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Common Core and Parent Engagement

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Guest blogger Deborah Walker, Ed.D. is the President and CEO of the Collaborative for Teaching and Learning.

School leaders can leverage parent engagement by explaining to parents that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are part of a larger effort aimed at ensuring all students graduate from high school ready for college and career. The Standards promote three important goals: addressing a smaller number of learning objectives but in greater depth; providing challenges so that all students have access to rigorous coursework; and assuring quality of curriculum and assessments across states. Paired with effective and engaging instruction, the CCSS hold promise for reducing learning gaps and increasing opportunities for students (see June 2012 blog: http://ctlonline.org/impact-of-the-common-core).

While the Standards have caught the imagination of educational reformers, their intended impact remains less clear to parents. This is where school leaders can play an important role in providing context for parents to understand the Common Core and to support their implementation. The context includes three entry points to engage parents.

1. Supporting their students' academic success: Parents want their children to achieve academic success but aren't always sure how to support them. Having an understanding of the critical instructional shifts required by the CCSS is a starting place. For example, in English Language Arts the CCSS require students to read closely both informational and literary texts, form conclusions about what they are reading and cite evidence from the text to support their conclusions. One thing parents can do with this understanding is to ask their students to discuss with them the central ideas from what they are reading and to pull from the text words and sentences that illustrate these ideas. The same is true for mathematics, where the Standards ask students to construct viable arguments to explain their solutions. Standards in both content areas are written to help students think critically. Parents don't need to be experts in a topic to do this, but merely good listeners who give their students' a sounding board to see if their conclusions make sense.

2. Guiding their students toward college and career readiness: The CCSS require more rigorous work than before, to give students the experiences they need to be ready for advanced study in postsecondary education and/or for the technical requirements of a career. Parents should expect to see their students reading more complex texts that challenge and stretch their reading ability. They can help their students by encouraging them to persist, re-read texts, and find the meaning of unfamiliar words. Parents will notice also that the College and Career Anchor Standards that are part of the Common Core ask students to develop and apply literacy skills in all disciplines. This means students will be asked to read and write across content areas, to become more literate with the intention of mastering new content and applying that knowledge to new situations. Again, parents can provide a listening ear, questions to check student thinking and overall encouragement that their students are asked to do more rigorous work for a reason: to open doors for them beyond high school.

3. Nurturing aspirations for the future: This third entry point in particular provides common ground between school leaders and parents. Principals have overall responsibility for meeting college and career readiness targets. For example in Kentucky, legislation passed in 2009 requires schools to certify their students are college and career ready, using ACT and other benchmark scores, so principals are especially sensitive to the issue of aspirations besides their wanting the best for their students. Parents also want the best for their students, for them to reach as high as possible to realize their dreams. Conversations between school leaders and parents can create understanding about the importance of the Common Core in preparing students for the world beyond high school, by equipping them with the skills and knowledge necessary to compete in higher education, technical training and the job market.

Implementation of the Common Core State Standards places new demands upon schools and school leaders. Parents are perhaps an unrecognized resource in that process of implementation (see June 2013 blog: http://ctlonline.org/the-importance-of-parent-engagement/). By informing parents, enlisting their help, and listening to their ideas for preparing students, school leaders can form an alliance with parents that can have benefits for schools and families alike. Everyone gains when students are successful in school and graduate well-prepared to achieve future dreams.

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