Ohio parents keep tests separate from standards

Some schools in Toledo, Ohio, along with many others around the country, are trying to teach parents about the new Common Core approach to solving math problems using math nights, letters home, videos on their websites, and other methods, Education Week reports.

A lesson aimed at parents from Homework Unlocked

The drive is paying off, slowly but surely. But schools are fighting an uphill battle to retrain parents in new ways, especially when they face negative commentary in public forums linking tests to the Common Core. The standards have been adopted by more than 40 states, though, so schools don’t have much choice.

As last year ended, we applauded schools in Danville, Ill., for making good use of a $6 million School Improvement Grant in launching a “parent university.”

Unfortunately, even though including instruction for parents, especially of young students, is helpful and generally leads to higher academic achievement, not all schools take advantage of this opportunity to bring parents into the discussion.

Some research has found a detrimental effect of parent involvement with homework, especially as it affects scores on standardized tests beyond middle school. “No clear connection exists between parental involvement and improved student performance,” write Keith Robinson and Angel Harris in their book The Broken Compass. The authors don’t want to discourage parents’ interest but say the time has come to reconsider whether parental involvement makes much of a dent in the basic problems facing their children’s education today.

Our mission for the schools based on an equilateral triangle

But the Robinson-Harris book’s conclusions are based primarily on test scores, and we’re therefore ready to dismiss it out of hand. We don’t care about performance on invalid or unreliable tests.

What we do care about is building bridges between schools, students, and communities. Those communities include parents. They may also include researchers, but this rather academic study has little to do with what’s happening in any classroom I’ve visited lately. We need more initiatives like the math nights in Toledo, the parent universities in Danville, and other programs, because communication between schools and communities has deteriorated of late, especially as reform efforts drive increasing levels of competition between students, between teachers, between schools, between states, and between nations.

In the Education Week article, one parent at Toledo’s Old Orchard Elementary School said that although the problem-solving strategies weren’t the ones he learned, they made sense. We reported in October that the pedagogy behind the Common Core was helping kids think about the meaning of the math, rather than just tricks and techniques for solving a narrow range of problems.

We also pointed out that adults wouldn’t necessarily find the answer to a subtraction problem by using a number line. It also takes longer to find the difference using the number line method. However, using a number line gives kids yet another picture of what subtraction means. I believe this will lead to a better sense of numbers and math when they get older.

“It’s expanding [students’] overall thinking, and showing there’s more than one way to do it,” Education Week quoted the parent as saying. Based on what he’s learned about the standards over the past couple of years, he said, “I think it’s definitely helped my son.”

Some organizations have also noticed how important it is to engage parents in their kids’ education, thereby improving academic performance in the classroom. Homework Unlocked is one such group. Their short videos, one of which is shown above, are aimed at parents and are generally good. Using the videos is free for everyone, and the content is delivered without any ads.

In addition, the Council of the Great City Schools has produced parent roadmaps in math. These guide parents about ways they can support their kids’ learning in kindergarten through eighth grade, and they’re available here.

Suggest ways (homework hotline, websites, etc.) your school could help parents understand what students are required to learn and do in class. Also show how you would test the effectiveness of these programs to justify continuing them or shutting them down. See Common Core high school statistics standard HSS.MD.B.7 for more information.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.