The Toronto Homework Policy After Two Years: One Parent’s Perspective (part 1)

Today’s guest blogger, northTOmom is a freelance writer and blogger from Toronto, and the mother of ten-year-old twin girls. In today’s piece, part 1 of 2, she discusses the “family friendly” homework policy instituted in Toronto 2 years ago.

The Toronto Homework Policy After Two Years:
One Parent’s Perspective
Part 1
by northTOmom

On a recent Saturday morning, my 10-year-old daughter emerged from the basement on the verge of tears: “The temple’s collapsed,” she announced. Though it sounded dire, she was speaking not of an actual building, but of the model of an ancient Greek temple she and a classmate had constructed out of cardboard the previous week. They had piled on the white paint, and the structure had simply buckled under the weight. Later that day I glanced out the window to see my two daughters turning cartwheels on the back lawn while my husband diligently sawed wooden cylinders into pillars for the new temple. It was a brilliant spring day, and soon my husband would finish his task and call my reluctant daughter in out of the sunshine to start rebuilding the temple. What is wrong with this picture?

From the perspective of a homework skeptic, many things: arts and crafts busywork, weekend homework, parental involvement. But the main problem is that I live in Toronto, and my children attend public school in a board which in 2008 enacted one of the most progressive, “family friendly” homework policies in North America. So what happened?

When I read the news in early 2008 that the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) was re-evaluating its homework policy, my heart did a little happy dance. At the time, my twin daughters were in third grade. Although we had not yet experienced homework overload, the prospect of a reformed homework policy thrilled me because the following year my daughters were due to enter mid-elementary French immersion, a program renowned for its heavy workload both inside and outside the classroom. Suddenly there was hope that French immersion would provide a qualitatively (as opposed to quantitatively) different experience for my daughters, with enrichment enabled not by means of extra work, but simply through learning the curriculum in a second language.

The TDSB—the largest school board in Canada, serving approximately 250,000 students—appeared to have done its homework, so to speak, on homework. Spurred on by parent Frank Bruni and sympathetic Trustee, Josh Matlow, the board reviewed and eventually rewrote its homework policy, approving a new family-friendly version on April 16, 2008. The new policy re-defines “effective” homework, promotes “differentiated” assignments and removes punitive consequences for incomplete work. It virtually eliminates homework in the early elementary years, and mandates substantial decreases for all other grades. But perhaps the most progressive feature of the Toronto policy is its recognition of the deleterious effect of homework on family life. It stipulates that homework should not be assigned on scheduled holidays or “days of significance,” and that “time spent on homework should be balanced with the importance of personal and family wellness”

My excitement back in 2008 was not unfounded: this was a good policy.

So why two years later am I complaining about my children’s homework?

Read more tomorrow

12 thoughts on “The Toronto Homework Policy After Two Years: One Parent’s Perspective (part 1)

  1. Excellent and extremely well written. Ah, yes, the projects that spill into entire weekends, the late night runs to Walmart for poster board because Staples is closed…

    I’m waiting for the sequel.

    “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance”
    Thomas Jefferson


  2. I loved that first paragraph…I think we all have similar tableaux from our experiences with those “fun family” projects. At my house this year it was: my daughter and her friend happily playing in her room having got together at our place to work on their project. I’m at the kitchen table shaping pipe cleaners into stick puppets and cutting mice-like shapes out of felt to be glued onto popsicle sticks. “Awwww…ever cute” , the girls said on a break to check how Mom was doing.

    On a second date, at the other little girl’s house, the Mom told me when I went to pick my daughter up, that “all they really wanted to do was go out and play”

    That was the day I said to myself….no more school work projects in pairs or at home…until they’re much older.


  3. Ack! It’s a cliffhanger! I can’t wait for the next segment! (Cue the “Between the Lions” graphic of a guy named Cliff, hanging by his fingernails from a cliff.)

    One of the many depressing aspects of the dumb project homework is that it actually comes from a misreading of some of our favorite progressive-ed thinkers. When schools assign this dreck, they think they’re the heirs of John Dewey. They think the projects are “fun” and “creative”.

    Progressive types hate this homework because the kids experience it as an irritating chore. Traditionalist types hate it because there is no academic content. And both the progressive and traditionalist objections are correct.


  4. Not a cliffhanger?!…

    I can’t imagine how you went from progressive homework policy that respects the family to building Greek structures in your basement.

    My mother used to refer to middle school as “the diarama years”. If we came up with the ideas and did the legwork – she just made them for us (grade my kids on their ideas, not their artwork). She could make a hellavu diarama.


  5. What’s up with dioramas anyway? What is the point? Our school currently has a whole whack of them on display in the front hall display case…………..I don’t know what the purpose is of making a model of anything unless you’re an architect proposing a grand new museum or something. Are teachers just so devoid of ideas? Or is the diorama one of those traditions of school?



  6. To clarify, I called it a cliffhanger because of the ending of the post:

    So why two years later am I com­plain­ing about my children’s homework?

    Read more tomorrow


  7. K,

    I think your mother had the right idea. Unlike the teachers assigning the projects, she seemed to understand where the actual learning takes place (hint, not usually in the artsy-crafty parts). Unfortunately, I’m so pathetic at arts and crafts that I couldn’t do this for my kids, even if I wanted to. (My husband is actually better at it–hence his involvement.) But…the point is, we shouldn’t have to.

    FedUp and PsychMom: It’s so true that many teachers consider projects to be a “fun” way to cover the curriculum. Well “fun” nearly killed us this year (as you’ll see tomorrow)!

    But I’m curious as to why some progressive types favour projects. Is it because they are associated with “project-based” learning? Does anyone know what that actually is?


  8. I’ll give you my idea of project based learning…that never graced my kitchen table.

    Last year, two years ago the theme was oceans for the whole in Nova Scotia, it was easy. At the last open house of the year, we parents came in to see what work the students had done and here in the centre of the room was a huge display on a table of an actual tidal pool. It was amazing. The rocks were real and had been accumulated from field trips to the ocean that year, the sea creatures were made out of plasticene, the plants were sticks and tissue paper…it was so real looking. And the kids couldn’t wait to show you what part they had made. It was all done at school and it was a group effort…that probably took about two and a half weeks to put together.
    That, to me, is project based learning.


  9. Terrific column. The TDSB also has a safe schools policy, which effectively keeps parents out of schools, unless they are there on official business. All these wonderful craft projects produced by stressed out parents and befuddled children are put on display but rarely seen by anyone.


  10. I have learned that passivity—my own in particular—is part of the problem. A change in practice does not flow seamlessly from a change in policy. It is up to all of us to remain vigilant and advocate for the the ultimate stakeholders in any educational system: children.


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