Q: At a recent school meeting, some parents pushed back on the new Common Core curriculum that my state, California, adopted. They are afraid that the standards will be too hard for their children. Several parents are for the standards. How can we answer their objections?
A: Ask if they really want to deprive their children of college and career opportunities. The lack of preparation for college work and the continuing slippage of United States students on international comparisons are key reasons 45 states have adopted the Common Core State Standards.
The Common Core, with standards for math and English language arts, is designed to address inequities. Currently, kids in some districts or states get a rich and deep curriculum, while others get less challenging courses. This leads to lower scores on important tests and more remedial instruction in high school and college.
The new voluntary, internationally benchmarked K-12 standards seek to give all students a strong knowledge and skills foundation in math and English. "Yes, they are challenging, but they are also clear. States that implement them well will graduate more of their high school students ready for college and careers," says Ramon Cortines, retired superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, and former New York City Schools chancellor.
Cortines says the Common Core standards won't be implemented overnight. Most won't show up in classrooms until the 2014-15 school year. "While state policymakers and educators may adopt them, the hard work is at the local level," he says. "Teachers must be supported in how to teach (the standards) in ways that connect to their students. If educators follow a script, it won't work.
"Parents must understand not only why the standards will benefit their children, but what students are supposed to learn," Cortines continued. That way, "parents can help them at home and encourage them to aim high."
The National PTA has done a good job showing parents why they are important partners in the Common Core initiative. The organization created 11 grade-by-grade guides that reflect the standards. They show key items that children should be learning in English and mathematics in each grade and suggest activities parents can do at home. Parents of high school students will also find tips for planning for college and careers. Go to pta.org for the guides. To get more background and find out if your state has adopted the standards, visit CoreStandards.org/in-the-states.
Cortines says there's another good reason to hope the Common Core initiative succeeds -- to help students become effective citizens. "Students need a strong knowledge foundation to make informed judgments, sound arguments and effective decisions. We do students a disservice when we encourage them to have lots of opinions, but we don't insist that they acquire broad knowledge to base them on," he says. "I like the way author Liel Leibovitz puts it. 'Points of view are to knowledge what dessert is to vegetables: You earn one only by first consuming the other.' Done well in our schools, the Common Core will serve up really tasty, nourishing veggies!"
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)