“The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and lightning bug.” – Mark Twain
You may not always feel it, but did you know that people listen to teachers? Out of all major professions, teacher voices are one of the most valued and trusted in our nation. Our job is generally well respected and puts us, whether you like it or not, in a position with a voice. I’m of the opinion that we have both the opportunity and an obligation to use that voice to do what’s best for all kids.
I talk to parents often, and about many things, but most recently I’ve heard, “what is this common core thing and do you think it’s good?” Full disclosure to set the tone for the rest of the blog…yes, I have faith in the common core standards if implemented correctly and with appropriate support. My objective with this post, is to give you some tips when responding to those tricky CCSS questions.
1) Be Straightforward and Factual
I believe the number one problem with the perception of CCSS right now is misinformation. It has been my experience that many parents aren’t sure what the Common Core is and much of what they do know about it is not always factual. When I clearly define what the standards are, what they do, and why we adopted them, I find that parents are excited about their child learning at high levels and the prospect of them being college-ready and on par with the rest of the world.
What they are: A clear set of guidelines for what students should know in English Language Arts and Math.
What they do: The standards structure education around core skills that students need to succeed in both college and career, such as critical thinking, problem solving, and persuasive writing. The standards do not tell teachers how to teach or what curriculum and materials to use.
Why? What was wrong with the old standards?: Previous standards were less rigorous, inconsistent, and data has shown that more and more students graduating high school are not ready for college level work.
2) Highlight the Positives
Obviously there are some hiccups when it comes to rolling out the standards. That is to be expected when (almost) an entire nation is making a major educational shift! We are doing a HUGE thing, should we expect perfection right off the bat? However, I’m not going to emphasize all those said hiccups when I’m discussing the core with parents and other adults. We need buy-in, because I firmly believe the more support we have, the more successful and streamlined this roll-out process will become and because I whole-heartedly believe in the Common Core, I seek that buy-in from all stakeholders, especially parents. If a parent does ask you about a specific challenge or obstacle, absolutely answer with complete honesty. Remember, there’s a reason we are trusted. Here are some key positive points that I communicate with parents:
-The common core will help students succeed in college, career, or basically any post-secondary path they choose to take.
– Less students will need remedial courses once in college due to not being ready for college level work. This saves time for the student, and money for whoever is funding that child’s college education (usually parents!).
– Higher standards will lead to greater opportunities for ALL learners. Already high-achieving students will benefit because the standards are internationally benchmarked, helping to put our students on par with the rest of the world. Struggling learners will be given access to levels of learning that were never before expected of them, anrthad this access will come with the proper support from teachers to help them achieve high-level learning.
Disclaimer: I believe strongly in highlighting and making known all the positives to expect from the CCSS, but I do see value in preparing parents specifically for some things they might see, and not expect, in the next couple years. Namely, standardized test scores. It is to be expected that as states roll out their new standardized tests, scores will drop. It’s important to explain to parents that from grade to grade, the core builds upon itself with what we call vertical alignment. “Your 6th grader just started learning the common core state standards this year, therefore they did not get taught according to the 5th grade or below core standards. This might be reflected by a drop on their standardized test scores at first.” There might be pushback from this, but I also reassure parents that the end of the year giant state test isn’t the end all be all. I put much more weight into the growth that I see daily in the classroom and throughout the school year from my own standards-aligned assessments.
3) Use Evidence
My last piece of advice for talking to adults, specifically parents, about the CCSS is to use data and your personal experience. When you convey to parents your positive experiences with the common core, stories of high-level learning and achievement, they will listen. Explain to parents, who are not in the classroom each and every day, what this change looks and feels like.
“My students aren’t just reading, they are actively thinking about their reading and communicating their learning with others.”
“With a focus on perseverance in the math standards, I see my 6th graders battling through and successfully completing problems that they would have just given up on in the past.”
“Your child can divide fractions using the traditional algorithm, but because she can explain why that algorithm works, she can recognize a fraction division problem in a real-life situation. The skill has become transferable for her, and not dependent on needing to be explicitly told what type of problem it’s embedded in.”
The CCSS has become a hot topic, specifically one that lends itself to heated debates. It’s astonishing how many people have inaccurate (or no) information about the Core, but have still taken a stance on the disapproving side. Teachers, YOUR VOICE MATTERS. Please use it to convey the successes that you and your students experience. Our children deserve to be held to high expectations; to give them the opportunity of being successful in this global economy. We desperately needed clear and rigorous standards that were consistent across the country. We now have them, but need the support of all those involved to give them a fighting chance.