Illinois parents and some teachers struggle with national Common Core Standards

Despite earning a master’s degree in engineering, Oscar Vallencourt can barely decipher his son’s fourth-grade math work. Chris Ball is fed up with the “dull and confusing” reading homework his 9-year-old daughter brings home every night.

They blame national Common Core Standards.

This school year, Illinois schools will implement new assessments to see how students are mastering the standards in math and English/language arts. The standards, being adopted nationwide but rejected in neighbor Indiana, require more problem solving and critical thinking, meaning students must explore complex concepts in greater depth and understand more than what has traditionally been taught. Supporters say the standards better prepare students for higher education.

“What you’re looking at is more of a depth of studying and getting more into it,” says Matt Vanover, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Education. “The old Illinois learning standards were an inch deep and a mile wide. It was very difficult to touch on all the learning standards. These standards are getting more deeply focused on skills and more rich into concepts.”

Parents don’t necessarily take issue with the standards—a recent Gallup poll showed many nearly 38 percent of parents are still in the dark about them—but the testing and homework, which they say is convoluted and pointless.

“I think that Common Core is a great idea, but it has to be implemented properly,” Vallencourt says.

Parents are baffled by number bonds and 5-D processes and they are miffed at the massive amount of meaningless worksheets. Common Core isn’t necessarily to blame, they say. It’s how they are being taught in the schools.

“Kids are being asked to do worksheet drills and vocabulary drills. This is not how children learn to read,” says Michelle Gunderson, first grade teacher at Nettelhorst School in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. “What they learn from that is how to fill in a worksheet.”

When the standards were first implemented in Chicago Public Schools a few years ago, Gunderson was in favor of the changes. But she soon discovered the tests and materials were not ideal.

Because Gunderson teaches at a high performing school that meets federal and state standards, she can formulate her own curriculum. Low performing schools, however, are required to follow curriculum guidelines, forcing some teachers to drill students and assign poorly designed homework sheets.

As a member of the Chicago Teachers Union, Gunderson says she’s worried about other teachers and how well students are learning.

After much discussion among union members, Gunderson helped write the resolution from the Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates opposing the use of Common Core Standards in teaching and testing in Chicago Public Schools. The Chicago Teachers Union also has asked the American Federation of Teachers to reverse its approval of the Common Core Standards.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten says the standards are not being implemented effectively.

“The AFT supports the promise of the Common Core Standards, but we are deeply disappointed with how they are being implemented and the lack of shared responsibility among too many policymakers who have ignored the voices of parents and educators,” Weingarten says.

While the standards can promote critical thinking, problem solving, perseverance and teamwork, there has been a rush to implement the standards, Weingarten says, which resulted in a lackluster instruction. The fixation has been on testing instead of instruction, he says.

“Parents should ask questions and be upfront about your concerns,” Weingarten says. “Teachers should do the same, providing as much information as possible, as course curriculum transforms to match the standards.”

Chicago Public Schools officials did not return numerous calls and emails seeking comment.

Kristy MacKaben is a mom of two and frequent contributor at Chicago Parent.

For more info

For a detailed look at the Common Core Standards at each grade level,

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