By Theo Helm, Director of Marketing and Communications, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools

(From Katie) ~ These days, it’s rare a week goes by that I don’t hear a comment from another parent about Common Core curriculum or see something posted in my Facebook news feed about it. I hear and read everything from frustration, to doubt (parents comparing these new standards to how they learned English/Language Arts and Math 30+ years ago) to compliments on how this new way of learning is ideal.  And it’s not just here in the Triad, but from friends all across the country. In response to this, I asked Theo Helm to craft a a “lesson” about Common Core for TMoM readers that could help debunk myths and offer basic explanations. Below is his Q&A. We’d love for you to chime in with your comments, concerns, praises – and Theo is on-hand to answer your questions. Let’s use today’s post as an interactive sound board. Tell us what you think, and about your experiences thus far with Common Core.

What are the Common Core State Standards?
They are standards for what students should learn in English/Language Arts and Math from kindergarten through 12th grade. Each year’s standards build on the previous year’s, with the goal of making sure that students graduate from high school ready for a career or to go to college.

Didn’t we have standards before last year?
North Carolina has had standards for many years, but these are standards adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. Having similar standards across the country helps students be competitive nationally when they graduate from high school.

What about the subjects other than English/Language Arts?
North Carolina uses the Essential Standards in all other subjects. These are state standards that were used for the first time last year. They were written by North Carolina teachers, university professors and business leaders.

Who created the Common Core State Standards?
The standards grew out of conversations between state superintendents and governors across the country. These state leaders felt that they should work together on standards in these two subjects that are taught everywhere. The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers worked with education experts and experts in English/Language Arts to create the standards. The U.S. Department of Education endorsed the standards after the states developed them.

So this is a national curriculum?
No. The Common Core State Standards are not a curriculum at all – they’re standards. They say what students should know at the end of each grade, not how teachers should teach. Teachers and schools still have the freedom and flexibility to be creative and teach the way they think is most effective for their students.

How are the new standards different?
They are aligned with current college and work expectations, and they are benchmarked against international standards. They focus on higher-order skills such as critical thinking and problem solving so that students understand how they got to an answer, rather than rote memorization.

The standards are also more rigorous than what North Carolina has used in the past. Students are required to know more. For that reason, you’ll see test scores drop when they are released on Nov. 7. It doesn’t mean that students are learning less. It means that we’re expecting more from students. Think of an Olympic athlete. A gold-medal winning sprinter’s time from 1960 would be far slower than last year’s winner. The standard for elite performance has increased in athletics, and it has in schools, too.

Why the need for a tougher standard? Why do younger students need to think critically about something like math? Math facts seem the same as when I was in school.
Yes, math facts like “2+2=4” or “3×3=9” will always be true, and they remain part of the curriculum. But the world is changing, and we need to prepare students for the future and not the past. Students have to be ready to enter a world that we can’t predict, and higher-order skills are a necessity. Explaining how you get to an answer enhances those skills. And because the Common Core State Standards are like a staircase, building one year on top of the next, it’s important to teach even our youngest students how to think critically.

I’m still not sure what to think. What should I do?
Two suggestions. First, read the standards and see what exactly is expected of students. You can find them at Second, talk to your child’s teacher or principal. They can also answer your questions.

Did today’s post help you? Do you have additional questions? If so, leave a comment below and Theo will try and answer you within 24 hours.