schools have a legal right to assign homework. As a parent, I think I have the right to decide how my children spend their evenings. These two parents are both lawyers. What does the law say? Has anyone taken a school system to court over the issue of homework?


  3. I am a private tutor and a certified teacher with my own two children in 5th and 6th grade. ALL of the students I work with are bright kids, just stressed and overwhelmed by too much responsibility at too young an age. I find that if I even suggest that they do not finish some of their homework, they all just become terrified of the consequences at school. This is just so sad. I have tried to talk to the teachers, they act like something is wrong with me and my kids. I am very worried that my children will bear the brunt of any ill-will I incur by speaking out.

    Inconsolable in Indiana


  4. Deb — People are often afraid that the teacher will take it out on their kids if they speak out. But that didn’t happen with my kid and I doubt it happens all that much. Why? Teachers take out their hostilities on the child who seems like a safe target. When you speak up, and especially when you make it clear that you’re ready to talk to the principal, your child is not a safe target anymore. The teacher knows that you are watching, and that if she isn’t fair to your child, it will result in a big headache for her. So please, speak up! Talk to the other parents and you’ll find out your feelings are widespread. (You might also find out that the parents are doing a lot of the homework for their kids.) If you don’t do something, the situation will only get worse.

    BTW, there’s a fabulous book called “Bad Teachers” that gives a perfect description of the defensive strategies employed by schools, beginning with blame-the-victim. Hmm … that could be a blog post …

    Best of luck!


  5. Hi I am writing to you because right now due to the CBE I lost my son and Daughter, They kicked my son out of school too many times and the last time I finally got a notice from them. I met with the vice principal and the next day child services showed up and took my children, I know I am grasping at strings right now, but the reason I am reaching out is because I asked for home work when he was kicked out and I never got any. I also asked that they set up a time to meet with me because I could arange with work to get that day off. I met with here about 4 days after I got the notice and now I have lost my children and there was no investigation or anything. They said that I was not co operating and that they could never get a hold of me. I am at work monday through friday and they know I do not get home until close to 5:30pm, They never spoke to my fiance and when they did they said negitive things and said that they needed to see me to get him back into school. I need help really bad right now. I miss my children and I can’t sleep I do not know anyone out here that can help. Who do I turn to when the government breaks their own laws?? The paper work they gave me is not legal as one of my children’s name is not the name on the paper and the birthday is incorrect and I brough this to their attention and they said it did not matter?? Please contact me if you have anything that can help


  6. Well I can almost bet that if your child was left on their own long enough would begin to figure it out, they probably spend more time stressing over it than getting the job done..stop the complaining and the homework time would most likely be cut in half. I have kids in highschool, elementary and university all of which are doing fairly well however, they have their days. Their homework is their responsibilty not mine…if they do poorly because of it then they fail..lesson learnt isn’t it! In the big picture of things, if homework is such a stress how are they going to handle real life stresses like workin, living on their own and university because they don’t care how much work is don’t do the work you fail. Basically, asking for your child to be excused from homework is setting them up for future failures…Just my opinion.. FYI…I have four kids still living at home and we have a very busy household with hockey speedskating, soccar, figureskating and swimming just to name a few…homework is done and passed in on time with exceptions once in a while..not often…


  7. Lisa,

    I’ve decided I don’t have the energy to respond to you. Basically I disagree with you and have ample anecdotal evidence, with sound research on my side. Read my prior posts and you’ll have the answers.

    In a nutshell, no, advocating for your child and not sacrificing your entire family on the alter of homework, much of it useless, does not set her up for failure. That looks at a broad world with a very narrow lens.

    By the way, you could use a little homework yourself. We had a discussion of typos earlier this morning, we’re not going to harshly judge every poster if they make a mistake! But you could use a little brushing up on grammar and spelling yourself.


  8. My Name is victoria. I am a grade 11 student, and do not completely agree with what is being claimed about the curriculum. i believe that doing 2 or three hours of homework a night is not that absurd of an idea. i have dropped out of school twice since grade 9, am the mother of a beautiful 6 month old daughter, and if it weren’t for my returning back to school, i would be going nowhere in my life. the fact that you are considering grade 11 and twelve students “children” sickens me. i realize that not all teens my age have such an admissive attitude towards school, and the hours of homework that is placed upon us, but teens need to realize that this is going to be part of an everyday schedule in their near future(hopefully). Does anyone know a proper job that does not include some sort of work done at home after their daily working regimen? teachers do paperwork after school, lawyers study their clients after a day at the office. doctors consider different diagnosises after a day with a patient. if a “grade 12 child” cannot complete a simple task such as homework when it comes to their education, how are they to finish daily jobs that have a significant effect on their wages?


