Strong engagement can resolve lingering parental concerns with math standards

Now a decade after the California State Board of Education’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, teachers and school leaders say they are still facing family engagement challenges in implementing the standards.

A new CSBA brief, “Effective Family Engagement: A Lesson From Common Core Math” (available at https://bit.ly/3czaCPB) provides insights on standards implementation and family engagement from teachers, and education and family engagement professionals. They share not only the misconceptions surrounding the standards, but also the importance of family engagement and sample strategies and practices that districts can consider to improve these practices.

Based on interviews and surveys with eight teachers or education and family engagement professionals, a handful of troubling trends were uncovered, but so was one simple solution: communication. Teachers reported a general lack of support and understanding of the standards from parents, and school leaders said they often are asked by parents why their children are required to explain their work or use multiple methods to solve math problems — a much different approach than the way most parents learned mathematics. However, it became clear that parental support was increased by explaining the standards and why students are using these different methods or writing explanations for math.

“One teacher remarked that the opposition she encounters about Common Core tends to cease once the standards are explained,” writes Troy Geierman, a veteran math teacher in California and author of the brief. “This ongoing concern about Common Core Math indicates a need for LEAs to communicate with and engage parents more effectively around the standards. Therefore, it is essential that explaining Common Core Math is included in parent engagement plans.”

A good place to start those discussions is in the development of a district’s Local Control and Accountability Plan — a process that requires LEAs to seek parent and family input through different community engagement efforts. There are many strategies that can help administrators and educators explain to families why the Common Core math standards benefit their children.

One technique includes following what researchers Margaret Caspe and M. Elena Lopez deemed “the 5 R’s,” for promoting STEM learning:

  1. Reach out to families (communicate through easily accessible channels including text or social media)
  2. Raise up (use math projects based on life experiences such as sewing or tiling floors and discuss math anxiety with parents and share resources designed to alleviate)
  3. Reinforce (encourage reading at home, especially with resources that contain mathematical content)
  4. Relate (prioritize parent-child learning through events like math nights, where families can learn and network in a low-stress setting)
  5. Reimagine (leverage partnerships with local colleges or nonprofits to fill in summer school or after-school hours)

The brief includes a list of questions governance teams can ask to better determine next steps to improving math engagement among families. Among them, how can family engagement practices be tailored to include Common Core Math? How might the LEA gauge parent understanding of the CCSSM? And what kind of translation support is available to make sure that all families can be represented on advisory committees and actively participate?

“When developing a plan for engagement, it is essential to address student achievement and to include Common Core Math,” Geierman wrote. “Districts and county offices of education must explore creating relationships and partnerships across departments, districts and outside organizations to leverage resources effectively when developing a parent engagement plan.”