ONTD Political

Canadian parents win legal battle against homework

2:26 am - 11/20/2009



Usually it is the children, not the parents, who are loath to spend their evenings practising spelling and learning times tables. But a Canadian couple have just won a legal battle to exempt their offspring from homework after successfully arguing there is no clear evidence it improves academic performance.

Sherri and Tom Milley, two lawyers from Calgary, Alberta, launched their highly unusual case after years of struggling to make their three reluctant children do school work out of the classroom.

After waging a long war with their eldest son, Jay, now 18, over his homework, they decided to do things differently with their youngest two, Spencer, 11, and Brittany, 10. And being lawyers, they decided to make it official.

It took two years to negotiate the Milleys' Differentiated Homework Plan, which ensures their youngest two children will never have to do homework again at their current school. The two-page plan, signed by the children, parents and teachers, stipulates that "homework will not be used as a form of evaluation for the children". In return, the pupils promise to get their work done in class, to come to school prepared, and to revise for tests. They must also read daily and practise their musical instruments at home.

"It was a constant homework battle every night," Sherri told Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper. "It's hard to get a weeping child to take in math problems. They are tired. They shouldn't be working a second shift."

"Why were we putting our family through that stress?" she wondered. "If we don't want it all, we shouldn't have to have it."

Two years ago, Sherri began collecting studies on homework, most of which suggest that, particularly for younger grades, there is no clear link between work at home and school performance. Working with the staff at St Brigid Elementary Junior High School, she formed a homework committee. When no firm changes resulted from the committee, the couple began negotiating the legal document that decided the matter.

"We think it's a parent's right to choose what's in our children's best interests," said Sherri. "But we're thankful the school did the right thing."


I'm torn. I hated homework and thought the majority of it was useless to me, however I was a KID, and that was what we were supposed to think! Plus I'm still not very mature and have trouble seeing this from a parent or teacher's perspective.

But I know that it helps kids understand the work...at least...that's what they told us...
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tiddlywinks103 20th-Nov-2009 07:46 am (UTC)
No, homework, does not help when they estimate it should be ten minutes per grade your child is in. Teachers can rarely adhere to this. My friend's son has an hour of damn homework in third grade, and I hate helping him with it.

He's not engaged, he's not enjoying it and he doesn't seem to be learning the shit. Teachers should allowed to teach everything in class, not send kids home to tough it out themselves. Teaching them to bubble-in shit for three weeks and not getting to teach doesn't help either.
jmintmilano 20th-Nov-2009 12:13 pm (UTC)
suitablyemoname 20th-Nov-2009 07:47 am (UTC)
Speaking from my own experiences, I learned nothing from homework.

When I changed from a mainstream school to an alternative school which had no homework but lots and lots of tests and long-term assignments (six-page papers, science fair projects, etc. as opposed to worksheets, problem sets and "read-and-summarize" assignments), my marks improved considerably and I absorbed a lot more information.

I'm not opposed to homework, but in my own case it was an ineffective teaching tool and actually inhibited my progress as a student. Other options should be available at the discretion of teachers and parents.

If a student responds well to the learning experience homework provides (a quick repetition of material covered in class, short bursts of learning as opposed to long slogs, lots of little assignments instead of big, long-term deadlines, etc.) then there's no reason they shouldn't have access to it. If they don't, they shouldn't be compelled to keep up with it.

Edited at 2009-11-20 07:50 am (UTC)
makemerun 20th-Nov-2009 07:58 am (UTC)

I would also point out, that for kids with bad home lives, it's a huge, huge struggle, because it's hard enough to keep bad home lives from affecting grades on tests and in class work, let alone to try to actually DO work in that environment.

Too many teachers use homework as an excuse not to teach properly during school. For example, I've been in classes where the teachers would tell you what chapters to read, and then have you do the work-- and they wouldn't teach on it, you'd just be expected to learn the material from the books.

ALSO, kids have to have a book for almost each class, and taking it home for homework each night results in a backpack of 30-40 lbs per night on average which they have to lug home on their back. (IDK about averages nationally or worldwide, but I know that throughout my school career and my siblings, we weighed our backpacks a few times a year, and it was never lighter than 25 lbs.) This is obviously a problem physically for kids and teens, and I think we're going to see a lot of negative physical repercussions from it down the road as this generation of students ages.
litterthisheart 20th-Nov-2009 07:47 am (UTC)
I have a 3 page paper due tomorrow about ants and I am wishing very, very much that these people were my parents.
fruhlings 20th-Nov-2009 08:05 am (UTC)
...ants? wat.
pennieblack 20th-Nov-2009 07:52 am (UTC)

Well, on the for-homework side.. it's repetition. Doing homework makes you think about the material and (hopefully) retain it.

