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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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What Do Parents Need to Know About the Common Core?

Educators know the important role that parents (and other family members and guardians) play in academic success. And when it comes to advocating for education policies that benefit all students, they know that parents are important allies.

So when it comes to one of the biggest education initiatives of our time, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), it is concerning that educators are not doing more to build awareness of, and support for, the standards among parents and families. An August 2013 PDK/Gallup poll found that just 45 percent of public school parents had heard of the Common Core. And while awareness of the standards has likely risen in recent months as issues with their implementation have surfaced, the circumstances surrounding that increased awareness (for example, the drop in test scores in Common Core aligned assessments in New York last fall) could actually decrease support among parents.

To counteract the negative circumstances of implementation in many places, Common Core advocates need to work deliberately to gain the support of parents in the face of political backlash against the standards.

Raising Awareness

So what do you need to do to build parental awareness and support around the Common Core? In a recent interview, National PTA President Otha Thornton points out that:

It is important to identify the real cause of concern for the Common Core. Many parents are finding that their concerns are not actually related to the standards, but rather issues surrounding implementation (teacher training, aligning curriculum) and assessments (testing schedule, accountability, privacy).

Especially in areas that are experiencing pushback against the Common Core, this is an excellent starting point. Particularly when parents are getting much of their information from the popular press, which often lacks the nuanced analysis that is needed for its audience to sort through conflicting opinions and facts, knowing the issues in your community allows you to target messaging appropriately.

In general, Thornton says that the most important things that parents should know about the CCSS are that:

  • They are internationally benchmarked and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that students need to compete globally
  • With the transition to the Common Core comes a transition to new assessments that better measure if students are on track for college and career readiness -- and while test scores may temporarily drop, educators expect the short-term decline to improve as teachers and students are better equipped to meet the new standards
  • More than 70 percent of teachers are enthusiastic about the implementation of the standards in their classrooms, believing they will hold students and teachers to higher expectations, improve students' ability to think critically and use reasoning skills and provide nationwide consistency in a positive way

He also points out that it is important that parents know that the Common Core only sets expectations for what students must know to leave school prepared for college and careers -- it is not an academic curriculum, and states, districts and teachers remain in control of curriculum and assessment decisions.

When it comes to student privacy, an enormous concern of parents and families, Thornton reminds us that the Common Core is not a mechanism for federal data collection -- the federal government does not have access to the student-level data held in state databases, and federal law prohibits the reporting of aggregate data that could identify individual students.

Building Capacity

For implementation of the Common Core to be truly successful, parents and families must not only know about the CCSS, they must have the capacity to help students learn in accordance with the standards. The Common Core requires a number of shifts in the teaching and learning of English/language arts (for example, an increased emphasis on non-fiction reading and discussion of reading using evidence) and mathematics (for example, a focus on going deeper into fewer topics and applying learning to real-world situations). So to best support their child's learning, parents need to be aware of what is being asked of their students and learn strategies to work with them at home.

There are a number of resources available to help increase general awareness and build capacity to support learning under the Common Core among parents, including:

  • Parents' Guide to Student Success detailed grade-by-grade information from the National PTA to help parents understand the importance of academic standards; what students should be able to know and do at the end of each grade K-8 (plus separate overviews for high school math and high school English based on the CCSS; and how they can support their child's learning at home
  • Common Core State Standards Assessment and Accountability Guides, another National PTA resource, developed for every state that has adopted the Common Core State Standards and including state-specific information about their assessment consortium, the testing timeline, sample test questions, impacts on students, new accountability systems and ways for parents to get involved and support their child's learning at home
  • Spotlight on the Common Core State Standards: What Do Parents Need to Know?, part of Northwest Education's series of documents to keep stakeholders informed about the Common Core, featuring basic information about the standards as well as samples of how students might learn under them
  • Sample Parent Letters on selected mathematics topics for grades K-8, prepared by the AFT, to help parents better understand some of the new language in the CCSS and identify strategies they may see their children use on their journey to achieving under the Common Core

Additional articles and resources can be found in the National School Public Relations Association's Common Core Communications Network, which includes a section on How Parents Can Help Their Kids (some resources are available only to NSPRA members, but many are available to the general public).

Again, the success of the Common Core depends in large part on parent and family understanding and support of it. Educators must address their concerns and provide the opportunity to help them help their children succeed, which is, after all, the ultimate goal of the standards.

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