Menifee Mom: Parents, Give Common Core a Chance

By Karen Thomas

Common Core seems to be the buzzword these days. With the school year in full swing and this being the first year of full implementation of Common Core at our schools in Menifee, it's a good time to share my first impressions, at least in the theory behind it.

How it comes through in implementation, I admit, is a different story. Though I'm no expert, I have done some research on the subject to know how it will affect my kids.

When I entered my freshman year of high school (like my daughter this year), my class became the "guinea pigs" for testing an education reform centering on "Outcome Based Education" that was supposed to take over in Oregon. With that program, it seemed that core curriculum was thrown out the window and instead teachers were supposed to focus on developing qualities in the students.

For four years, the focus was on ensuring we became things such as Effective Communicators, Quality Producers, and Collaborative Contributors. The idea was that there is such a vast amount of ever changing information out there, it is better to teach kids how to learn for themselves instead of trying to pack information into their heads.

It was a big change. Having experienced that, I have a different perspective than many on what happens when change hits our schools.

One very positive aspect of Common Core is that there will be uniformity of standards among different states in our country. We have had many opportunities to move, and each time I have looked in depth at the test scores as well as standards taught at different schools in different states. I can verify that California has had the highest standards of all places I've researched.

When No Child Left Behind compared the performance of different states, they weren't comparing apples to apples. Each state set its own timeline for when standards were taught and wrote its own tests to align with that. So, when we were testing our third graders on multiplication, other states were waiting until fourth grade.

Not only does this create an impossible situation to compare states' performances, but it makes it difficult for families who move around. Their child may either repeat a good part of a year's worth of curriculum, or find themselves behind, depending on where they are going.

But let's get to the meat of the issue -- the change in curriculum. It is clear that in some ways there are fewer standards the kids have to learn. However, the idea is that those standards will be taught more in depth so that they are actually understood. Gone will be the days of blindly following math formulas, for example. Instead, the kids will learn why the formula works and how to apply it to real life situations.

Similar to the Outcome Based Education I experienced, Common Core focuses on teaching kids to read non-fiction material, make sense of it, and do something with the knowledge they gain.

These are just a few aspects of Common Core, but they are the ones I really like. We complained a lot about the education reform I experienced in high school, but once I got to college, I did see the value in what we did. I knew how to find and understand information in textbooks and research journals in the library. I knew how to work independently as well as with a group. I could use my research and put together a presentation appropriate for a lay audience or a professional one.

What excites me about Common Core is that the goal is to develop these skills and qualities in our kids that will help them be successful in college and/or career, but it doesn't throw core standards out the window. The ABC's and 123's and everything else on up will still be taught. They are not getting rid of the standards, they are just making them common among the states.

The big complaint I hear is that the government is brainwashing our children. However, the federal government doesn't write the curriculum and they aren't the ones deciding how those standards will be taught. That is done at the local and state level. Common Core simply outlines what the standards need to be.

I know that there are a lot of challenges with Common Core. I think that our kids and teachers will struggle as we transition. It will be difficult to change their mindset with math, for example, that they can't just crunch numbers but they have to understand the concepts behind the number crunching.

I will say that I did very well in math and tutored a lot of my friends in high school, but I never fully understood it. Some would ask, "Why does that work?" and I would say, "I don't know, but it does. Just follow the steps."

Our country has been far behind others in our academic performance. We've also looked at moving abroad, and I can tell you the direction Common Core takes us is in line with the rest of the world. I even discovered recently that new versions of the SAT and ACT college entrance exams are being released that align with Common Core.

Will there be bumps in the road? Yes. Will our kids complain? Most certainly. Will we as parents get confused when they show us their math homework? Probably. I hope that doesn't all mean we will throw in the towel.

There will be changes to Common Core and tweaking that needs to take place, that is expected and part of any program, whether it be in education or the corporate world. But I do think the concepts at the heart of this change are good and needed.

Our job as parents is to support our kids and help them through this transition year. I can tell you from experience, when parents protest, it only makes the kids struggle more and mentally give up. So let our communication be that of cooperation and partnership with our schools, working to find solutions so that we can work together to make this successful and make our kids the best students in the world.

Karen Thomas is a stay at home mom of four daughters, has been on the PTA board at her kids' school for four years, and is a volunteer at her church, in addition to her activities as a volunteer soccer referee, a piano teacher, and a runner. Her column will appear here every other week. Comments are welcome.


  1. Very well researched and written. I will add that math will stress understanding concepts, not simply application.