Engaging Parents and the Common Core

Back to school night, for most parents, has come and gone.  You either got a little more insight into what happens in schools or you’re still wondering what’s really going on.  I missed back to school night myself but made it to the meeting where they introduced the new “curriculum coordinator” in the school.  I was hoping to get insight into the curriculum.  Of course, the topic of Common Core came up.

ABCThe Center for American Progress just released a report on parent’s attitudes toward the Common Core. Almost three-quarters of the parents polled said they are aware of the Common Core and about two-thirds of them say they understand it. They support the overall goals of the standards.  The poll also showed that parents get a lot of their information about the Common Core from their local schools, more than from the news.

So what a great opportunity for the schools to step up and de mystify the Common Core for parents.  If only it were so easy….At my meeting I heard the curriculum director of my son’s school misleadingly intimate that they could not do a lot of project-based learning because of the Common Core. What she meant to say was that they can’t teach everything in projects and some direct instruction is often necessary as they try to teach to higher standards and try to “fit it all in.”  But if I hadn’t been there to make sure that parents know the Common Core does not in any way suggest that project-based learning is a no-no, a lot of parents would have left with the wrong impression.

How can we help parents get good information on the Common Core?  And get their hands just a little dirty so it is not so abstract?  One of the best ideas that I’ve heard to help parents understand the Common Core came from Marilyn Burns. She likes to consider herself just a great math teacher but she’s really more than that! Several years ago the Foundation gave her organization, then called Math Solutions (now part of Scholastic) a grant to produce a middle school Math Reasoning Inventory. That’s a fancy way of saying a diagnostic tool that helps teachers see the strategies their students are using and where they might have misconceptions. The inventory is free on the website and is a simple way for teachers to assess the depth of students’ computational skills and understanding. Marilyn’s idea was to take a few of the inventory questions and let parents administer it to their kids and make a few videos for parents so that they could see how other kids responded and how they might help their children better.

I’m hoping someone will fund this work with parents because I think it would be a great contribution to help stop the myths about what the Common Core is and isn’t. This is also a way to engage parents in their children’s education in a non-threating way. I watched Marilyn use her elementary school inventory on my daughter and I know I learned a lot (and so did my daughter!). Her simple inventory helped me answer the question we all have—what is my daughter learning and where does she need help?

– C.