‘Common Core’ standards will challenge parents, too — not just our children

Sep. 14, 2013 @ 04:37 AM

When I heard a group of retired teachers in our county had invited instructional coaches from Rutherford County Schools to explain the newly implemented Common Core standards, I finagled an invitation to learn more myself.

After all, Common Core represents nothing less than a complete change in how our children will learn – specifically, from a reliance on rote memorization to using finely honed analytical and reasoning skills.

I learned quite a bit at the meeting (including the curious discovery that at a time in their lives when they should be belting back margaritas on a pontoon boat out in the middle of Lake Lure, our county’s retired teachers still want to talk about math and reading).

For example – and this is a big example - no longer will our children simply memorize familiar math procedures like “borrow and carry.” Now they’ll also be required to use visual models of math concepts.

If you have no idea what this means, let me share an exercise we all engaged in: a simple subtraction problem of 112 minus 95, using “pictures” to show how we arrived at the answer. I furrowed my brow over that last part, but went ahead and scratched out something on a piece of paper.

As one teacher after another held up her work, I started to sweat. Somehow everyone except for me had processed the instructions to mean they should break up the numbers into bundles of 10 to arrive at the answer.

Sure enough, their interpretation was right and mine was wrong. That’s what I get for trying to hang with teachers!

To represent the number 112, I’d drawn a rudimentary apple tree dotted with fruit. The 95 was depicted in a shower of falling apples, and a pile of apples on the ground represented the answer 17. Which I arrived at by breaking the rules and doing a quick borrow and carry.

When the pleasant retired teacher sitting next to me looked inquiringly at my paper, I folded it in half and put it in my notebook.

Yes, many parents are going to find they are utterly unable to help with their child’s elementary math homework if the Rutherford County Schools don’t get some resources out there fast to teach us this new kind of math.

Some big shake-ups in the realm of language arts are likewise happening. For one, children will now be required to study as much non-fiction as they do fiction. This has been one of the most questioned aspects of Common Core, as many think it means some classic literature will go unread.

But a good deal of non-fiction also deserves a full read, instead of just a brief encounter in social studies classes. Students will have more opportunity now to study historical documents like the Magna Carta and the Gettysburg Address.

They’ll also be required to prove, not just find, answers in the text they read. As one of the instructional coaches put it, to read like detectives. (At this, one of the retired teachers observed that’s how she was taught in elementary school.)

In an age of unlimited information, much of it deliberately tweaked to provoke the biases of sophisticatedly targeted audiences, teaching our children to be more discerning readers isn’t just a timely idea – it’s urgently needed.

Another big change and one that I wish had been in place when I was in school: classroom-wide teaching will frequently be broken up into small group learning.

With the cutting of teacher assistants, this may be difficult to implement. But I imagine our teachers will figure out a way. As the results (barring my own) of the on-the-fly math problem showed, these people are pretty quick studies.

And so are children, generally speaking. Their minds tend to be more expandable, more open to new ways of doing things than their elders’ minds are. In fact, this latter is what I think will really pose the biggest challenge with Common Core.

Parents, are we up for it?


Stephanie Janard is a mother and writer who lives in Spindale. She can be reached at sjanard@msn.com.