You’ve undoubtedly read a slew of articles on both sides of the Common Core fence. If you’re like most parents, daily headlines like “7-Year-Old Outsmarts Ridiculously Stupid Common Core Question” have you reaching for the aspirin and waiting for the world to return to normal.
There’s only one way to look at Common Core, and it has nothing to do with “Right or Wrong.” It has to do with answering one question: How do I help my child?
For starters, you need a clear understanding of the four components of our education system. If no one has explained it before, the following will help when we break down the Common Core pain points. If you’re already familiar, skip ahead. The components are:
- The Standards (ie Common Core): The cognitive skills students nationwide need to be successful in college and the workforce. Think of the standards as a general rubric. No lessons, tests, or batteries included.
- The Curriculum: The classes, resources, and content a school district gives its teachers to help students learn the skills.
- The Presentation: Classroom-level decisions made by teachers regarding how they deliver the information (during class) and reinforce it (with homework and non-standardized tests).
- The Evaluation: One of two testing formats are used to determine if a student meets the standards for their grade. Chosen by state, the formats are: The Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBA) or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).
For the next step, we’ll dissect fact and opinion, so you know the 5 biggest misconceptions about Common Core and find out REAL things you can do to take back control of your child’s education.
“There’s only one way to look at Common Core, and it has nothing to do with right or wrong.”
“Every student in every classroom across America is taught the same.”
While Common Core IS a set of nationwide expectations of students, it’s not responsible for the curriculums that go along with it. As mentioned above, those are chosen by the school district. HOW students are taught falls one level lower. It’s the teacher who still has the responsibility of meeting your and every other students’ needs.
What you can do: What’s happening in your child’s classroom has most likely changed in the last year. Ask them about those changes and explain why things have changed. Give them positive definitions of key terms like “Career and College Ready” and “Critical Thinking,” and tie those phrases into tasks they recognize in daily life. And don’t forget to include how their standardized tests will be different.
“Once a teacher, now a robot.”
It might seem like having nationwide standards requires everything to be taught the same. It doesn’t.
Nothing about Common Core requires a teacher to change the lessons they were using before if those lessons met the standards. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for most teachers. The collateral frustration is a (necessary) transition process where both schools and teachers are identifying what works.
What you can do: There are countless ways to help during this transition process. Start by asking for lesson materials to be sent home, which will help you understand the full scope of the assignment, and allow you to plan with your student. Arrange Student-Parent study sessions where students can work together to improve understanding, and parents can do the same. And don’t forget the school is there to work for you. Make the effort to attend school functions (such as PTA) and parent-teacher conferences. These are an invaluable opportunity to not only ask questions, but to hear the teacher’s point-of-view.
“Curriculums are being forced down school’s throats.”
Schools have reacted to Common Core in a number of ways. Some used it as a chance to completely switch curriculum, dropping old in favor of new on the dime. Others have instituted more gradual approaches (usually to less turbulent results). In neither of those cases is the curriculum mandated by a higher power.
“It might seem like having nationwide standards requires everything to be taught the same. It doesn’t.”
What you can do: Stay up to date and active on your school’s resources. Even if you missed it the first time, going back through websites and newsletters can tell you a lot about what’s changed. Email up the chain to ask where your district’s curriculum came from and then do personal research. You can also familiarize yourself with some of the best practices of schools implementing new curriculums on sites like Pearson (a curriculum provider).
“Education is being taken to the lowest common denominator.”
Some states, like Massachusetts and New Jersey, were ahead of the curve. The Common Core standards aren’t forcing them to slow down or lower their standards. What they are doing is establishing grade-by-grade building blocks designed to allow students in underperforming states to progress.
What you can do: First and foremost, research the changes that have taken place within your state as a result of Common Core. Dig deeper into where your state stands compared to national and international students. Familiarize yourself with the building blocks at your student’s grade level. There are a lot of roadmaps out there, not to mention YouTube videos (Google “eighth grade common core” for starters). Lastly, get an assessment from an outside source, such as a tutor familiar with Common Core.
“I’m now shut out from my child’s education.”
Sure, in most cases materials are being taught differently, and resources are changing. Subjects may be taught differently, but the subjects themselves still hold the same basic principles.
What you can do: You know your child better than anyone, and you can help them better, too. Be attentive to how they’re feeling, as it will lead you to the skills and subjects in which they are struggling. When combined with their teacher’s knowledge, you’ll give them the biggest opportunity to improve. And don’t be afraid to rationally voice your concerns to the teacher or even other parents. It’s easy to talk yourself onto the ledge, not so much off.
If your student is struggling, the best thing you can do is show them your commitment to finding other ways to help them. Whether you find a private tutor, connect with their teacher or take time out to understand a new approach to math problems, a vote of confidence goes a long way.