  9. P.S.
    i believe that if you parents who are “speaking up” for your children keep defending them, they will never learn the trait of self recognition. the fact that you are doing this “for your children” teaches them that they have no right to voice their own opinion. they will grow thinking that the authority is anyone but themselves. why not talk to your teen, ask them what they think about the situation at hand, ask them what they would like to be done, instead of eliminating the homework process in a whole, and writing a paper on it themselves? teens need to know that they have a voice of their own, and that they have a say in what happens in their future.

    also, the fact that you parents who would like to eliminate homework just so you can have family time is selfish. where would you(a lawyer) be without the hours of homework in highschool and college that you faced> dont you want the same values for your children? nthat things in real life dont just get handed to you and that hard work pays off? or would you like them to be on welfare all their lives because they didnt want to finish the paperwork or studies that could have saved their education?


  10. p.p.s… life isnt all roses and rainbows after highschool. your kids will have to deal with it. paying bills is stressfull too, i learned that early, but does that mean that your children wont have to do that too? or will you just “stand up for them” sgsin and pay for them yourselves? nice parenting, DUDE.


  11. Victoria writes: i believe that doing 2 or three hours of homework a night is not that absurd of an idea.


    Okay, I’ll cut you a deal. We stop at two. I can’t believe I’m saying this but I’d “kill” for three, even. When it reaches five and six and it’s 1 am and she’s cramming to get two projects done, that is when it reaches the level of utter absurdity. And no, she didn’t wait till the last minute. There was enough daily homework on top of the projects to keep her busy. And no, I decided she’s not going to be shut in all weekend because in the long run (if not short), that will do far more damage than good. I’m her mother. Long after she’s left high school, I’ll have to deal with the fallout of a childhood ruined. If only you knew how many high achievers have left college mid-stream because of severe depression.

    As Denise Pope says, that late night student no longer engages and connects with the material, it becomes survival, hurry up and get it done, she becomes robo-student.

    Life is not perfect. Every high school and college student will find herself up late once in a while, that’s reality, that’s life. But when I was a kid, that was the rare exception, not the chronic rule. I’m now a seasoned homework observer and no one has yet to make a convincing case that sleep deprivation is worth the gain. It simply isn’t, other than getting the work in on time and getting a good grade.

    This has now become the case of the tail wagging the dog. Our children are supposed to go to school to get an education and grades were supposed to be assessment. And oh, yea, incentive for getting it done (don’t get me started on carrot/stick approaches). Now our children are conditioned to work for the grade. God forbid any of us should dare wish that the love of learning isn’t drummed out of our children. Because it’s not learning, stupid, it’s grades, scores and GPAs. Fine, but how will you answer these children when they approach you years from now, demanding to know why their education was hijacked.

    Back to the late night student who has now been immersed in homework all night long; not only is the assignment compromised, her next day will be wrecked as well. When high schoolers stagger into school significantly sleep deprived, no matter how eager, how earnest, how motivated, they simply will not learn well that day. The brain, an efficient machine is thinking, okay, you didn’t sleep, I need to make this up somehow, so the student has micro-sleeps, quick bursts of shut eye during class. That burst comes just when your calculus teacher is explaining a complex problem and now you’ve missed it.

    W may think those students are functioning fine, they’re muddling through. But learning is committed to memory in REM sleep. The National Sleep Foundation and Dr. Helene Emsellem, a nationally recognized expert on adolescent sleep, will tell you that if a student only gets five hours sleep that night, she may as well flush the previous day down the toilet because it was not cemented in the brain. Five hours is the critical tipping point. If you plan on only getting that much, consider cutting class the day before because most of what you’ve learned will not stick.

    Schools turn a blind eye to the entire issue of REM sleep and what it does for learning, memory and comprehension because these children are valiant and will do the impossible, if asked. We shouldn’t ask. As David Elkind says, “just because a child can does not mean she should.”

    And as I’ve written before, not all kids can get their homework done in the time you specify, Victoria. Each child is different. Here are some examples of children who can’t fit that much into your neat two hour block:

    1. Highly gifted
    2. Perfectionist
    3. Children who learn best in depth and would do better with one long compelling assignment than several smaller ones. They don’t transition quickly.
    3. ADD/ADHD
    4. Learning Disabilities
    5. Kids suffering from sleep deprivation. To add, adolescents have what is called teen sleep phase delay.

