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Everything you need to know about Common Core

Molly Cerreta Smith loves writing about all things mommy, parenting, food, health and travel. When she's not staring into the face of her Mac, she loves to hike, read, do messy crafts with her kids and compete in BBQ competitions with he...

The ins and outs of Core Knowledge standards

Every parent of a school-age child is buzzing about Common Core, but we're still over here wondering... what exactly is it? The generic answer is that it's the new set of academic standards in math, English and language arts for kindergarten through 12th grade.

But still... what does that mean? First of all, it's important to note that Common Core is not a way of teaching. Though the set of standards are the same across the board, each district in each state has its choice of methods for presenting and applying the knowledge to help their students best prepare to meet the Common Core standards of their grade level.

While many parents may start sweating about the concept of Common Core standards because, in many cases, they are more rigorous than previous standards, Pearl Chang Esau, CEO of Expect More Arizona, assures us that they are designed to better prepare our kids for the ultimate goal — college and career readiness — via a focus on critical thinking, problem solving and effective communication skills.

How to help your teen choose his path after high school >>

Why the new standards are better

Esau says, "Teachers have been improving their practices to go deeper to help their students understand concepts and apply them to real-life situations."

For example, where a sixth-grader was once required to read at his grade level with 90 percent accuracy and employ "strategies" of comprehension, that same student is now required to actually comprehend all forms of complex literary text (including poetry, fiction, non-fiction, etc.).

Forty-five other states besides Arizona have also implemented Common Core standards. The rationale is that they allow for fewer, yet clearer, expectations for each grade level, encouraging the teacher's ability to further develop each concept in the classroom and ultimately ensuring that all the children in a classroom master a lesson before moving on to the next.

Christine Miller, a professional school counselor in North Carolina, explains that while currently Common Core seems to be a system that is making school curriculum harder in an arbitrary way, it is actually designed to help students across the country meet the same set of criteria, which is especially helpful when children move to a different district or a new school in another state. She says it may seem confusing now but "it will work when the implementation is streamlined and everyone realizes that it's not about the federalization of education. In about five years, we're all going to wonder what took us so long."

Is Common Core really better for everyone?

While Common Core standards have our children's best interests in mind, not everyone is behind it. In fact, many students (and even parents) are crying foul because the teaching methods designed to help children meet standards seem to involve numerous steps to problem solving that can be viewed as tedious. I'll admit it has me scratching my head, too.

The other night I was helping my son with his second-grade math worksheets and I was confused by the amount of text, vocabulary and methods that were being used to teach simple three-number addition. I asked my son about what the dots, pictures and stories mean and he clarified the steps he is taught to employ to solve the problem.

The ins and outs of Core Knowledge standards

The parent's role

Regardless of whether you as a parent understand the Common Core standards and new methods your children are being taught, you can still be of help to them at home. Esau advises implementing real-world applications such as talking with your kids about daily experiences and making connections between their experiences and things they read in books or see on their favorite television shows.

Are school reading programs too structured? >>

Esau adds that striking up a partnership with your child's teacher to help your child is a good way to start out the school year. Ask for an ongoing assessment, as well as support materials for any skill gaps your child may be experiencing so you can help your child at home.

She suggests asking your child's teacher the following questions:

  • What are the most important topics my child will be learning this year?
  • Can I review an example of my child's work? Is this example satisfactory? How can it be improved?
  • Is my child on track to be successful in this class? Is he or she prepared for next year, for college and a career?
  • What resources are available if my child needs additional help or wants to learn more about a subject?

She notes, "A parent needs to know if a child is ahead or falling behind and challenge them accordingly. Don't wait until the end of the year. The further your child falls behind, the more he could be at risk for having to repeat the grade."

More on school and learning

Extracurricular activities that maximize your student's college application

Things you can teach your kids at the farmers market
Why the free school lunch model in Chicago makes sense

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