George Lucas Educational Foundation
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What Do Parents Need to Know About the Common Core?

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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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Comments (8) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Chris Van Arsdale's picture

Yes. Having national standards for all students promotes critical, divergent, and independent thought. War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength. Doubleplusgood!

Oh, wait, maybe I am lacking nuanced analysis. Nothing like calling an opposing viewpoint ignorant to seal the argument.

Nona's picture

I think the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is a relevant and meaningful initiative that could impact not only some students, but all students. Every parents wants their child to succeed, so the more involved the parent is concerning the CCSS initiative, the more likely it is for them to care more about the success of their students. The CCSS can help track students' preparedness and readiness to succeed on a national level for colleges and universities. What parent doesn't want that? Every parents wants their child to succeed beyond just grade level schools and part of this initiative is helping do just that. Shortcuts need to stop happening and students and teachers need to be held to a higher standard when being faced with the success of one another. People say it takes a village to raise a child, while that is true, it takes a village in a school setting to make sure students are excelling academically.

JoAnn's picture

Stop lying about these standards and start telling people the truth. You are only trying to promote parental support because your plan is starting to fail. If you truly wanted parental support as opposed to total control over our children, (which is what this is really about) you would have started educating parents on the Common Core State Standards years ago. How dare you blame schools for poor implementation when you didn't want public involvement from the beginning.

Anne OBrien's picture
Anne OBrien
Deputy Director of the Learning First Alliance


I am sorry that my post was not clear. I don't blame schools for poor implementation - and I do not believe that Common Core implementation is failing. Far from it. Some schools, districts and states are doing amazing work in raising student achievement in accordance with these newer, higher standards. And in many of the communities that are struggling to implement the standards effectively, challenges are due to a lack of resources (not just financial, but also time, technological infrastructure and other supports) that educators need to really make adjustments to align their practice to the standards - resources that are more likely to be given to them with the support of the general public, including parents.

And in discussing the importance of educating parents on the Common Core, I do want to note that the National PTA was an early supporter of the standards and has done a great deal over the past several years to inform parents on them. Their work comes from their belief that these standards are good for children.

Perhaps I am misreading your comment, but it seems you are under the impression that I have been involved with the standards from the beginning. Actually, I have never had formal or informal involvement with the development or adoption processes of the standards. Instead, I support the work of those who have done it, because I believe that the standards overall are good for children - all children, including my own.

It is clear that you are angry about the standards. There are certainly concerns with them that deserve further discussion. And you are certainly right that the organizations that led the development of the standards should have done a better job in communicating with the public (and parents in particular) about them. But in thinking about the standards, I urge us all to consider the intentions of the educators, researchers and others who were involved in crafting the standards - and the educators, policymakers, parents and other community members that have supported their adoption and implementation. These individuals keep the best interests of children at the forefront of the decisions they make. They are not trying to exert "total control over our children," they are trying to educate them in preparation for life in the global community in which we all live. As we engage in healthy debate over the standards and their implementation, as well as over the supports necessary to ensure the standards live up to their potential (including the curriculum, professional learning and assessment decisions that each state and district must make to ensure the standards meet the needs of their communities), I hope that we all will be operating under the assumption that, while we may disagree on some things, we all want what is best for children.

JoAnn's picture


It saddens me that you have been snowed into thinking Common Core is "good for all children". That is about most idiotic comment I'be heard in a very long time. How in the heck are you going to tell me what is "good" for my kids? Why is it that people believe that because we reinvent the wheel, make things more complicated than they need to be, that this is some how "raising the standards" or making our kids "college ready"? That is not how the real world works! The reality is that it is only dumbing down our kids. The data mining dwells into our personal lives, and through the implementation of more technology it will be harder for parents to see our children's work and what they are being taught? Is this what you truly think is "good for all childen"?

Have you looked at the Common Core website? If so perhaps you have missed the disclaimer that "makes no representations or warranties to the accuracy of any information". This pretty much means the site can lie about anything. Do you know who wrote these standards? You mention educators involved in writing these standards. Perhaps you are referring to Dr. Sandra Stotsky from Harvard University or Dr. James Milgram from Stanford University who, by the way, both refused to sign off on the standards.

You also mentioned the PTA and their role in educating parents about Common Core. While this may be somewhat true, the explanations and information about Common Core given to parents are much like most pro Common Core information, extremely vague and generalized. That is why almost 60% of parents know very little or nothing about Common Core. That is also why when parents ask school administrators questions about Common Core, they get very little in answers or feedback.

So no, Common Core is NOT good and it must be stopped.


Marshall Barnes's picture
Marshall Barnes
Founder, Director of SuperScience for High School Physics

I've read the blog post of Anne, as well as the comments. It is very clear to anyone who did learn critical thinking in school (pre 1980s) as well as current affairs at that time, what is going on here. The fact that the phrase ""nuanced analysis" was used with a straight face is nothing less than chilling for a number of reasons, especially because I am a professional analyst. I have to date, stayed away from the Common Core standards debate, but this discussion here tells me that I won't for very much longer...

Rachel's picture

The Common Core has definitely stirred up a lot of discussion and strong opinions, and I admit that at times, I have been skeptical. The demands upon teachers and the lack of time available to meet those demands just do not line up and have many of my colleagues feeling spread quite thin these days. However, the bottom line is that these same teachers are the first to tell me that their students finally "get" math or understand subjects on a much deeper level. Students seem to struggle at first, but then retain what is being taught at a higher level of success. I believe that in order for the Common Core to become more accepted, parents too need to understand what the children are learning and why. I recently read an article called Schools Teach Common-Core Math to Two Generations by Liana Heitin. The schools discussed not only reach out to parents through websites and letters home, but offer parents the opportunity to come into the schools for family math nights in order to experience math lessons and learn more about the CC. These parents seem to not only feel more comfortable helping their children with homework, but also feel confident in the results the CC is displaying in students' retainment of information.
I too believe that there is a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to the CC standards, but I feel that in the long-haul, students will understand subjects on a deeper level than previous generations and this will better prepare them for college and the rapidly developing world around them. I hope that in time, patience with the CC will result in our seeing an immense leap in the depth of education and in understanding for students everywhere.

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