    And we haven’t even touched on children who are tired, wiggly, had an awful day at school, have undiagnosed depression and anxiety, want to play, or dare we say this, just don’t want to do it. You’ll argue they have to anyway. You’re missing the point. The point being that now mom and dad must become homework cops.

    I don’t believe schools should automatically be sending home three hours homework as a knee jerk reaction. I believe a lot of this stuff can really get done in school if you cut out the fluff and the time wasters (state test prep for advanced students is a prime example). And for every single assignment sent home, the teacher needs to ask, is this worth loss of sleep? If that’s the result, I’m not going to send it home because if we develop a culture whereby sleep is the last thing to go, we’ll quickly come to the conclusion that a fully rested child is a child who is the most ready to learn. As I tell my daughter, work smarter not harder. It wouldn’t be a bad idea if school administration adhered to this dictum as well.


  12. Victoria writes:

    the fact that you are considering grade 11 and twelve students “children” sickens me.


    I’m not sure why that sickens you, Victoria. I think you are confusing the term “children” as it applies to older adolescents. It doesn’t mean we baby them. My daughter has a lot of freedom in many respects. But in the eyes of the law, she is a minor and will continue to be one until she reaches the age of eighteen.

    She isn’t a little girl, she’s not a baby, toddler, preschooler, early elementary student or little kid. But she is still a child, albeit an older child. She is coming into her own and each year she gains more life skills (or should if homework didn’t get in the way), more judgment, more maturity, more responsibility. But she is still a minor. She does not live alone, she does not hold down a full time job (she’d love to work part time but can’t, too much homework), all for good reason, she isn’t ready and that is why for the next year and a half, she is still under the wing of her parents. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, actually. Yes, our modern culture has protracted adolescence. She has plenty of years to be an adult. This is the time as parents we still have influence. The more we nurture her, the better adult she will grow into. As parents, we must never make the mistake of thinking our teens need us less, not more. In the short time leading up to college, I want to spend this precious time instilling our values, morals, ethics and broad view of the world.

    In fact, Victoria, I’ve just demonstrated how homework overload does not promote the growing process, it thwarts it. My daughter doesn’t do laundry or load the dishes into the dishwasher or run to the grocery, all life skills she desperately wants to master but has no time for.

    And Victoria, dare I say that you yourself could have used a little more mothering. You attempted to do some very mature things, well before you were ready. You had a baby as a teen and you dropped out of school. But you are still a “child” and children cannot be expected to lead adult lives just yet. As you yourself admitted, you were hardly ready for those adult steps.

    You’ve made some very serious mistakes, mistakes that will reverberate for the rest of your life. And now you are correcting them by returning to school. Kudos to you for your bravery and determination.


  13. Please add “Visual Spatial right brained learner” to my above (several posts above) list of kids, children and otherwise, who have trouble getting their homework done in that mythical three hour slot.

    How could I have left that out? It’s so seminal. Understand also that visual spatial, perfectionism, introversion, working in depth, working better in space than time, learning based exceptionalities, peer relationships are often all part of one package deal.


  14. Hi there to all the “homework issues” : I have 3 beautiful girls: on is in grade 8, second is in grade 5 and our youngest one is in SK. I sometimes agree that the school is giving out too much homework, but they do allow some time at school, so the students have the option to be homework-free when they get home, or at least half-done. This takes a lot of load off my back helping them do do their homework. It’s their choice whether they want to do all the homework at home, or not. It’s entirely their decision. And, I think, they are old enough to make that decision on their own. You’re right, when you say that homework dictates on how you spend time with your family, but think about it: if you really want to be involved with what your child is doing and learning in school (which is crucial), this is a perfect opportunity for you to do so. It’s not every night that the children are forced to spend 2-3 hours of homework every night. And if they are, there are ways of managing that time. Enjoy your kids, help them through, they sure will reward you in the years to come.


  15. To Isa:

    Wouldn’t YOU rather be the decision maker about how your child and your family spends its time? I can think of at least 8 ways I can find out about school work aside from my child having to bring home school work. They all require me to be an involved parent, and take MY time, not my child’s precious time.

