How Educators Can Address Parents' Confusion About Common Core

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Although 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core State Standards, a recent Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa Poll  revealed that 62 percent of Americans have never heard of Common Core, and 55 percent of public school parents don’t know what it is.

"Almost two of three Americans have never heard of the Common Core State Standards, arguably one of the most important education initiatives in decades, and most of those who say they know about the Common Core neither understand it nor embrace it," the Poll summary states.

More from the poll: "Slightly more than one-third of Americans have ever heard of the Common Core; among Americans with children in public schools, fewer than half recognized the Core. The majority of those who said they have heard of the Common Core selected the 'somewhat knowledgeable' option. Among the third who had heard of the Common Core, only four of 10 said the standards can help make education in the United States more competitive globally; a majority said the standards will make the U.S. less competitive or have no effect. Of those Americans who had heard of the Common Core, many said — erroneously — that the standards are based on a blending of state standards, that the federal government is insisting that all states adopt the standards, andthat there is a plan to create standards in all academic areas."

Some educators aren’t really surprised about the lack of parent knowledge. Retired Indiana public school teacher Barbara Kuykendall said that, although she retired before the Common Core was implemented, she didn’t think parents were aware of the Indiana state standards before Common Core. “None of our parents had any idea what the standards were for each grade,” she said. “The Indiana standards were pretty easy to understand. It wasn't that the parents couldn't understand them. The state provided booklets for every parent for years and I know they were just thrown away.”

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As more schools start implementing Common Core this year, some parents said they didn't know if it was happening in their schools.

“I read an article in Parents magazine last month,” said Nashville mom Jessica Kennedy, responding to our social media query. “Still not clear on the subject other than a lot of controversy over it.” And Michigan parent Laura Baumert said, “Never heard of it.”

Other seemed to know more. “I think there are benchmarks the kids are supposed to be hitting by certain points in their school careers. But that's about all I ‘know.’ Which is putting is loosely! People seem to be really upset about it,” said Janie Hesterly Wilkerson of Tennessee.

John Webster, a Minnesota parent, even joked about the controversy that has left him confused. “CCSS is a right-wing plot to destroy public education. CCSS is a left-wing plot to nationalize curricula. I can't decide which of these plots is for real -- or if both are!” he wrote.

SCHOOLS EDUCATE PARENTS

Whether because of, or in spite of, recent controversy over the Common Core, some schools are helping parents understand the new standards. Susie Masterson, elementary principal of Evansville Christian School in Evansville, Indiana, kept parents informed during the whole adoption process.

“We specifically told them [parents] that we were transitioning from Indiana Academic Content Standards to CCSS (now called INCC, Indiana Common Core), and how they would see that in the classroom,” she said. “We gave examples of how expository writing would be used, increased informational text, and then in math, the mathematical practices. For parents, we explained that beyond second grade, student instruction would focus less on memorization or rote facts, and more on accessing information and using it in more authentic activities,projects, and writing.”

 Masterson said that overall, she has received about seven emails from parents, asking her to explain the standards or the controversy surrounding them, but she said for the most part their apprehension dissipated when she explained that the school has always been standards-based, and has always participated in state assessments.

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Parent involvement is key, she said, for student success. “Because this issue seems to have become more political than anything, I like to explain it, so parents can know, ‘What does this mean for my child’s education?’ instead of the polarizing topic it has become for some.”

Fifth-grade teacher Jenny Kavanaugh of St. Louis, Missouri, plans to explain her school’s adoption of the Common Core on Parent Night, and she believes the principal will also address it. “I do plan to discuss it with parents at our back to school night, and I will send home some info on it,” she said. “We are required to post each learning goal addressed in a given week for our students. I plan to include the CCSS goals for the week in my parent newsletter whenever possible.” Like Masterson, Kavanaugh thinks it is important for parents to know what Common Core is -- and what it isn’t. “The CCSS is not a curriculum. It does not tell you exactly what your lessons will be,” she said. “That may be a useful distinction to make for parents. It is a set of learning goals and standards.”

Beth Cocuzza, Director of Math at Student Achievement Partners, a nonprofit formed by three contributing members of the Common Core, said that, of course, parents want to know what their child is learning, and if they’re showing progress. “Before the Common Core I don’t think many parents knew very much about previous state standards, either. That’s probably because standards don’t teach kids, teachers do,” she said. “These important conversations are informed by the new college and career readiness standards, but the conversation is about the kids.”

Cocuzza said if parents are interested in knowing more about the standards from a non-partisan source they can trust, the National PTA has put together a grade-by-grade breakdown of what students are expected to know.

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Cocuzza said parents should want to know how the Common Core will affect educational standards -- and it is their right to know. “Because of the disconnect between K-12 and higher education, the majority of students who earn a diploma today are not actually ready to move on,” she said. “These students spend money on remediation classes in college, which get them no closer to graduating with a degree, and they fail military entrance exams and entrance exams for good careers. So yes, I think parents should want to know, and it is their right to know these facts.”

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