What does Common Core really mean?

As an educator, I'm frequently asked about the impact of Common Core State Standards on our students so I know that a lot of you have questions.

General Information

Florida adopted Common Core Standards in 2010 with strong backing from former Governor Jeb Bush, but the future of the program is uncertain because some groups are arguing that Common Core Standards represent federal intervention in local school matters so they are pressuring Governor Scott and local lawmakers to abandon the program. The state will decide on the new testing plans for the standards by March of 2014.

What is the Common Core initiative?

The Common Core initiative is a state led effort to establish a set of educational standards in English Language Arts and Math for kindergarten through 12th grade that states can voluntarily adopt. These standards are clear and concise because there is an understanding of the expectations for reading, writing, speaking, listening, language and math.

Why is Common Core important?

This program will enable collaboration between states in the development of textbooks, media, and other teaching materials. It is also designed to measure student performance with assessments that replace existing measurements. The new assessments will be available in the 2014-2015 school year.

What does Common Core mean for students?

The standards will provide clarity, and consistency in what is expected of all students across the country.

What is included in the English standards?

English Language Arts standards include classic myths and stories from around the world, America's Founding Documents, American Literature, and Shakespeare.

What is included in the Math Standards?

Whole numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, and decimals. After mastering these concepts, students will have the ability to learn and apply more demanding math concepts and procedures.

Since Florida has adopted the Common Core Standard and is attempting to implement the program throughout the state; parents, teachers, and administrators need to be on the same page. It takes time and patience to initiate new programs, but do our children really have the time to "wait and see"? What do you think?

Mastering the Application Essay: Summer Tutoring for College Applicants

Many of the better colleges report that a well-written essay can be the determining factor when GPA and standardized test results are too close to call, but meeting the essay requirements can be an especially daunting part of the college application process. Even the best students find themselves staring at a blank screen wondering: "What do they want?", "What can I say?", "How do I start?"

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education reminds us that "essay requirements are a crucial part of the admissions narrative." The majority of colleges rank the personal essays as having "considerate to moderate" importance in determining the success of an application and, the most recent figures from the National Association for College Admission Counseling, show a 12% rise in the number of colleges that assign a lot of importance to application essays.

When you add to this the fact that the 2013 Common Application has new essay prompts, new word-count requirements (250 min. to 650 max.), and new technology that restricts the number of words a students can upload to the "essay window", it becomes clear just how important a head start and the help of a qualified mentor can be in your child's bid for college acceptance.

As New York Times higher education reporter, Tanya Abrams, notes in her college admissions blog, The Choice, "Savvy juniors [soon to be seniors] know that the earlier a college applicant starts drafting his or her essay, the more prepared they are." We all know how busy students (and their parents) get in the fall when school is in full swing; this makes summertime the perfect time to get a jump on the process.

SERC offers one-on-one tutoring sessions with Dr. Karen Connolly-Lane, a college composition and literature teacher with over 20 years of experience helping students to produce clear and expressive writing. These sessions use brainstorming, drafting, and revision to help your child really "read" the essay question and understand the mission of the target school.

Your child will walk away from these sessions with a skillfully-written, submission-ready essay that can make the difference in his or her bid for college admission.

Summer Vacation: Dreams and Disasters

The obvious advantage of summer vacation is "No School"; this means no stress, no homework, no set bedtime, lots of PC Gaming, and many outside activities. The bad things about summer include mosquitoes, oppressive heat, no set activities, fewer friends around, and boredom, but even worse, summertime lacks a set learning time.

With the end of the school year around the corner, this is the right the time to start planning for educational programs that are essential for most students. Summer programs help students enhance reading and math skills, and help prevent summer "slip-away".

Many experts believe that, with long summer months away from formal education, students regress in learning. In my experience as an educator, students use the first two months of the school year to catch up and hone skills lost during the summer.

Many parents are convinced that classes during the summer are unnecessary because "kids need a break", but three months is too long of a break. Summer is actually a great time to learn, children are relaxed, more receptive, and eager to learn so they achieve excellent progress when enrolled in remediation or enhancement programs.