    1: Attend curriculum night
    2. talk to the teacher via, face to face after school, e-mail,
    parent-teacher conference.
    3. Ask my child
    4. Ask to visit the classroom during the week.
    5. Volunteer for class helper, school trips
    6. Ask a parent whose child has already done that year at that school, with that teacher.
    7. Download the curriculum from the internet…most school boards have a document related to what the educational goals are for public school
    8. Talk to the principal.


  16. The Author is spot on in this issue. Schools have done no assessment as to what a child misses out on by sitting behind books for hours learning mundane, useless things, only for these things to be forgotten a short time after school.

    It’s time for parents to take stands against this kind of BS.
    Frankly, I seems to me that any homework should be a suggestion, not a requirement.

    Until parents defend what is theirs(the right to raise their own child), the schools will continue to push their way into their lives.

    I am an advocate of education, not memorization.

    The only thing I see you did wrong, is your tone was one of asking instead of one of demanding. A right to an education does not mean enslavement.

    First question I would ask is where do they get the authority to dictate what goes on in your home.
    If they claim they do have the authority, then surely they share in the liability associated w raising kids.
    You know, if your teenager goes off and does something stupid, it can’t be your fault, because 80% of the child’s time awake was spent working on things that were dictated by the schools.

    Ask them to show you the statute.


  17. Hello, and thank you for posting such a great article, I absolutely agree that there should be an opt out acceptance.. I am a single mother of 4 all in the same school. ages 12,8,7 and 6. It’s only me to care for them, I’m all they have. They get home around 4pm each day except thursdays when they get home around 330ish. I get home just 20 mins before they do, But I then have to make their dinner, do the dishes and attempt to help all 4 of them do their homework, so I take on the “do the least first” approach, so I begin after dinner (around 6pm) reading with my 6 yr old, then 630 with my 7 yr old, by then I need a few minutes to gather myself before I jump on the huge amount of homework my other two kids have to deal with. Around 7 I begin to help my 8 yr old with homework and than I have to take a break to bath them and get my youngest kids to bed, so around 745 while I struggle to get my youngest kids to bed, I also have to restart homework with my 8 yr old, on a good day we finish her homework around 830 than she has a snack and goes off to bed. BUT THEN… I have to start my 12 yr old sons homework with him, so usually its right after doing the last homework set we begin. Around 845 we start more homework, and again on a good day we will end around 930-10pm… by this time my 12 yr old is so tired i’m having to fight with him to get his homework finished so the teachers can’t complain… at times he doesn’t even finish it all, and there has been times he’s fallen asleep right at the kitchen table… HOW IS THAT RIGHT? HE’S ONLY 12!


  18. And furthermore, I will have started work around 8am and only just arrived home at 3pm, so i’m working 14 hour workdays in total, by that time i’m so wiped out that I just fall asleep. This is not leaving anytime for mine or their mental health or emotional wellness. We use to have such a great schedule which was after dinner every monday we would have family discussion night, every wednesday we would have family game night and every friday we would family movie night…. HOW DOES THIS SET THEM UP FOR THE REAL WORLD? Enough is enough. My kids have no friends outside of school and get very little outside time due to the amount of homework they have. As of now I will not be asking my kids to do any homework at all unless it’s a long weekend or during breaks from school where i’m sure they can do a little bit of work… I also dont find that there is any incentive to them doing homework on such a large scale, Maybe if they were rewarded with something from the school for doing their homework daily for two weeks straight or something than I could see it, but as of now all they get is a certificate once or twice a year. How many of you parents would say “I’ll go to work if they don’t pay me?” Well being paid is your earnings for doing your job, what earnings do our kids make? how would you parents feel if you worked super hard day and night and than instead of your boss handing you a paycheck they handed you a huge piece of paper with a GRADE on it (A++, B,C,D,F?) would u stay at that job if your only reward was a grade? No because you need to survive right!!! Ok my point stands, if they are going to make our kids work day and night like slaves than I say reward them hugely so they know they have something to work towards, because lets be honest telling your kids that “a good education” is the reward they get, well no kid thinks that’s promising… if I was told by my boss at work that he was going to give grades instead of money I would just quit, and i don’t blame those kids that drop out due to being rapidly overwhelmed by homework seriously… I think it’s time that the world changes with us, and if it doesn’t than I’ll take my stand as well right there with my kids in my hand because enough is enough, I refuse to work myself and my kids into complete exhaustion… times have changed and my family is changing with them… ARE YOURS?


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