On the against-homework side.. a lot of teachers give homework for the sake of giving homework, so screw that. I know middle-schoolers who have more homework a night than I do. Seriously, guys? A ten-year-old doesn't need 1.5+ hours. Add in extra-curriculars and dinner, and when does the kid get to be a kid?
suitablyemoname 20th-Nov-2009 07:55 am (UTC)
Add in extra-curriculars and dinner, and when does the kid get to be a kid?

When that kid stays up to 3 AM to make up for missed downtime. Then we wonder why kids don't get enough sleep.
theartistprince 20th-Nov-2009 07:56 am (UTC)
I never learned anything from homework, especially in math. I was terrible in math throughout high school and none of the teachers would really help me. All they did was assign more homework and it didn't work. My fustration over math homework is the first time I remember having panic attacks, which I now experience rather often. I went on to fail math in the tenth grade, meaning I had to have that stress all over again when I had to retake it.

High School homework is fine, but not as a substitute for teaching. It's really not fair to kids in middle school and elementary school to have homework. My cousin is in the first grade and he gets homework. That's way too young. He should be outside playing, not spending an hour a night filling out worksheets.

lol tl;dr: FUCK HOMEWORK!
paperclipchains 20th-Nov-2009 07:58 am (UTC)
It might be better to revise how homework is done. I don't know. I think maybe making it optional would be good - like in my high school math class, we were always given loads of homework, but none of it was ever collected. You did the problems to practice and get the hang of applying the formulas and solutions. Leaving it up to the individual students to decide when they know enough about topic X and can move on to topic Y seems advantageous to me.
meran_flash 20th-Nov-2009 08:07 am (UTC)
teachers sometimes completely neglect the idea that their students are in 4-7 other classes at the same time

My teachers were always like, "this is not my problem".
victorialupin 20th-Nov-2009 08:35 am (UTC)
Same for me.

And even if I did do a good job on the homework, I never learned anything. Especially for things like "read and summarize" assignments, where I'd be rushing during morning announcements to write a summary and, through the combination of rushing and being exhausted, by lunch I wouldn't even remember the topic of the assignment.
the_gabih 20th-Nov-2009 08:25 am (UTC)
Pfft, this.
christini_smith 20th-Nov-2009 08:02 am (UTC)
If only this would hold up here in college... Seriously I see no point in stressing out over loads of pointless math assignments when I'd rather be perfecting my essays on WWII and war criminals and Russia vs. China. But that could be the bitter history major talking.
meran_flash 20th-Nov-2009 08:06 am (UTC)
See, I feel like math homework is the only exception here. I NEED that practice before I'm required to be accountable for that knowledge.
ayarane 20th-Nov-2009 08:07 am (UTC)
There was a book written on this kind of thing not too long ago.

There were quite a few scary arguments collected in favor of homework. The one that was most WTF was that parents and teachers wanted homework because they thought if teenagers didn't have something to keep them locked down, they'd go get into trouble.

...yeah, what.

Long-term projects and the like I can get behind, but throwing piles of fluff busywork in the guise of "reinforcing what was learned in class" is rubbish. (Math teachers are ESPECIALLY notorious for doing this.) In the case of the latter, all it really does is turn the students off, or worse... Not to mention that this fails to take into account other learning styles and what-have-you.
iisz 20th-Nov-2009 08:10 am (UTC)
My daughter doesn't get homework because she is special needs. They have tried to assign it to her in the past, and her teacher tried to give her some the other day, but the specialists at the Children's Hospital have recommended none, because it is enough to get through her day. However, even if this were not the case, I would not allow her to be given anywhere near what the other children get. Six hours a day of school is enough, especially for very young children. They are not going to learn more when they're tired, grumpy, and getting help from tired and grumpy parents.
meran_flash 20th-Nov-2009 08:10 am (UTC)
JFC, we're assigning GRADE-SHCOOLERS hours of homework, taking away their recesses, AND WE WONDER WHY THEY ARE NOT GETTING ENOUGH EXERCISE.

Mostly so they can know how to fill in bubbles correctly. Awesome.
belleweather 20th-Nov-2009 05:49 pm (UTC)
The district that we are in assigns mandatory homework in KINDERGARTEN. They were all excited about it at parent's night. I nearly hit someone.
keeni84 20th-Nov-2009 08:14 am (UTC)
At the time, I thought I was "learning" but looking back on it, I can honestly say I didn't learn a thing from doing homework.

There is no way that 100 algebra problems is going to magically make someone learn geometry if they have no idea how to do those 100 problems. And if they do know geometry, giving them 100 problems is going to make most kids hate geometry.

I failed 6th grade not because I didn't know the material, but because I didn't any homework for the entire semester. It was boring and tedious and made me depressed. And no one said anything until I failed!

