Common Core @ Home: ELA - How can I find out more about the Common Core curriculum?

Part Seven of a continuing series

Kiersten Greene, PhD, is an assistant professor of literacy education at SUNY New Paltz. She was born in the Hudson Valley, and recently returned to the region after living in New York City for 15 years, where she taught 5th grade. When she’s not reading, writing, or teaching, you can find her knitting.

Do you have a homework question for Kiersten? Submit your question here. 

Dear Kiersten,  My 3rd grader is heading back to school next week. How can I find out more about the Common Core curriculum?

First of all, what an exciting year 3rd grade can be! The learning curve is literally vertical at this stage. I taught 3rd grade for a year, and remember marveling at the great distance my students traveled from September to June—it was truly remarkable to watch their abilities and inquiries grow in leaps and bounds.

As you begin exploring the curricular requirements for your 3rd grader, it’s important to keep something in mind: despite what you may have heard, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are not a curriculum. It’s up to schools and districts to decide how the CCSS will be met.

You might have heard about the Core KnowledgeLanguage Arts Program (CKLA) or Expeditionary Learning (EL) curriculum modules (termed just “the modules” for short by many New York State educators). CKLA is geared toward grades K-2, and EL targets elementary and middle school (and there are plans to develop materials for high school as well).

Many schools throughout New York State have adopted CKLA and EL. Unfortunately, while they’re not meant to be a script (as clearly stated on the EL website), they’re being implemented as such at many schools. The existence of these curricula—and the reliance on them by many schools—has made it seem like there is such a thing as a “Common Core curriculum” when, in reality, there is not.

As a teacher educator, it makes me cringe: there’s no one-size-fits-all curriculum at any grade level.

So while I can’t tell you exactly what will be taught at your child’s school this fall, I can give you some tips for gaining a better understanding of what’s expected:

Know the approach. Check out the school website if there is one, and see if there are any links to curriculum. Inquire with your kiddo’s teacher at the beginning of the year to see if there is a curriculum program in place, and how it was developed. If teachers don’t have input, don’t hesitate to ask why.

Check out engageNY. A growing number of resources have been collected at engageny.org—for parents, teachers, and school leaders. Look around the website and see what questions come up about what’s being taught and how.

Understand your rights when it comes to testing. There’s a lot of pressure on children these days when it comes to testing. You and your child have the right to opt out of the state tests if you’re not interested in participating.

Get to know the CCSS. You can download a copy of the CCSS here. While it won’t tell you how your child will learn the skills listed, you can get a pretty good sense of what your child will be expected to know by the end of 3rd grade.

Read more answers to Common Core questions