Q: My 5-year-old is doing work in kindergarten that my 8-year-old son did in first grade. At Parents' Night, the teacher explained that the school is implementing new Common Core State Standards. When I asked how to help him succeed with this harder material, she said, "Read with him 15 minutes a night." That's all?
A: Reading at home is still important -- so much so that Gaithersburg (Md.) Elementary School abolished homework altogether, replacing it with reading at least 30 minutes a night. When the faculty analyzed assignments, a lot was going home that "didn't match what we were doing instructionally in the classroom," says principal Stephanie Brant. With the new policy, Brant thinks students are motivated to read more and standardized test scores have remained steady.
Reading with your sons nightly helps them develop a love of reading. But leading education reformers, such as Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, College Board President David Coleman and GreatSchools.org founder Bill Jackson, encourage parents to focus on developing key character traits.
"The insight from research that schools should share with parents is this: It isn't how much information we cram into kids' brains from the earliest ages that turns kids into successful learners," says Jackson. "Sure, content knowledge matters, but the character traits they develop matter as much or more.
"At GreatSchools.org, we encourage parents to think in terms of helping their kids grow as students in three domains."
-- The first is skills. "These include reading, math, science, social studies, research, communication, problem formulation and interpretation, which is what the Common Core State Standards are all about," says Jackson. "For parents, this means making sure by communicating with the school that students are on track in mastering these subjects and intervening with the school if children are falling behind."
-- The second is character. "New studies show that when children develop early on those character traits that are the foundation for success in life, they quickly reap the benefits in school," says Jackson. "There is a great impact of such traits as curiosity, self-control, kindness, grit, citizenship, optimism, gratitude and leadership on academic success.
"The results are so compelling that the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Charter Schools -- where the motto is 'Work hard. Be nice.' -- stress the development of these traits in their approach."
-- The third is purpose. "It's a parent's role to help kids cultivate their children's passions and sense of purpose," says Jackson. "You do that by encouraging a budding entomologist to collect and catalog specimens, taking a family field trip one Saturday a month to develop curiosity, or watching the progress of the Mars Rover with your young 'Star Wars' fan. Alert your child's teacher to his passion, so she can build on it and ask him to be the class expert on it.
"With a strong sense of purpose, young people begin to imagine how they can use their talents to benefit themselves and the world."
For more information on the Common Core Curriculum, go to achieve.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.)