During the summer, our staff provides the same comprehensive help for reading, writing and math, as well as FCAT and SAT/ACT Preparation Courses, College Application and Essay Writing, and Brain Training Courses such as C-BAT and PACE.

Just sixty minutes a week in a professional setting can make a huge difference.

RACE TO NOWHERE: The Dark Side of America's Achievement Culture

A few years ago I was invited to watch a documentary film directed by Vicki Abeles entitled, Race to Nowhere, The Dark Side of America’s Achievement Culture. This film may just be the most popular documentary in America without a distribution contract. Parents and students are watching the film in schools and community centers, and there have been more the 1,700 screenings in 47 states and 20 countries.

The film raises issues about the pressures that students in college oriented homes face. It suggests that that the amount of homework these students are given is overwhelming and it places some of the blame on the demands of Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Abeles advocates that a more authentic curriculum and imaginative teaching are the key to a good education.

Jay Mathews, an educational columnist for the Washington Post, disagrees with the premise of the film. He claims that high school students, on average, are not doing enough homework. Mathews cites research collected by the University of Michigan which shows that 15 to 17 year old students devote about 3½ hours a day to TV and only about 45 minutes to homework.

Some critics of the film suggests that the producers place undue blame on No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and standardized testing. Others simply state that, if a student wants a spot in a good school, they have to push themselves, not only academically, but they must participate in sports, arts, and community service.

Although homework is generally believed to be an important part of scholastic success, the research does not clarify the link between homework and achievement.

We want to know what you think. Do you feel that your children are being pushed to the brink and not able to enjoy the experience of school or do you think they are putting forth the minimum effort possible and won’t be able to succeed in life?

The Effects of Retention

Retention refers “holding back” a student in his or her grade. This trend of “failing” students is linked to standardized grade level tests used to determine which students are promoted and which are held back. The recommendation for retention frequently occurs when children fail to meet standards set by the state, when they are deemed socially immature, or when they display occasional behavioral problems.

Research shows that grade retention is not likely to enhance learning or address the problem. Achievement gains resulting from retention have been shown to decline within 2 to 3 years of retention. When faced with a recommendation of retention, the task is not to retain the child but rather to decide which intervention strategies will enhance the development of the child and promote their success at school.

Failed students are more likely to dislike school, have poor interactions with peers, experience behavioral problems and low self-esteem. Retained students are 5 to 10 times more likely to drop out of high school. For most students, retention has a negative impact on all areas of achievement. It is important for parents and educational professionals to work together to spare children the feelings of failure associated with retention.

Parents can help their children by providing teachers insight into their child’s learning. The most important part of this process is to be your child’s advocate and fight for what you think is the best for your child.

The Key Factor

The college application essay is a key factor in a College’s admissions decision. A well written essay can be the determining factor when GPA and standardized test results are too close to call.

Don’t wait until the fall semester is in full swing, this summer is the perfect time to equip your high school senior with the tools he or she needs to write the kind of application essay that can help them get into the right college.

Barnes & Noble Summer Reading Program

Don’t let the learning stop this summer! The summer is a great time for many different learning opportunities. Participating in a program like the Barnes & Noble Summer Reading Program is a fun and easy way for your child to earn free books while preventing summer learning loss.

Helping Your Child

Helping your child identify and master the key elements of a successful college application essay like how to really “read” the essay question and how to understand the mission of the target school in order to develop a unique and skillful essay can determine whether your child gets into his or her first choice.

Pretzels and Praise

About ten years ago I started to write a book about my teaching experiences and after much thought I titled it "Pretzels and Praise". It was never finished but I remember how proud I was of the work I had accomplished.

Time continues to march on and the children that come through the office door remain the same with the same basic problems. They can't concentrate, can't remember, can't put sounds together to form words, and are utterly defeated. Their parents are distraught and feel guilty and responsible for the failures of their children.

Let's stop and ask ourself why our children struggle. Then let's ask how we can help them. No matter what kind of challenges they face, they can succeed. Our children are with us for such a short a time. Let's make sure we support them emotionally even if it is as simple as pretzels and praise.