Teachers are the bridge between school and home. Parents place a lot of trust in us, not just when it comes to the education and safety of their children, but also to provide important and relevant information that can help them make the best decisions about their child’s future. I am a parent and a teacher, which means I have 17 “kids.” And while my obligations are far greater for two of that brood (my own), I am responsible for helping all of them achieve their educational goals. Recently, I was a speaker at two parent meetings in my community and the topic was the Colorado Academic Standards, which include the Common Core State Standards for English and math. My goal was to educate parents about what the standards are and are not, inform them what using the standards looks like for me, and urge them to seek further information. I wanted them to get a sense of what it’s like to be in my class and to make personal connections to why their children’s teachers teach the way they do. One parent who listened to my presentation approached me after the talk. He was appreciative of the connection I offered between parents and the powers that be making decisions about education reform. There is so much confusion and misinformation out there that it can be challenging for parents to just get the facts. So here are the key takeaways from my experience with the Common Core that I think every parent should know:
Common Core has students spending more time on fewer topics and seeking answers based upon evidence. We have been teaching according to the Common Core since 2010. So what’s different with the new standards? The shifts in reading and writing deal with reading texts rich in information and academic language, asking students to answer questions based on what they have read, and achieving a balance between literature and non-fiction. The shifts in math are similar in theme, with deeper dives into grade-level skills, connecting topics as students progress through the grades, and finally, a greater focus on helping children understand how numbers are put together.
Common Core standards are grounded in higher-order thinking skills. These are the same skills students will eventually need to function well in life, whatever path they pursue. In my kindergarten classroom, the standards lead to rich, high-level discussions, even with 5-year-olds! My students may not all be able to read well, but they can analyze a text and its illustrations like you can’t believe. They are learning to explain their thinking and highlight where in a passage or illustration they found their answer. They can assert and defend. They impress me every day with statements like, “I don’t agree. If you look here in the picture the illustrator used the color blue to show sadness…” Incredible.
Common Core outlines a coherent path from kindergarten through 12th grade. It used to be difficult for me to connect what students were learning in my classroom with what they would be learning in the next two, three or ten years. Now we can see how concepts progress in complexity throughout grade levels. Teachers know where students need to go and can use a multitude of instructional materials to get there. The standards force teachers to be mindful of the texts used in class, and I have become a more thoughtful teacher as a result. I can no longer pull a book off of the shelf and teach a lesson on the fly if I want to really want to teach a quality lesson my students deserve.
I am a teacher/parent who supports the Common Core. I have studied these standards, used them in my practice, and support the teachers across the country implementing them in their own classrooms each day. It’s frustrating when opponents of the Common Core bash the standards. It’s true that there is no perfect set of standards, but the Common Core calls for students to be thinkers, to be analytical, to be challenged. What parent wouldn’t want that for their child? I do, and I think that if more parents understand the standards, they will agree, too.
Valerie Pelletier is a kindergarten teacher at Hygiene Elementary School in Longmont, Colorado. She is a recipient of the Colorado Educator Voice Fellowship, which she hopes will elevate her voice to help her community understand the shift to the Common Core.
Valerie Pelletier is a kindergarten teacher at Hygiene Elementary School in Longmont, Colorado. She will earn her master’s degree later this year in educational psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. She is a recipient of the Colorado Educator Voice Fellowship, which she hopes will elevate her voice to help her community understand the shift to the Common Core.