As both a parent and person who works in the field of education, I find myself particularly interested in changes in education processes, systems and standards, so of course, the new Common Core Standards take up a bit of space in my mind, as they seem to be with many others in education or children in school. I’ve seen a lot of images of impossible seeming math problems and “true” horror stories about families and their experiences with Common Core circling on Facebook and in blogs, and I wanted to take a moment to attempt to create some clarity for those who may feel in the dark about what Common Core is really all about. I’m going to attempt to do this with as much lay speak and little ed jargon as I can, so here goes!
So, what really are the Common Core Standards?
Schools operate around a set of standards that indicate what each child must learn, by subject area, in each grade level to be considered proficient. Before Common Core, each state set their own standards for what they felt children should learn in each grade – but some states had far lower standards and some far higher. So, a child who was doing well in school living in one state, who moved to another state with more stringent standards, might suddenly find themselves struggling to keep up.
The Common Core Standards are a set of standards shared by all states, with a little wiggle room to incorporate specific state standards that state government deems critical, however, for the most part Common Core is designed to ensure equal quality of education across the country.
But, the standards must be different than the old state standards in other ways, right? Why had I heard of other parents freaking out?
Yes, there are some things about the Common Core Standards that are different than the old state standards. For one, there is an increased emphasis on computer skills, starting at a young age. There are a couple of reasons for this – one, being that standardized tests will begin being given on computer instead of the old scantron forms and two, the world we live in and the careers we are preparing children for are so heavily reliant upon computer use and proficiency. Another difference is an increase in writing assignments. Children will be asked to write more and explain their thought processes more, so it is clear they understand the concepts being taught. This is not limited to English Language Arts, but other subjects including math. Students will be asked to explain their reasoning and expand their processes of coming to answers in math problems, which is where some of the math “horror stories” are coming from. Most likely, the math problems you see your child coming home with (if different from what you’re used to) are actually just a way of expanding a problem so the process is better understood, so children will have a concrete understanding before moving on. Asking children to think about how they think is called metacognition, and metacognition leads to greater critical thinking, problem solving and retention of skills. Finally, another big change you may notice is a shift away from fairy tales and fiction towards more non-fiction and real life types of text and articles in reading. This change is also designed to help children be better prepared for a 21st century workforce.
Wow. I’m concerned school won’t be fun anymore for my kids – are they going to hate school at an early age due to all of these changes?
Most likely not. The reality is, unfortunately as a nation, our education system has been behind many first world countries for years, and if we want the next generation to be successful in a global workforce, we have to appropriately prepare them and as necessary, change our ways. That said, I firmly believe creative teachers will remain creative teachers who continue to work hard to make learning fun and exciting for your child, despite the changing standards.
So if these Common Core Standards aren’t necessarily bad, why does my child’s teacher curl into the fetal position when I mention “Common Core?”
Think of it this way… if you’d spent years of your career, mapping out the perfect plan to do what it is you do, and each year you’ve put your heart, soul, energy, extra (or not extra!) money and time into it – and then someone said, “So sorry, but we actually have to change pretty much everything now, so get started on making new plans” to you, you’d probably be pretty freaked out too! That’s essentially what has happened. Common Core doesn’t come with a brand new, perfectly aligned curriculum for all of the schools across the country. Teachers must redesign their lessons to teach to the new standards. Is this possible? Yes. Is this easy? No. All while they’re doing this, they still have to teach, too. As my sister (a new teacher) said, “It’s like trying to fly a plane while you’re still building it.”
What can I do as a parent, to ease the transition for my child?
Keep a positive attitude and even if you’re not in love with the changes, be supportive and have a can-do attitude as much as possible. Don’t say things like, “Wow, this is SO much harder than when I was in school” or “Sheesh, this is WAY too much writing for your age!” The best thing to do is to treat it like anything else that simply needs to be done, and if you really feel like the workload is far out of sync with your child’s abilities, talk to your child’s teacher. (Early in the year, while things can be altered and possibly make a difference is best!) Work as a team with your child’s teacher – don’t go in with an “us vs. them” attitude, remember, your child’s teacher is going through this transition, too.
Bottom line thoughts:
My mentor in education used to say, “Kids these days just don’t have to think! Everyone hands them everything. That’s the problem. If a kid tells me, Mr. Coiner, I don’t have a pencil! I don’t hand them a pencil, I simply look right at ’em and say, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ and make them think about how to solve their own problem, and sure enough they’ll ask to borrow one from me or a friend or ask to go buy one in the office. The point is, we’ve gotta stop handing kids pencils and start helping them think again.” I genuinely believe this is the spirit behind Common Core, so I’m going to do my personal best to stay positive about the change and temper my frustrations, if they arise, knowing this is a transition time that will likely end and result in an improved education for children across the country. (I hope! :-))
For more information on Common Core Standards, including a parents’ guide by grade level, visit the California State PTA page.