Have Concerns about What Your Kids Are Learning? Local Teachers and Administrators Can Help


An Oregon father took to social media to criticize federal overreach in schools after his son brought home an assignment that asked to score himself based on what kind of “white privilege” he has, the Independent Journal Review reports.

“This survey is in itself racist…Government schools have become nothing more than brain wash centers for group thought,” Jason Schmidt told IJ Review. “Common Core and the Feds teach to the lowest denominator.”

While it is understandable why a homework assignment like this could be frustrating to some parents, this issue shouldn’t be conflated with the state’s academic standards. There are many examples of confusing or unsuitable materials that have been sent home with students, but in these cases, parents should take them up with their local teachers and school boards, who determine what to teach and how to teach it, not take issue with state’s standards.

Academic standards set of overarching goals for what students should reasonably know and be able to do at each grade level. How they help students achieve to those targets is entirely the discretion of educators, administrators and school boards.

“Recall that the Common Core is a set of standards – not curriculum – which details what students are expected to learn in each grade,” former Education Secretary Bill Bennett wrote last year. “It does not specify how lessons are taught in the classroom or what textbooks must be used” – or, for that matter, homework assignments.

Former Alabama Governor Bob Riley previously had similar concerns about materials his grandson brought home. His advice to parents based on his own experience: Raise your concerns with your local educators and school board.

“Local control, local decisions are almost always the best. It turns out that is exactly what is happening in our schools…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.”

Curricular decisions have always been made by local authorities. Education standards, too, have always been set by state and district leaders. But if there were any doubt, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which was signed into law last December to replace No Child Left Behind, explicitly makes sure federal government has no role in deciding standards or assessments.

“States decide academic standards. That has been true for years but was spelled out explicitly in the new federal education law,” Lyndsey Layton, a conservative columnist for the Washington Post, explains.

Congressman John Kline, chairman of the House Committee on Education and Workforce, calls the ESSA a “huge win for conservatives.” He explains, “The federal government should not be able to tell states what standards they can or cannot adopt.” In other words, the federal government should get out of state’s education decisions, and the new law achieves that.

States’ commitment to rigorous standards and high-quality assessments is having a positive impact on student learning. While some parents may be unfamiliar with the changes to instruction as schools implement these new learning goals, they should resist the temptation to turn back.

Jim Cowen explains, states across the country have seen student proficiency increase, and often these gains are biggest among early-grade learners, who have spent most of their educational careers learning to higher standards. “While there are numerous factors that affect student scores…the 2016 assessments suggest that the promise of higher academic standards – whatever they may be called – is working.”

Educators have practical advice for parents who are unfamiliar with changes to the materials or instruction their kids receive: Work with your teachers to learn more and to reinforce classroom learning. “The most important thing we can give kids is to think quantitatively about the world and apply a mathematical lens to different situations,” says Jo Boaler, a Stanford math education professor.