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Helping Our Children Help Themselves

by Becky Muday

Helping Our Children Help ThemselvesAs a parent of school-aged children, my stake in education in Arizona goes beyond a political agenda. I have heard many negative stories and comments about Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards and the expectations they place on our children. Then I finally did my own research: I read the standards, spoke to my children’s teachers and monitored my children’s school work more closely. Yes, the standards are tough, but I am proud to live in a state that has high expectations for its students. My children deserve to be held to higher standards and I will make sure I help them rise to these expectations.

The schools in our district have already implemented Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards (Common Core), and I can definitely see a difference in how they have impacted my children. Instead of getting caught up in the negative hype, and instead of complaining when our children are met with a challenge or come home with a poor grade, I urge my fellow parents instead to work with your child to be a part of their learning. Ask questions. And when it comes to the standards, do your homework. I think you’ll be amazed at what happens next.

To become more involved in my child’s learning—and to break through the overwhelming amount of debate over the standards—I realized that I had to be proactive, which meant I needed to shift my focus to the here and now of what my children are doing in school. I appreciate the perspectives of fellow parents, but the reality is that while policymakers were arguing over the standards, our teachers never stopped working hard to implement them in classrooms every day. So, I visited my children’s school armed with questions for their teachers about how I can work with my children on their homework and in their lessons. I also spoke to friends from around the country that are teachers and experts in early childhood education. They shared with me their support for the Common Core Standards and for the research behind the standards, especially in math education for K-2.

Many of their lessons were different from the ones I had growing up, and I quickly learned the “adjustment” to the new standards was more about my own adjustment than my child’s. When they come home from school, my children are asking in-depth questions and expressing opinions differently. They seem more in touch with the world around them with a new found curiosity. I’ve started asking my children deeper questions about their school work. What used to be “What did you do at school today?” has turned into “What’s the most interesting thing you learned at school today? Why did you think it was interesting? How are you going to continue to explore this topic?” I’m impressed with how much knowledge they have picked up over the year, and they enjoy sharing it with me.

My kindergartner is using fun, hands on activities as well as iPad apps to learn math skills. She has such a clear understanding of the concept of numbers and what it means to add and subtract numbers. She is young for her grade with a July birthday, but has shown no signs of stress from what is being taught to her or asked of her to learn. Her teachers have been so creative in the lessons they are using to teach all subjects this year.

My second grader has grown leaps and bounds this year with the implementation of the new standards and the new techniques that her teacher is using. As she started the new math curriculum, she was a bit confused about the different ways of solving problems she was being asked to learn. But within a month, she showed great progress and really seems to “get it.” Additionally, her reading ability has jumped significantly. From a child who didn’t like to read and was reading just a grade level, she has become a lover of books, moving up several grade levels in reading and comprehension.

My fourth grader is very gifted in math. Even in advanced math, she has been bored in the past years as they class wasn’t moving fast enough for her. But she never really could explain how she got her answers, she just knew them. Learning the different ways to solve a problem and explaining how and why she got the answer has been a welcome challenge for her this year.

I know this curiosity and love for learning will help our family in the long run, and the same is true for families with students of all ages across K-12. Unfortunately, under the old Arizona state standards, fifty-three percent of Arizona high school graduates do not qualify for admission into Arizona’s public universities. And, even those students who are accepted into a university are not necessarily prepared for college courses. If parents work with teachers to ensure that our students are college ready, we will not have to waste precious time and money later down the road on remedial courses. We can also increase their chances of receiving grants and scholarships to help with the burden of financing a college education.

We cannot get this time back to help our children learn and mature into capable, smart individuals. I don’t want my children to receive a less than outstanding education while we argue over how to proceed. Yes, we will need to evaluate and modify as we proceed, but these standards are a much needed improvement over what we had been doing. Not to mention, job competition is already tough, and it will only get tougher. Strong academic standards can help our teachers help our children reach their full potential, and they need our support. Enough with the politics, and enough with bashing Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards and Common Core.

We need to separate out the different issues that are often confused with Common Core State Standards across the country. If it is the “high stakes testing” attached to school funding and teacher pay, then let’s address that issue with the people who have created those mandates (our state government). If you are unhappy with the content or actual curriculum being taught at your school, address it with the teacher, principal and school district. I would encourage you to attend a local school board meeting and learn how these decisions are being made. If you are concerned about support for children who are struggling to meet the standards or with the lack of support for proper training and implementation, again address that with those who control the funding of our public education system. We must not lose sight of the most important people in this — our children.

Becky Muday has served as the President of the Sandpiper Parent Teacher Organization for the past two years and has three school-age children.

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