A+ Advice for Parents

Clearing Up Common Core Misconceptions

Q: Vocal parents in our district are fighting the Common Core State Standards. Some say it's federal government intrusion; others worry they're too hard for kids. Our school board (I'm a member) believes that these standards are a good thing. How can we get parents on board?

A: First, address misconceptions about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). They were created by the states -- not the federal government or U.S. Department of Education -- using private dollars. The standards and assessments are voluntary.

The Common Core is the result of a 20-year process initiated by state governors to improve college and career readiness of U.S. students. The public was invited to participate in the development. Thousands of parents, teachers, researchers and subject-area specialists, along with business, civic and policy leaders across the political spectrum, weighed in.

The result should appeal to "anyone who thinks our kids might learn more than they've been learning and that the bar on our education expectations should be raised," says Chester E. Finn Jr. Finn is the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a veteran observer and evaluator of "standards-based" reform. "The Standards' content and skill expectations for grades K-12 in English language arts and math are, by almost everyone's reckoning, about as rigorous as the best state-specific academic standards and superior to most," he says.

States (and districts, schools and teachers) "can tailor their own curriculum to the Common Core, make their own instructional preferences; they can add to the Common Core," Finn explains. "And if there's stuff there they don't like, they can disregard it. Moreover, states that have adopted the Common Core are free to drop it if and when they come up with something better."

Second, get folks to read and discuss the standards. Finn says, "I've yet to meet anyone who actually looks at the standards and finds anything there they don't think kids would be better off learning. When parents look at Common Core's expectations, grade by grade, I'll be surprised if they don't come away impressed." (Find them at corestandards.org/the-standards).

Third, compare the Common Core to your current curriculum. For example, parents in a New York district were happy to learn that the Common Core includes phonics, which the district had abandoned, and requires elementary students to know their math facts "cold," waiting until upper grades to introduce calculators.

Fourth, discuss the advantages of comparability and continuity. As Finn puts it, "CCSS opens the door to comparing student, school and district performance across the land on a credible, common metric -- and gauging their achievement against that of other countries on our shrinking and ever more competitive planet. Plus, the Common Core brings the possibility that families moving around our highly mobile society will be able to enroll their kids seamlessly in schools that are teaching the same things at the same grade."

Finn says he has yet to meet anybody who is "truly satisfied with the college and career readiness of today's U.S. high school graduates. Anyone content with the education status quo should by all means resist every kind of change," he says.

For articles and more information, go to Common Core Watch at edexcellence.net.

(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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