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.

not so secret sauce

From Why Is It Hard for Liberals to Talk About ‘Family Values’? – Emma Green – The Atlantic:

“As a country, we could be on the verge of a really good discussion of this, where we acknowledge that parental responsibility matters, that how kids are raised matters, but also that there are economic causes of this. Those of us who are on the more progressive side should be willing to engage in the conversation about family, personal responsibility, and all that.” — E.J. Dionne

“It’s like stable marriage and community are the secret sauce of economic well-being that nobody on the left wants to admit to using.”

Why aren’t we willing? Why won’t we admit it?

The author of the Atlantic article, Emma Green, touches on some reasons. For one, religion, a widely accepted driver of “family values,” apparently isn’t palatable in policy conversations among liberals, due to the conflicting values of pluralism and tolerance. Second, liberals would feel pretty sheepish if, after fighting oppression and standing up to traditions that have kept women in their place, they had to then admit “Um, by the way, it seems it does help to have two people raise children. Let’s encourage that!” Third, there’s not just a little bit of trepidation: would you want to be on the left and tell a single mother that her choices make pretty much everything harder for herself, her children and her community immediately and in the long-run (as if she did not know that already?)? Now add race into the mix of that conversation. [Crickets chirp.]

So yeah. It’s difficult to have policy discussions about families and the values and actions that strengthen them. I agree with E.J. Dionne, who says that “if you care about social justice, you’ve got to care about families. But if you care about families, you’ve got to care about social justice.” (So does Jim Wallis.)

Now, I’m on the left. Not far left, but left of center. But you know that “secret sauce” Ms. Green mentions? The reason I am a poster-child for “traditional family values,” home as I am, raising the children, while my husband is out, earning the money?

We are lucky, we are educated, and we can afford it. It’s not a secret sauce. It’s a scarce sauce.

Everybody has the same values. Everybody wants to live a good life. Everybody. But not everybody has an education that earns them not only money, but trains them to manage life and be responsible. Sometimes that’s by choice. But for the most part, it’s due to circumstance.

Three days ago, I read an excerpt from Jennifer Silva’s upcoming book, Coming Up Short. (The headline for the excerpt, “The 1 percent ruined love: Marriage is for the rich” was sensational, but it worked. I read the excerpt.) I wonder if Jennifer Silva attended the recent Atlantic working summit on economic security. From her book:

“Today’s young men and women are waiting longer to get married…They are also less likely than their Baby Boomer counterparts to stay married… or to have children all together. While these [facts] may be read as a commentary on the declining value of marriage and family, a closer look reveals that they are more accurately a story of inequality… national data reveal a growing “divorce divide” in the United States: since the 1970s, marital dissolution rates have fallen dramatically among highly educated men and women but remained steady among those with lower education… the material and symbolic benefits of marriage… accrue to those already born in the top of the income distribution.”

It’s easier to stay married–to work through conflict and give time to your relationship, to manage a home, to raise children–if you’re not worried about money. Even easier if you’ve never really had to worry about it. I posted this pretty (and stark) picture last year.


We can have all sorts of honest conversations about the importance of a stable family structure on the socioeconomic well being of our children and our communities. But I keep trying to figure out where those conversations go. I can’t help but think that these conversations would all end up with one party saying, “Easy for you to say. You’re kind’a lucky and relatively rich.”

It’s not a liberal-versus-conservative conversation. It’s not a left-versus-right, or even religious-versus-non-religious conversation. It’s a conversation about economic class.

Until our nation does something serious and substantive to close the income gap, (and the wealth gap, too, for that matter), families and their structures are going to continue to  reflect problems, not cause them. In his interview with The New York Times:

[President Obama] noted at one point that he has in the Oval Office a framed copy of the original program from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom 50 years ago, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. He uses it, he said, to remind people “that was a march for jobs and justice; that there was a massive economic component to that. When you think about the coalition that brought about civil rights, it wasn’t just folks who believed in racial equality. It was people who believed in working folks having a fair shot.”

A fair shot. A fair shot at the damn sauce.