Concerned about Your Student’s Homework? Talk to Your Local Teacher or School Board
As states have put in place higher education standards, classroom instruction has shifted to put a greater emphasis on critical thinking and conceptual understanding, especially in math. In addition to traditional methods, students are encouraged to explore multiple problem-solving techniques, which help students build fluency with numbers and functions.
By becoming familiar with a variety of approaches to a problem, students develop a repertoire of math strategies. That allows them to pick and choose those that work best for them and bolsters conceptual understanding, which, in turn, cultivates the fundamental skills necessary to succeed at higher levels of math.
While the shift is good for students (and, nationwide, evidence from assessments this year indicates that it is helping to improve student proficiency), the changes are foreign to many parents. That unfamiliarity has helped more than a few confusing, poorly-written or simply inappropriate homework problems go viral.
Opponents of efforts to raise education standards, too, have promulgated poor assignments to provoke concern. All too readily, these critics have conflated classroom materials with learning goals. The claims have often been as outrageous as they are disingenuous: that states’ standards turn students gay, lead to the “sexualization” of students, or are a tool to indoctrinate students to radical Islam – to name just a few.
Let’s be clear: academic standards and curricular materials (lesson plans, homework assignments, texts and the like) are very different things. Standards outline the skills and knowledge students should build at each grade level to be on track for college and career readiness. Curricular materials are the tools educators use to help students achieve those goals – and are picked by teachers, district leaders and school boards.
By setting consistent expectations and giving local educators full control over how best to reach them, comparable education standards actually strengthen local control. “This is the best path toward getting Uncle Sam and heavy-handed state governments to back off from micro-managing how schools are run and to return that authority to communities, individual schools, teachers and parents,” Chester Finn, Jr. wrote previously.
Like many parents, former Alabama Governor Bill Riley was once frustrated with a textbook sent home with his grandson. His advice to parents based on his experience: raise your concerns with your school’s teachers and administrators.
“Local control, local decisions are almost always the best. It turns out that is exactly what is happening in our schools,” Gov. Riley explained. “If an Alabama parent or group of parents has an issue with a specific book in their local school, they do not have to lobby Washington for change. They don’t even have to call Montgomery. All they have to do is tell their concerns to the local school administration.”
Objective analyses reinforce that point. PolitiFact gave claims that comparable education standards are a tool to indoctrinate students with certain ideologies a “Pants on Fire” rating. Higher standards “better prepare students for college and careers…That’s a far cry from attempting to instill particular religious or political beliefs.” Separately, the fact-checker called the claim that comparable standards are education through Washington, “False.”
That’s because state leaders initiated efforts to raise education standards, and that commitment is still a state-led movement. But, if parents harbor any doubts, they should be answered by the Every Student Succeeds Act. In no uncertain terms, the law prohibits the federal government from meddling in state and local education issues.
We believe education operates most effectively when policies are set close to home. High, comparable standards don’t jeopardize local control – in fact, if anything, they bolster it. That goes for textbooks and homework, as well. So, if parents have concerns about the materials their kids bring home, they can and should raise those with their schools and teachers.
By the same token, educators should continue to engage parents to help familiarize them with changes happening to instruction as states raise academic expectations. Across the country, there are countless examples of programs schools are offering to help parents support their children. We compiled a list of several resources and encourage families to learn more here.