By Jessica Kelmon, Associate Editor
Last Spring, I became intimately familiar with the new math and English standards – at least for Kindergarten through 5th grade. Not just because I’m a nerd, which I am, but because GreatSchools was publishing free worksheets for teachers and parents to use, and our COO casually suggested I peg each worksheet to the new standards. Piece of cake! (Famous last words.)
Now, as teachers across the country are getting a taste of the Common Core cake and students will soon be tucking into their daily dose, everyone (including us) is trying to figure out what parents need to learn about the educational standards that may transform their children’s learning. U.S. News & World Report jumped into the fray with a quick-n-dirty little blog highlighting four things parents should know about the standards.
Four things to know about Common Core Standards
Click through for the write-ups, but here are the four things from the U.S. News blog (with my commentary):
1) They are consistent from state to state. If your family needs to move from one of the 45 states that have adopted the standards (aka not contrarian Texas, Alaska, Vermont, Virginia, Nebraska, and Minnesota), theoretically your child will enter a class working on the same math skills. Now, that’s often not the case since states follow such different standards.
2) They dictate what your kids learn, not how the skills are taught. If you think Singapore math is the best thing since sliced bread, you can still look for a school using that system. The standards only say that your second grader must learn to fluently add and subtract up to 20 using mental strategies. But teachers may teach that skill in any way they choose.
3) They go deeper. “The Common Core gets away from instruction that is a mile wide and an inch deep, and instead drills into skills students need to succeed in college and the workforce,” writes U.S. News blogger Kelsey Sheehy. Honestly, I’ve read this selling point a lot and I’m repeating it here as part of the blog list, but I don’t buy it hook, line, and sinker. Whether instruction “goes deep” is probably far more dependent on the skills and predilections of the teachers – not the standards. It’s great that the standards attempt to remediate drive-by curriculum by outlining that teachers need to, say, get kids to think critically, but let’s face it, educational depth varies from classroom to classroom and the standards may or may not improve how deep a teacher goes.
4) They are rigorous. “Students will take algebra in middle school and precalculus in high school under the new standards,” writes Sheehy. (Pre-calc being the new minimum requirement; presumably good high schools will continue to let kids learn through AP Calc II and beyond.) In many cases the standards introduce more rigor, but not in all cases – such as Massachusetts, which some have argued has higher standards than the Common Core already.
A few surprising examples from the new Common Core Standards
It’s a nice overview. But as a parent, other than giving you license to move, did it help you understand what’s going to happen in your second grader’s class? That’s what we’ve been struggling with. We aim to help parents get the best possible education for their children. So here are just a few things that surprised me as I poured over the standards last spring:
- Kindergartners will do a lot of academic things we were never required to do: count to 100 by ones and tens, they’ll also count syllables in spoken words, and be asked to identify the author and illustrator of the books they read.
- Starting in first grade, kids will be expected to develop digital and technical skills that were never a part of our elementary school education: using “a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing.”
- And beginning in second grade, elementary schoolers will not just write a lot, but be expected to do things I never learned until 6th grade, such as revise and edit their writing.
In the ramp up to Common Core there are going to be a lot of people attempting to translate this technical bullet-point-crazy document into parent-friendly information. Sheehy’s blog seems like a pretty good start, but for someone who has spent way too many hours poring over the details of these standards, I wonder how relevant these general ideas about standards are to parents. Did her points address your concerns about the Common Core Standards? Do you have other more pressing questions? Do you even care?
As we work on the best way to help parents navigate the new standards (the good, the bad, and the ugly), I’d love to know what you find helpful, informative, and excessive.Follow @ JessicaKelmon