Skipped 8th grade, though, lol.
potatoboat 20th-Nov-2009 08:28 am (UTC)
I think being bored by homework was my biggest problem as well. I was a smart kid and I picked stuff up pretty quickly, so I hated having to do homework that I felt was unnecessary. conjugating spanish verbs, doing 25 quadratic equations, answering (IN COMPLETE SENTENCES) questions about the great depression. I just wanted to tell them, "I know this sutff, can we move on now?"
cattyhunts 20th-Nov-2009 08:15 am (UTC)

Now, on topic somewhat. When I was in HS, my algebra teacher used to assign us students all the odd numbered problems. And we never had to show the work. Best part of that is...the answers to all the odd numbered were in the back of our algebra book. Our teacher could never figure out why her students were doing good on their homework, but not passing the tests she gave us.
chimbleysweep 20th-Nov-2009 08:19 am (UTC)
JEALOUS. My teachers never chose the ones in the back of the book. And we had to show work, anyway. :(
cattyhunts Re: o__o20th-Nov-2009 08:32 am (UTC)
LOL "tree sloth"!
timeasmymeasure 20th-Nov-2009 08:27 am (UTC)
Homework is there for a reason. It ensures practice after the teaching.

But that's just it. You can't teach with homework. Many teachers forget that HW is just practice and overload the quantity.
keeni84 20th-Nov-2009 08:42 am (UTC)
Great icon!
assula 20th-Nov-2009 08:29 am (UTC)
To be honest, I hated homework because I had a shitty environment at home - it's nearly impossible to do well on your homework or do it at all with an alcoholic parent screaming at you. Despite this, I did very well on all my tests, usually As and Bs. But because homework was worth so much of the grade, I barely passed most of my classes in my sophmore and junior years.

Cool story, bro.
lied_ohne_worte 20th-Nov-2009 09:33 am (UTC)
I think you're making a very important point. Here, it's gotten to the point where many schools actually admit that the amount of homework given and the overall difficulty are selected with the expectation that parents will help children do it. That makes a lot of assumptions about the environment a kid lives in - they need parents who have time, knowledge, willingness and ability to basically function as substitute teachers. Yet at the same time, they wonder when tests confirm that there is still a great social divide between which children get a higher-level education and which ones end up with the most basic of school degrees which seldom allows people to have a good job (or any job at all) later on.
reticent_lass 20th-Nov-2009 08:31 am (UTC)
The thing about homework is that people have to understand the material before they can count on being able to do the homework. If the textbook doesn't explain the material well, they're fucked, they don't learn anything and they show up to class depressed and angry.
meimichan 20th-Nov-2009 08:32 am (UTC)
Hmmm. I'm mostly remembering high school, and I don't think I ever had more than 3 hours of homework, and that was a bad night. Much as I whined about it, in the long run, I ended up at a pretty decent high school.

But I do recall at least 90% of my homework assignments in elementary and middle school just being busywork. Here, do this vocab list, write a sentence. Here's 30 math problems that are royally easy, show your work even if you can do this shit in your head. I think I only really learned stuff when doing a research paper or a science project. Hell, I loved doing research papers-even now with Google, those were still some handy skills. I remember in elementary school we'd get vocabulary lists and we'd have to write sentences and definitions out for each word, and I got PISSED when it was more than 10 words, because that was at least an hour with the damn dictionary at age seven, and I already knew most of the words anyways!
victorialupin 20th-Nov-2009 08:41 am (UTC)
I don't recall having much homework in high school either. Most of the actual homework (ie. repetitive questions) I was able to scribble down in the few minutes before class. I'd go about two weeks without any real homework and then have 5 hours one night because I'd left something huge until right before it was due.

But, generally, elementary and middle school were much worse when it came to homework.
myfanwy53 20th-Nov-2009 08:33 am (UTC)
I'll fight for homework. How long is this thing in effect? Does it include long term projects? (Can a teacher assign an essay/book report instead of a test?)

Because while busy work such as line copying/fill in the blank worksheets will probably not ever have a lasting effect, starting to write papers/essays early will. There are so many students already who come into college having no idea how to structure an argument or even form a basic sentence (I know, I grade their papers). Things like writing and language are only solidly learned through repetition and constant application of skills. If my latin students aren't going to go over vocabulary out of class or prep passages for class (look up vocab, read through for comprehension) so we can discuss grammatical concepts and introduce new concepts, honestly, I may as well not even try to teach it because they'll never improve. Same with any other language.

