Cuts in homework proposed
April 1, 2008
Students should not be assigned homework on holidays such as March Break or Christmas or other “days of significance,” says a groundbreaking policy before Toronto’s public school board.
The draft document â€“ the result of weeks of consultations with thousands of parents, teachers, principals and community members â€“ also says students in kindergarten should have no homework other than reading with or talking to their parents. And up to Grade 2, it says, homework should consist mostly of playing games, having discussions or even cooking with family members.
Among the other highlights of the policy, which is to be discussed at a meeting tomorrow:
* Homework should only cover material taught in class and consist of “clear, purposeful and engaging activities.”
* Students in Grades 7 and 8 should be assigned no more than one hour a day total across all subjects and high school students no more than two.
* Teachers should assign homework in “blocks” so students know what’s coming up in advance and can plan time to complete it.
* Parents should support their children, but not do their homework â€“ and need to make sure their kids go to bed on time even if it’s not finished.
“This recognizes that family time is important,” said parent Frank Bruni, one of the driving forces behind the Toronto District School Board’s review of homework practices. The review was spurred by complaints from students and parents about children staying up late to complete work, holidays being ruined because of schoolwork, and inconsistency among schools.
“This will allow families to better plan their free time because there will be consistency. Secondly, I think it will make kids feel they’re not under so much pressure all the time,” he added, although he had hoped homework on weekends would also be discouraged.
The policy, which may be tweaked after tomorrow’s meeting, will likely go for a final vote mid-month, and then be implemented this fall.
“Quantity is not as important as quality,” said Karen Grose, the Toronto board’s superintendent of programs. The draft policy, she added, “is founded on sound and positive learning practices, current research and the thoughts, opinions, perceptions and recommendations put forth from the broad community.”
The policy means students wouldn’t be assigned work on the Friday before March Break and expected to have it completed the first day back.
As for weekends, assigning work in blocks gives parents and students the flexibility to complete homework when they prefer, which was something many suggested during consultations rather than an outright ban on weekend assignments. The blocks could typically be a week at a time, she said.
Also gone is the standard 10 minutes per grade of homework per night, which meant that a Grade 3 student would have 30 minutes each night â€“ tricky because not all students work at the same pace.
It also recommends primary students cook with their families, because it’s an activity that covers many subject areas.
“It involves the family, it involves mathematics, it involves literacy, reading, talking and nutrition,” Grose said. The policy also says that for students who don’t complete homework, “consequences not be punitive.”
Trustee Josh Matlow said it doesn’t mean it will be ignored, but that non-completion shouldn’t affect a student’s overall grades.
Matlow would be pleased to see the end of kindergarten homework, “which I’ve always thought was nuts.”
Student trustee Gerald Mak said, however, he didn’t think student consultation was widespread for the proposed policy and was upset he hadn’t been informed the report was complete.
It is believed the Toronto board is the first in Canada to examine homework in such depth. A first-ever Canadian study released in February found many families struggled with the stress of homework overload, even in early grades.
Two University of Toronto professors found homework rates vary across the country, with some Grade 2 students spending less than 10 minutes a night while others spent more than 45.
It also found that Ontario students, on average, spend more time on homework per night than those in any other province.
A recent survey of Toronto public board students found those in grades 7 and 8 were doing 10 hours of homework a week, and those in high school about 12 hours per week.
After two hours of homework, students’ brains are “maxed out,” said Linda Cameron of U of T’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.