Back-to-school time is a season of routines, as parents, students, and teachers alike readjust to setting the alarm clock a little earlier, checking to make sure homework is done, and packing lunch. But this year will be different in significant ways, as schools across the country—including those in many of the Council of the Great City Schools’ (CGCS) 67 member districts—move to full implementation of more rigorous Common Core Standards and aligned assessments.
These are not small changes, but too often their approach has been treated by the political world and the media as a soap opera, replete with dramatic plot twists, outsized heroes and villains, and always the promise of more drama. To cut through the noise, we recently conducted a survey of parents in Council districts where Common Core is being implemented, to gauge their understanding of and attitudes toward these new standards. And the good (if not surprising) news is that parents are very good at distinguishing between manufactured drama and what’s really important.
To establish a baseline, we asked parents how they felt about the quality of school instruction during the 2013-14 school year, and half (50%) reported feeling that instruction had improved at their child’s school.
This finding aligned with the half of parents (50%) who reported feeling that the Common Core standards are at least somewhat beneficial to their child or children (compared to 13% who thought the standards were only slightly beneficial, and 12% who thought they were not be beneficial at all).
We also asked parents who had heard at least "a little" about the standards for their impressions, without providing them any additional information. We were pleased to find that despite all of the misinformation and overheated rhetoric, more parents (48%) had a positive impression of the standards than a negative one (22%), while a significant percentage of parents still reported being unsure or unaware (30%) of the standards.
Most encouraging in this survey was how positively parents responded to being given a straightforward description of the standards:
The Common Core is a new set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA). These learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. The standards were created to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live.
After reading the description, parents overwhelmingly (88%) said that the standards were either “somewhat” or “very” important for their child’s education.
Taken together, these findings are convincing evidence that at this early stage, the Common Core is neither a runaway hit with parents, nor teetering on the edge of collapse for lack of parental support.
What they do show, first of all, is that one of two parents surveyed feel that the quality of instruction in their child’s classroom is already improving, and that one in two parents surveyed also feel their child or children are already benefiting from the Common Core.
But parents clearly need more information. When nearly 40 percent of parents report feeling unsure about or unaware of the standards, it’s a clear signal that more work remains. Some of that work is easy, as demonstrated by the effect of simply describing what the Common Core is and how these standards are intended to improve students’ preparation for college, career, and life.
But as Common Core implementation progresses, it’s critical that we continue to provide parents with even more detail, which is why the Council of the Great City Schools has also created "Parent Roadmaps" for English Language Arts and Mathematics that guide parents through what their children should be learning at each grade level.
Our work doesn’t end there. To ensure parents understand the important changes underway, we’ve got to surround them with accessible information that answers questions, addresses concerns, and paints a clear picture of why the Common Core is good for their children. The Council will have more to share in this vein soon, and in the meantime, I encourage everyone reading this to share these survey results – I find them far more interesting than a soap opera.
The online survey was conducted by Edge Research and was fielded from August 1 – 8, 2014. The sample included parents whose children attend K-12 schools in Great City School districts implementing the Common Core. The final sample included 660 respondents (200 of whom had household incomes of less than $25,000/year).