Dealing with Common Core backlash

Conflicting information from so many sources makes communication from the district even more important
By: | Issue: February, 2015
January 22, 2015

As debate over the Common Core continues to spread in major media outlets, local administrators must address parent and community concerns to keep the focus on student learning.

“The need for parent communication with the Common Core caught many administrators by surprise, because this idea of having standards and revising curriculum isn’t new for district administrators,” says Sandra Alberti, director of field impact at Student Achievement Partners, a nonprofit started by Common Core creators to help educators implement the standards.

Once the standards became part of the broader public dialogue, many parents were also caught off-guard, since schools were no longer the only source of information about what was happening in the classroom, Alberti adds.

Conflicting information from so many sources makes communication from the district even more important. Here, education experts offer advice for addressing parents’ questions about the Common Core:

Listen and respond to concerns

“Many times the questions are ‘Why are we changing?’ and ‘Why are things different?'” Alberti says. “As educators we often go on the defensive when faced with those questions, but they are legitimate.”

The best approach is to give comprehensive, factual information. Steer clear of saying things like “Don’t worry about it,” or “We’re doing it because the state told us we had to,” Alberti says.

Prepare teachers

Teachers are often the direct contact point for parents to ask questions, and must be prepared.

“It’s especially important to make sure parents have an open line of communication with their child’s teacher, have the resources they need to help with homework, and the information they need to make sure their students are on track to achieving their goals,” says Paul Ferrari, program director for college and career readiness engagement at the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Teachers can send tip sheets home so parents can understand and help students through each new instructional unit. The information should cover why students are learning the material and how it connects to past lessons.

Host parent forums

Many school leaders have opened their doors to the community so people can see teachers applying the standards and how students are engaged in critical thinking, Ferrari says.

Teachers also are giving presentations to dispel parents’ misconceptions by showing them how the Common Core is transforming classrooms. Two of the biggest misconceptions is that the core is a curriculum (it’s a set of standards), and that the assessments will require more hours of testing than in reality, says Peter Kannam, co-founder and chief external officer of America Achieves, an education nonprofit that supports the Common Core.

Showcase student work

“The thing we’ve found the most successful is showing what kids are expected to do, and their work,” Kannam says. “Student work is so powerful.”

For example, in a small forum, teachers and administrators can discuss with parents what is expected in third grade writing standards, and show an example of an essay written with those guidelines.

“Don’t just talk about the standards at a high level, but show parents what their child is doing,” Kannam adds. Teachers also should review student work in their conferences with parents to show how the standards apply to the real world.

Provide written materials

Old-fashioned printed documents that answer frequently asked questions and provide general facts about the Common CoreÑand why it is being implementedÑare beneficial for parents, Kannam says.

Administrators can provide this information through mailings, school websites and papers sent home with students. Downloadable resources are available through many websites, including Student Achievement Partners, the National PTA, the Council of Great City Schools, and Great Kids.

Engage local media

Administrators should contact local newspapers, television stations and other media outlets who may want to write about how the district is implementing the new standards and why they are important for student learning.

“The most important thing for administrators is to express why we’re doing this,” Kannam says. “It’s really connected to getting all of our students to be successful in a changing world. When parents get good information and can understand the Common Core, there is a much more positive response.”