Making Common Core Common: Creating Networks between School, Home, and Community

Spotlight on Excellence     April 2013

The CAO Brief

Making Common Core Common:  Creating Networks between School, Home, and Community
by Carole R. Collins Ayanlaja, Ph.D.

The Common Core State Standards are front and center on the national stage as states, districts, schools and teachers prepare for full implementation by 2015. The Common Core represents grade by grade expectations of what students should know and be able to do throughout their elementary and secondary schooling in order to be college and career ready.  CCSS focuses on fewer standards with more emphasis on higher order thinking skills in English Language Arts and math.  Students will be taught to analyze written material instead of memorize content. They will show how they get the right answer, rather than simply answering a question correctly.  

The fact that these standards have been adopted by 45 states, three U.S. territories, and the Department of Defense Education Fund is groundbreaking.  The Common Core is the result of a two-year process, facilitated by the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), to develop a set of common standards for math and English Language Arts (ELA).  The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are emerging and similar efforts are in progress to develop social studies standards.  With America’s history of locally controlled public education and individual state standards it is almost surreal to know that states are now ready to have common conversations about student learning..    

Superintendents, district leaders, school principals, teacher, unions, educational supply corporations, policy makers, not-for-profit organizations, grantors, and all of the who’s who in the field of education are gathering more and more information about what CCSS will mean for teaching, learning, and assessment. They are  convening to decide how best to implement the habits of mind and pedagogical reform required of the Common Core.  Central to those discussions must be conversations about what the Common Core will mean for everyday people, those outside of the formal educational spectrum; those who have a profound personal impact on children’s’ academic and social lives in the home and community.  

In the past, schools have functioned in isolation from the world of family and community:  conventional wisdom and practice emphasized that, in American schools, trained educators would socialize students and academically prepare them for entry into society.   Over time, we have learned that schools that successfully and efficiently  connect families and communities greatly benefit students.  With any major educational initiative, parents’ and caregivers’ perceptions and perspectives matter because they play critical roles in their children’s schooling experiences:  They provide support for their children; they deliver messages to their children about school; and reinforce attitudes about achievement; they have the ability to facilitate their child’s educational and social growth through strategic contact with the school and other parents (Ream and Palardy, 2008). Parents (caregivers) play an important part in facilitating or impeding their children’s negotiation of the educational process (Bourdieu, cited in Lareau, 1987). Based on what they believe about their children’s schools, parents (caregivers) can act—or fail to act—as advocates for their children beyond the immediate family and within the school system.

The primary definition of the word ‘common’ per Webster’s Merriam, is “of or relating to a community at large- belonging to or shared by two or more individuals or things or by all members of a group” . The Common Core must go beyond a common set of standards to a common understanding that resonates both inside and outside of the world of educational practice, policy, and decision-making.  Student learning is found within a context that is larger than the classroom.  Students’ families and their communities link them to school, and positive parent involvement is beneficial to students regardless of parents’ races or ethnic ancestries (Jeynes, 2003).

First and foremost, at the center of the Common Core, must be the students who will benefit from the wave of rich instruction and authentic assessment that supports their learning. Relevant content that connects with the diverse backgrounds of students will ensure that classrooms create a supportive and engaging environment for students to explore and extend their understandings. Teachers will need to build bridges between the students’ familial culture and the academic culture of the school by activating the students’ “funds of knowledge”, home and community resources which support student engagement and improve the learner’s ability to connect with the material.  Researcher, Luis Moll in his study of the school experiences of Mexican immigrant students in Texas, found that teachers missed opportunities to tap into the abundant knowledge that students gain at home in in their community through experiences outside of the classroom. Reading and writing exercises that speak to the unique cultural, racial, social, and linguistic experiences of diverse cultures, math activities which develop practical knowledge about topics that families encounter, and social studies projects which integrate geography, language, food, customs and family values, build pathways for school and family connection. Moll described the network that can be built between families, students, and schools as one that mobilizes learning (Gonzalez, 2005).

With Common Core revving up, district leaders, principals and teachers are open to sharing ideas, practices, materials, and approaches to help support and reinforce learning in the classroom and at home.  HPS is partnering with parents, community members, and school staff to examine the new standards, discuss how they will be taught, and identify how they differ from existing state standards. Community outreach and awareness efforts will strengthen the bond between our students, their families, organizations that serve the community, and our schools as we talk about the standards and how they offer clear expectations for learning that will lead to college and career readiness.  Through building respectful and inclusive networks with our families and communities, Hartford Public Schools will make the Common Core common for everyone.

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