As Common Core Rolls Out, Parents’ Knowledge Continues to Lag

Even though forty-five states have announced plans to adopt Common Core Standards in their schools, overwhelming parental reactions to the change continues to be “Common what?” As opponents and supporters of Common Core do battle in state houses and executive mansions across the country, parents simply do not get the message about what Common Core is, why it’s important and what the impact might be on schools in the coming years.

Common Core is meant to provide a streamlined way for states to raise academic standards and to compare themselves against each other — the latter being one of the chief reasons why they proved so popular upon their initial publication. Jack Markell, Governor of Delaware, which has already aligned its assessment system with Common Core, believes that this, along with setting a more rigorous set of benchmarks, will benefit all children. And he worked hard to deliver that message to parents in public meetings held across the state over the past several months.

But the arguments for and against the new standards have had little impact on public opinion because, according to a Gallup survey of public schools, 62 percent of Americans have never heard of the Common Core.

At a coffee shop in Middletown, the views among a group of young mothers were mixed. Two said they didn’t know enough to comment. Only Megan Parker said she likes what she’s heard.

“My understanding of the Common Core is that if my third-grader were to leave Delaware and go to, say, Ohio, he would not have to test to transfer into the third-grade level there. The Common Core would be universal for all students,” she says.

If Common Core should be an easy sell to parents anywhere, it’s Delaware. Even prior to taking office, in 2008, Markell, a Democrat, co-chaired a committee with his Republican predecessor to promote the standards. Contrary to the common perception that Common Core is a federal effort to usurp local control, the standards, argue he and others, are the results of state governors working together to create a solution to the common frustration with the slow pace of academic improvement in their schools.

However, the spirit of cross-party cooperation, though strong to begin with, didn’t last.

“The easy part was getting states to sign on,” Markell says.

He says governors only had to look at how poorly their students were doing compared to kids in other industrialized nations. Perdue agrees: States had to do something.

“We had become complacent and the goal was to expect more, to have higher standards. In Georgia, we had hearings, and from the State Board Of Education, they had to be adopted there,” Perdue says.

In Georgia, though, conservative groups and Republican lawmakers — wary of the federal government’s support for new standards and tests — now want the state to pull out.