As Common Core implementation continues in adopting states, parents say they often feel uninformed

common-coreBy now, many parents have heard of the Common Core State Standards. But that doesn’t mean they understand why states are adopting the Common Core, what the Common Core will do for students, and how the standards are different from previous state standards.

During an edWeb webinar on how parents can learn about the Common Core, Anne O’Brien, deputy director of the Learning First Alliance (LFA), a partnership of education organizations that focuses on improving student learning, offered a look at Common Core background and dispelled a number of myths surrounding the standards.

One of LFA’s current priorities is communication around the Common Core, O’Brien said, due to a lot of misinformation and myths.

“There’s a lot going on in the popular media around the Common Core and what it’s doing to change education,” she said. But media coverage doesn’t always outline what parents should know about the Common Core. Public opinion polls show that most parents trust teachers and principals, and parents tend to feel better about their children’s education after asking educators for answers.

Next page: 13 things parents should know about the Common Core

“Unsurprisingly, parents have a lot of questions about the Common Core,” she said, focusing on why the changes are happening now, what they mean for students, and how parents can help their children succeed.

It’s important for parents to know that:

1. States chose whether to adopt the Common Core. Adoption was not required by the federal government, but those states that did adopt the standards received various incentives. Some states are now reversing their decisions to adopt. Others chose to overhaul their state standards but did not adopt the Common Core.

2. The Common Core State Standards are different from previous standards in a number of important ways. They’re generally “fewer, clearer, and higher,” O’Brien said. Previous standards focused on how to perform various tasks, such as multiplication, and also focused on memorization. The Common Core standards take a different approach–they focus on critical thinking and are intended to help students understand the “why” behind the things they learn.

3. There are some key shifts in English/language arts (ELA). Students in states that have adopted the standards will work with complex texts and academic language regularly, and they will perform reading, writing, and speaking grounded in evidence from texts. The standards also incorporate the use of nonfiction.

4. Mathematics learning is changing, too. The standards highlight a greater focus on fewer topics. Coherence–linking topics and thinking within and across grades–is important, as is rigor.

O’Brien said parents often have a number of questions about the standards, including:

5. Why now? There’s a renewed focus on educational equity, and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said that students in different states should be on level playing fields–a student in Alabama, for instance, shouldn’t have weaker or fewer skills than a student in Colorado, for instance. Many education stakeholders have noted that academic progress in the U.S. has been stagnant, and, coupled with concerns about student mobility, the standards are often viewed as a way to give students the new and different skills they’ll need for success in life. “People know the changing role of technology in our lives,” O’Brien said. “This is a conversation that lots of states have been having, independently, prior to the Common Core.”

6. Do the standards mean teaching and learning have to change a lot? Common Core focuses on critical thinking and problem-solving, which are skills students need but that are traditionally hard to measure. States often have to overhaul their entire curriculum to meet the new standards, and teachers require a lot of professional development to change their instructional practices. “Teachers need time and professional learning to adapt their practice,” O’Brien said, noting that not all teachers will need the same amount of time and professional development, but many will.

7. Do teachers support the Common Core? A large majority do, O’Brien said, citing a report noting that 84 percent of surveyed teachers who experienced more than one year of full implementation were enthusiastic about the standards. Still, 81 percent said implementation is challenging.

8. Do other people support the standards? That’s more complicated, and O’Brien noted that support is largely a partisan issue. While citizens seem to support rigorous and consistent standards, they often don’t equate the Common Core with the skills they think students need today, including critical thinking and problem solving, she said.

9. How does standardization lead to personalized learning? Standards are the bar every child should reach, O’Brien said, but how students get there will vary based on state curricula. “Learning can, and should, be personalized under the Common Core,” she said.

10. Are the standards a curriculum? This can be confusing for people who are not in the education field. The standards outline what students should know and be able to do at each grade level. They are the goal. Curriculum is what happens day to day in the classroom–it’s how teachers teach. Three different teachers in three different states might use three different instructional strategies to teach their students how to meet a writing standard about supporting an opinion piece with examples from a text. The three different groups of students will be working toward the same goal, but using different strategies.

11. Will students stop reading fiction in class? English teachers will still teach literature, but nonfiction is a part of the standards. Teachers in other subjects will begin to focus on incorporating reading and writing skills into lessons to help students build their knowledge.

12. Do the standards impact student privacy? There is no federal data collection requirement in the Common Core. Each state will decide what data to collect and how to use that data. States and districts do not sell student information, and the vendors handling that data must follow all state and federal laws protecting student privacy.

13. Does Common Core require more testing, and how are Common Core tests different? Some states and districts might opt to add testing, but the standards do not require more. States can replace old tests with Common Core-aligned assessments. The new tests will include more constructed response and performance-based tasks designed to test the depth of students’ knowledge. These tests will require use of the critical thinking and problem solving that are an essential part of the standards. Tests will be administered online.

At the end of the webinar, O’Brien reviewed a number of resources, including the Common Core Standards site and the National PTA’s Common Core Resources.