Core of the Matter: Common Core — A Parent’s Journey to College and Career Readiness (#CoreMatters)
July 07, 2015 02:09 pm
Like any parent, when my son started bringing home homework at the ripe old age of six, I stood by ready to help him master the basic mathematic and spelling concepts being taught in the first grade. Knowing that his school was in the midst of implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), I was curious to see how his homework would change, as compared to what I had experienced in school. The change quickly manifested itself in math as he practiced different approaches to solving simple addition and subtraction problems.
Periodically accompanying his math homework were notes from the school asking parents not to help students using the old algorithms that we had been taught. This required a leap of faith for me and, I’m guessing, countless other parents as I had to stand by and watch him draw boxes, dots, and other figures to represent the numbers or use a chart with the numbers 1 to 100 to solve equations that I could solve because of the “drill and kill” memorization I had done in school. The refrain of “it’s my duty and right as a parent to help my child learn by any means necessary” kept rolling through my head. And, as the math got more complex, the refrain got louder, and the impulse to trot out the old school concepts of “borrow” and “carry the 1” and to show him the format for long division got stronger.
Having worked in education policy since my son was born in 2005, I had to wonder how other parents who didn’t have the background knowledge that I had, or who had other challenges such as academic difficulties in their own K–12 career or limited English proficiency, were handling their anxiety about helping their children during the shift to the Common Core. According to a 2014 PDK/Gallup Poll of Public Attitudes Toward the Public Schools, 53 percent of those surveyed said they knew either “only a little” or “nothing at all” about the CCSS. Given the large percentage of parents who still know very little about what the CCSS are, it is not surprising that many are struggling to figure out how best to support their children during these early implementation years. I know I’m not alone when I read about parents such as those whose children attend Aspire ERES Academy in Oakland, California. The questions and concerns they shared seem similar to ones I’ve expressed myself with my own child. They have questions about what the CCSS look like in their children’s classrooms and how they are going to help their children. They need help understanding how their children are being graded under the new standards and what they should be doing (or not doing) to help their children with homework. Their desire to help their children be successful is the same as mine. We couldn’t be the only parents desperately interested in knowing how best to support our children’s learning, could we?
If schools and districts are to implement the CCSS successfully, they cannot do so without making every effort to engage parents and community members fully as partners in the process. Teachers are absolutely the primary means by which our children are learning these new rigorous standards; however, this learning doesn’t stop at the classroom door. If we are serious about ensuring that each and every child is ready for college, career, and life, it is imperative that the adults that surround them—both in the home and in the community—are aware of what these standards are and how they benefit our kids. Efforts such as those undertaken by the St. Vrain Valley Schools in Colorado are a wonderful example of how parents and community members are being engaged in the implementation of the Colorado Academic Standards. District officials have been diligent in keeping parents and community members up to date on the goings on throughout the district via a publication called Success By Design. Likewise, parent and community advocates formed a group called Grassroots St. Vrain to inform and activate citizens on education issues throughout their district. These are two excellent examples of parent and community engagement, but they certainly are not the only ones.
For those of us who don’t live in St. Vrain, but want to know more about the CCSS, there are parent-friendly resources available to help us successfully navigate the CCSS waters while also helping our children master the knowledge and skills they will need to be college and career ready. The National PTA has created the Parents’ Guide to Student Success, which contains grade level-specific information to help parents know what their children are learning at each grade as well as the ways in which we can best support them at home. The Council of Great City Schools created the Parent Roadmaps to the Common Core Standards—in both English and Spanish—to provide detailed explanations of what students should know and be able to do at the various grade levels in both English Language Arts and math.
I am now the parent of a rising fifth grader for whom the light bulb went off about math in the middle of fourth grade. As he struggled with division, I struggled with trying to intercede. To my amazement, he kept at it until he got it. I watched as he demonstrated a depth of understanding about place values, numerical relationships, and order of operations that far surpassed the understanding I had about numbers and math in elementary school. He even asked me to make up additional problems for him to solve as he proclaimed himself a “beast” at long division!
He is well on the path to future success in school. As he advances, I know that I, too, can and must advance my understanding of how to support him as his work gets increasingly more difficult. My faith in the new learning paradigm that is the Common Core comes from his determination to power through the challenges and come out on the other side better equipped for college and career. I also take comfort in knowing that his teachers are working as hard as they can to ensure that my child and his classmates are truly developing a sophisticated understanding of math that leaves my generation’s algorithmic approach in the dust! It almost makes me want to go back to school and do it all over again. Almost.
DeAnna Duncan Grand, Ed.D , is the Vice President of Sustainability at the Alliance for Excellent Education. Follow her on Twitter at @DuncanGrand.
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