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
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