Chicken Little didn’t fare well, you know…

Here’s why I don’t like the debate over Common Core State Standards. It tends to devolve pretty quickly into parental chest-beating about the ill fit of Common Core to the needs of one’s own child.

Consider this parent, a self-described CFO. She wrote a letter to the Governor of Georgia, essentially claiming that Common Core standards have (perhaps I’m overstating this, but read for yourself) ruined her child’s education.

I would like to also tell you a little bit about my daughter. She is a very intelligent, strong willed, caring and motivated child. She was tested in 1st grade for the advanced learning class placement. She tested well and has been in the advanced class since 1st grade. She is now in 3rd grade. She had a great education in kindergarten and first grade. She excelled beyond my expectations. She enjoyed every minute of school. She loved math and she loved to read. She was very eager to learn anything that anyone could throw her way. Sadly this has all changed with the Common Core Standards.

Wow, huh? I can almost hear “dunh dunh duuuuuuuunh,” can you?

CFO parent bemoans second grade math education: “My daughter is being shown a method of math that not even I, a CFO, can help her with. She is being shown how to break down numbers in a way that makes no sense.”

Wow, again. No sense, at all? Is she sure?

CFO parent tested her now third-grade daughter at home, offering seven triple-digit subtraction problems. The daughter missed four out of seven (not attempting two of them). In the CFO parent’s mind, this home-administered test proves that Common Core methods don’t work. The CFO parents is upset that her daughter doesn’t know what “borrowing and carrying” is.*

And a third “wow.” That test sure has a lot of power in this parent’s mind. Remember, this is a test of math according to the mother’s curriculum/standards, when her daughter has apparently been taught to different ones, that make no sense to the mother. Hmm.

Look. Parents want their children to do well in school. They want them to learn what they need to learn to graduate, to go on to college if they want, to be employed right away if they want, to excel, to be a productive member of society.

Parents do not help matters when they claim that the sky is falling.

New standards. They’re a pain in the a**, no question. Teachers are scrambling to understand them, develop curricula so that students can master them, and throughout, they are doing their very best to teach our children. They just are. They’ll continue to do that, no matter what the standards are—no matter how many governors say they will use them or not use them. They’ll continue to do that, no matter which publishing company or other corporation profits from new testing materials, new text books, new whatever.

Teachers will continue to teach our children, as best as they can. It is what they do.

CFO parent—who rejects her daughter’s teacher’s efforts at math instruction, though she casts blame on an entire set of standards—says, “I do not put my daughter in school for her to come home and for me have to teach her all over again. I am a tax payer and I pay for my daughter to be educated.”

Maybe her taxes are too low.

Parents of school-age children out there? Especially those of us who complain about our tax burdens? We put our children in school, and our tax dollars are not our only required contribution to the process. It is in fact our job, as parents, to help and support our teachers as best we can, by learning and reinforcing whatever it is that our teachers are trying to do, as best we can. Every day.

If you’re going to write your governor about a problem, be constructive, don’t run around like Chicken Little, yelling about a problem but doing little to mitigate it. (“Common Core is awful! Get rid of it!” And then what? Would we not see another set of standards, another set of special interests backing those standards? Would the sky never fall again?)

That means:

  • Ask your governor to make sure that teachers have the resources and training they need to make Common Core (or whatever standards your state chooses) work. For every student, of all ages and abilities.
  • Ask your governor to consider research that might run counter to his/her established conclusion, if you’re concerned about anything. Valid, good research (not a home-administered 7-question test). If you’re worried about something, do your homework.
  • Ask your governor not to rely on tests alone to prove whether or not our collective efforts are successful. Ask your governor not to give those tests too much weight in a teacher or school evaluation. Remind him or her that those tests shouldn’t be a factor at ALL in the first year (or two) of any curriculum’s rollout.
  • Ask your governor to invest some more money in educating parents about what your states’ teachers are trying to accomplish. Acknowledge that you, as a parent need to know more, that you want to know more, that you are your child’s teacher’s partner.

Our public education infrastructure is weak, and we need to strengthen it, together. But it is not so weak that we need to panic. Focus less on that one little acorn that hit your head (the acorn symbolizes Common Core!), and more on that fox, who loves that you are so distracted that he can easily trick you (and utterly ignore your children).

Now who does that fox symbolize? I know who it is in my state. He’s getting a letter from me.


*Regrouping – it’s what is taught now, and I believe that term predates Common Core—as my nephews, both now in upper high school grades, used it, in another state.

Time: it makes you “strong” and “good.”

Time is money. You usually end up with more time, and more money, if you have more education. And if your household is hovering around the poverty line–it’s likely you have a lot less of those three resources than you’d like.

Oh, and if you don’t have a lot of time, money, or education, you are less likely to be a “strong” parent.


“Strong.” It’s all over a new research paper by Richard V. Reeves and Kimberly Howard for The Center on Children and Families at The Brookings Institution. Consider this summary (emphasis added):

The chances of upward social mobility are lower for children with parents struggling to do a good job—in terms of creating a supportive and stimulating home environment. Children lucky enough to have strong parents are more likely to succeed at all the critical life stages, which means policies to help weaker parents do a better job can be investments in opportunity, and equality.

Would it have been technically incorrect to say, in the above quote: “The chances of upward social mobility are lower for children with parents with less time and money?” Or to say “Children lucky enough to have wealthy parents with time are more likely to succeed…?”

I read the full paper. I don’t believe it would have been incorrect. Frankly, I’m pretty sure it would have been more correct. Consider this caveat noted by the researchers (emphasis added):

…any measure of parenting quality rests on a judgment of what constitutes quality. The HOME scale [used by the researchers] is one of the most widely used scales, but it contains items that could favor… more advantaged parents.

I read the inventory of items on the HOME-SF, the scale used by the researchers to characterize whether a parent is “strong” or “weak.” That caveat the researchers offer? I fear it’s a bit understated. (And my fear is a bit understated.) The HOME-SF scale includes several (many?) implicit measures of affluence, asking about the ownership of a musical instrument, or use of at least 5 children’s records or tapes and respective players, ownership of books, outings to museums, whether the home is “dark or perceptually monotonous,” “reasonably clean” and “minimally cluttered,” whether the family receives a daily newspaper, whether the child has extracurricular activities or hobbies, is involved in sports, music, dance or drama. Does the family go to the theater?

Yeah. It covers all that.

Why use subjective, misleading qualifiers of parenting like “strong?”  Is it so hard to be specific? There are resource-rich parents, and their are resource-poor parents.

Not “strong,” not “weak.” Those words sound so static. So final. Words matter. They paint pictures in your mind. They give you ideas. Wrong ones, sometimes. (Remember that parent I wrote about who said that others parents at her Title I school “just don’t care?”)

Put me–a flippin’ lucky, privileged “strong” parent–in a new situation: savings gone, some sort of incredibly costly health emergency that irreparably damages not only my finances but my level of employability, my husband is no longer in the picture, I can’t afford my house, my family lives multiple states away and they have no money to share. Dire, dire straits. I wouldn’t be on the PTA, or on the SAC. I wouldn’t have time to check my children’s homework, or make them healthy lunches. My temper would be short, my stress would be high. I’d hunker down with my kids and get done what absolutely needed to be done, not much more. Because, then, I would be “weak.”

Or would I just, even for a bit, need more resources?