GreatSchools’ POV on Common Core

How do we feel about this new educational initiative that could transform U.S. classrooms? As always, we’re keeping our eye on what matters most: your child.

By Carol Lloyd

You may not have heard much about Common Core so far — but here’s the cheat sheet. In the past few years, a new set of education standards have been adopted by every state except these five: Texas, Nebraska, Virginia, Alaska, and Minnesota*. Named the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), they set out what children should learn in math and English language arts from kindergarten through 12th grade. Although there are still a lot of unknowns about how and when these standards will be implemented, they are a first for the U.S. since previously each state created its own set of standards.

The adoption of a common set of standards tackles a couple of fundamental problems in American education. Because the previous state standards vary so radically, kids in one state can get a very different education from those in another. The other issue is the growing evidence that American schools are not preparing kids to compete in the global economy: students aren’t prepared for college and employers can’t find enough highly skilled workers. The reality for every parent is that these standards could greatly affect their child’s learning. In short, it’s a pretty big deal.

The elephant in the classroom

We’ve watched as controversy erupted over what the CCSS mean, whom they benefit, and how they will change learning — for better or for worse. We’ve seen how — like so many educational movements of the past — new (and therefore disruptive) changes to our school system turn into hotbeds of partisan bickering and professional infighting. Or what my kids like to call grown-up blah blah blah.

Where does GreatSchools stand on the cusp of this new educational wave? We believe in standards. We know from research that children do better when adults set high expectations — whether it’s in the classroom or at the kitchen table during homework hour. And we’ve heard from way too many parents about the painful academic fallout that occurs when a successful fourth grader is moved from a school where they’re learning one set of standards and he’s ahead of the curve, across state lines to a new school where they “learned all that last year” and he’s woefully behind. So the idea that states come together to raise the bar for the roughly 50 million k-12 students in our public schools is a no-brainer.

Having read every Common Core standard for each grade (our bedtime reading!), we know that they are more rigorous overall than many of the standards they will replace. They also strike a good balance between mastering the basics and learning the kinds of skills — critical thinking, problem solving, etc. — that every child will need in order to thrive in this complex and rapidly evolving world. They also encourage teachers to collaborate to help students build essential skills across subjects. Does that make them perfect? No. Do we have a crystal ball to know how this huge educational experiment will end up? Hardly. But we do know that in the midst of the bickering, parents will need a neutral, accurate source of information — designed just for you.

Beyond the blah blah blah

No matter how you feel about the Common Core, they will influence your child’s education. And that’s your business — and ours!

New standards are likely to mean changes in the classroom. Your child may be asked to read different sorts of books, take home new assignments, do more writing across subjects, and think in new vocabulary. Homework may be confusing. Report cards may be totally unfamiliar. And finally, your child’s standardized test scores may fall if your state uses new, more difficult standardized tests. This could mean parents whose kids have been proficient in reading or math suddenly being told their children are failing to meet expectations and need to attend remedial summer school, for example.

Even kids in private schools or in states that have not adopted these new standards may feel the ripple effect when it comes time to apply to college. Both Advanced Placement tests that give high school kids college credits and the SATs, the most common college entrance exam, are expected to change. David Coleman, a lead author of the Common Core State Standards, is now president of College Board, the organization that administers both the SATs and AP tests, among others.

Standards! Curriculum! Assessments! Oh my!

While the education wonks are battling over the finer points of curriculum, standards, and formative and summative assessments, we want to cut through the conflict to help you figure out what the Common Core may mean for your child.

And in the coming months and years, we will give you parent-friendly, child-centered tips and tools to help you navigate the new world of Common Core. We’ve already got a good start. Our worksheets were among the first to be tagged to Common Core State Standards so that teachers and parents can use them. We’ve also begun updating our test score information as state tests change in response to the Common Core. Finally, every day we’re launching new articles, videos, and products that shed light on many of the ideas and themes that characterize the new standards.

Because no matter what, we know you are your child’s first, and most important, teacher.

*Minnesota has adopted the Common Core State Standards for English language arts but not math.

is the executive editor of GreatSchools and mother to two raucous daughters, ages 9 and 13.