A+ Advice for Parents

Q: What's happening with the Common Core? Our principal says that it's been implemented in our state, and teachers like it and the students are doing better. But a PTO parent says that the federal government passed a new law to dismantle it. Who's right?

A: Misconceptions about Common Core State Standards (CCSS) die hard. "The feds have never been in charge of standards and they still aren't. That's a state role," says Peter Cunningham, the executive director of Chicago-based nonprofit Education Post and supporter of Common Core. "We've always had standards. These (CCSS) are just more rigorous and better."

These standards were created by the states -- with private dollars -- not the federal government. What prompted the states to do this? Too many students graduating high school weren't ready for college. So states joined together to improve the "college and career readiness" of U.S. students. Over several years, thousands of parents, teachers, researchers, subject-area specialists as well as business, civic, military and policy leaders of all political stripes weighed in. The result is the Common Core. To date, 42 states have adopted CCSS.

Cunningham tracks education trends across the nation for educationpost.org. He finds that "teachers like the new standards because they give them plenty of freedom to teach the way they want and they really encourage critical thinking. The standards are not about rote learning."

He also points out that parents have exacting academic standards for their kids "and they see the benefit of having 'common' standards across state lines."

Louisiana educator Courtney A. Brown explains her support on educationpost.org: "With normalized standards across the country, a child in rural South Dakota is expected to meet the same standards as a child in upstate New York."

An August 2015 Education Post survey evaluated parents' top priorities for their kids' schools. The survey showed that 66 percent of participants support "implementing Common Standards" and 76 percent support "creating higher standards and a more challenging curriculum" in the schools. A plurality of parents think Common Core is working or should be given time to improve.

A May 2015 Education Next survey shows that those who favor the Common Core continue to outnumber opponents by 14 percentage points. The report notes that "the broader public's opposition to the Common Core appears to rest on a shallow factual foundation. Asked whether or not the Common Core is being used in their local school district, fully 58 percent of the members of the public admit that they do not know ... perhaps more startling, 24 percent of residents in states that do not have the Common Core believe their districts are using the standards."

A federal bill that was signed into law last year, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), "prohibits the federal government from mandating Common Core," says Cunningham. "This is essentially meaningless because the federal government was already prohibited from mandating standards. The new law does require rigorous, high standards that prepare students for college and work. So it's all the same thing."

Educator and scholar Dr. Chester Finn challenges folks to actually read the CCSS and find "anything there they don't think kids would be better off learning."

For more information, go to corestandards.org.

(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.)

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