In terms of teaching, while it certainly is lazy teaching to assign only busy work, if teachers can no longer expect students to say, read a chapter in their history book to prep for a discussion, most teachers will build that reading time into the class time (which it sounds like their contract is encouraging). That's the ultimate in lazy teaching. Same in math--most concepts take an entire class period to introduce. If students aren't applying those concepts outside of class, 80% of that lecture will be gone by the next class period. How much will they remember when it comes time to test? There is also a legitimate argument that 'spoon feeding' information, such as saying you need to learn these twenty facts to pass the exam and not requiring any reading in a course, actually ends up dulling critical thinking skills and resulting in seriously 'dumbed down' course material. That's when you get worksheets--when the teacher has no confidence in student's ability to process information.

Of course a lot of kids are overloaded and most of that is busy work. I personally think we should outlaw all worksheets and anything that requires a glue gun (omg dioramas still give me leftover rage!). Maybe think about building a study hall into the school day (my school used to run every class 4 times a week and whatever class we didn't have was a study hall. It worked so well I rarely ever had more than a half hour of stuff to do at home.) and use it to build time management skills. It would be nice if teachers communicated about timing of larger projects (do away with the four weeks, midterm, final test schedule and stagger them).

TL;DR--There are ways to work around overloading without dumbing down class work and consequently the students. Part of this is the responsibility of the schools/teachers, but it's a lot harder to teach unprepared students and places incredible emphasis on testing to evaluate progress.
meran_flash 20th-Nov-2009 08:50 am (UTC)
I read this entire comment, but the only thing I have to say (sorry!) is that I love the idea of study halls, and wish I'd had something like them. I was way too easily distracted from doing work at home, and was much better at getting it done in a controlled environment.
dartemis24 3:30 AM grammar/spelling mistakes ;-;20th-Nov-2009 08:34 am (UTC)
I'm from a school that's famous for being very academically challenging. I spend at least 3 hours daily on homework alone. That doesn't include club activities, reviewing for school/standardized test, and other extracurricular activities such as orchestra and science program at a univeristy. You can tell that I get very little sleep every night (4 hours average ;-;).

And I really have to say that I like the homeworks. They force me stay up and review what I've learned in class. And you know, when you're studying for the tests, you're doing the same thing you would've done with homework. And you can use your hw to fact check when reviewing for tests.

But really, homeworks are effective only if you would do them thoroughly instead of copying answers out from the back of the book or friends. Which is very common. And there's also the good kinds of homeworks and the bad kinds of homeworks. The good kind being challenging and strategically structured, the bad kind being the kind you don't need to know the material to do.

So I'm all for not counting homeworks in for grades, but just making them "suggested assignments". They can be good for us students. (Though this may be the masochistic nerd speaking)

... this comment makes no sense whatsoever, doesn't it? I'm blaming it on the ungodly hour.
majutsukai 20th-Nov-2009 08:36 am (UTC)
Homework was a source of never-ending stress and drama at home for me. And yeah, I never really learned anything from it.

Math was by far the worst offender (I really don't need that many problems in order to get this concept! I'm not that dense! ...usually), but it was bad even with subjects I actually liked.

Japanese was by far my best subject, and I was always ahead of the class because I was so eager to absorb the new information... but I wound up almost failing a couple times because I was so burnt out on the homework. It was nothing but busywork, repeating stuff that I already had a firm handle on. I never needed it, and my test scores proved it. But my teacher was oh so very concerned about my homework.

Somewhere along the line, the cart started pulling the horse.
majutsukai 20th-Nov-2009 08:39 am (UTC)
...Is that even the right expression? I meant that priorities got backwards.
playthefool 20th-Nov-2009 08:36 am (UTC)
Okay... I can support a little bit of homework, just so that kids can see if, on their own, they understand the concepts from class. But I think about my middle school experience, and just... ugh. Literally I'd go to school from 8 to 3, come home, and do homework until 7. It was basically 11 hours of school M-F.

So homework in moderation? Can be helpful, I think. It's practice. But assigning 70-80 math problems is just absurd (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE YOU FAT BALD BASTARD).
skirtchaser 20th-Nov-2009 08:54 am (UTC)
I'm all for homework, so long as it's not tons and not every single night.

I never had that much home work - except in grade 11 math. I'm not good at math, but my teacher would assign about 15-20 questions almost every night.

We'd then take them up the next day in class. I did well in math that year. It didn't take me that long to do the homework and I learned a lot about accountability because if you didn't have them done and she came around, you felt like you disappointed her.

When I did my teaching placement in a grade 1/2 split, they had something called a 'Reading Folder' they chose a book (usually about 10-20 pages depending on the level) and were to go home and read it - preferably to their parent, guardian or an older sibling... it was absolutely amazing to see how their reading and comprehension improved in a short amount of time.

The parents who were into it, then had some educational time to spend with their child and could even put comments onto a little card that was inside their reading folder.

so- go homework - just not too much.

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