Common Core 101: What Parents Need to Know

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The New York Times touted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) as being: “clearly the most important education reform in the nation’s history.” Intended as a measure to standardize the knowledge and abilities students have by the time they graduate in order to better prepare them for college, the CCSS has met with mixed reactions.

What are the Common Core State Standards?

Previously, each state was responsible for creating their own curriculum and implementing education standards. As a result, the disparity between the abilities of students from different states was huge; leaving some students at a disadvantage because of the school system they had been through. Data collected in the 1990s showed that as much as a third of college students had to take remedial courses to catch up to their classmates.

Why Implement the CCSS?

The CCSS is meant to level the playing fields and set standards that all participating states must adhere to. Decisions about the curriculum and teaching methods are still left up to each state. The CCSS also differs from previous standards in that it is focused on career-readiness and is benchmarked with international standards so that American students can compete with the leading academic nations.

How will the CCSS Affect You?

Any big shift in education standards is going to be tumultuous. As each state struggles to create curricula and train teachers in the new teaching methods, ensure that your child doesn’t get lost along the way.

The best way to ensure that your child is keeping up is to be involved. Carefully monitor their progress and make sure that you have a good relationship with their teacher so that you can catch problems early. If there are gaps in your child’s knowledge or they are having difficulties transitioning to the new methodologies, consider an in-home tutor who is familiar with CCSS.

The reason for this is that the way material is taught is fundamentally different from the way you learned at school. Now the concepts behind the functions are taught from the first grade. Traditionally, math and language skills were taught by rote in the early grades with the underlying concepts being taught later. This often led to students floundering on the conceptual ideas in later grades.

Now the concepts behind mathematical functions and language skills are taught first. Parents often find this confusing, as the answer to 7 + 3 can’t just be 10. The student must communicate the underlying mathematical concepts rather than just the answer. They must explain why 7 + 3=10, not simply that it does. This has left many parents frustrated at not being able to help more with homework, but it does help students to grasp concepts and therefore excel at mathematics.

The shift in teaching methods is still in the implementation phase and testing starts early this year to gauge the success of the program. “The most important indicator of a student’s success is parental involvement,” says Chris Lien from Tutor Doctor. “When parents support their child, have a good relationship with the teacher and try to understand the new CCSS, the child has a far greater chance of a seamless transition.”

Pic by Robert Couse-Baker

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