Silence the Parents or Embrace an Opportunity?

Silence the Parents or Embrace an Opportunity?

I’ve seen this article popping up on my newsfeed tonight.  It’s spreading rapidly amongst my teacher friends.

The gist of the article is this: The author, mathematics teacher Christopher Danielson, requests parents stop sharing examples of “new common core” homework that confuse kids and adults alike.  You know the ones I mean because he’s right-the “nonsensical” homework gets shared on Facebook.

Danielson gives 5 reasons parents should stop sharing their homework woes (more on this later):

  1. Parents’ credentials do not give them the right to comment on what a teacher does-especially if he/she is not a teacher (since a teacher is highly trained to teach, but a parent is not highly trained to teach).
  2. Parents are misinterpreting the homework and oftentimes over-reacting out of frustration.
  3. The homework is not the fault of “common core”
  4. Anecdotal evidence from parents is not research data
  5. Teachers need support not scorn

Danielson also implores us to, “…ask critical questions…” before we re-post, share, or like that example of homework.  So before I shared the article, I took some time to think and write about the message he sends and why my colleagues are so quick to support it.  Here’s where I’ve gotten so far.

My best guess as to why so many of my colleagues are sharing this article is because they are honest, highly educated, dedicated people who want kids to succeed.  My colleagues know that there are many awesome strategies for teaching and learning math–what works for one student may or may not work best for another.  If I put myself in other teachers’ shoes, I would surmise that they are concerned that amidst the ‘homework bashing’, good teaching strategies will be ignored, forgotten, and written off when in reality, they help students learn.  I can’t tell you how many parents have ranted to me about tape diagrams, but I have seen them work wonderfully as a visual representation for solving algebraic equations.

I think my colleague’s intentions are good.

I wonder, though, how many of them stopped to take the author’s advice by asking critical questions of what he wrote. Honestly, I hope that few of them did stop to think because as an educator I find it very difficult to support his position that parents should stay silent.  I like to hear from parents of my students and welcome their comments as it allows me an opportunity to help their child succeed.  Though highly trained, I’m not perfect and my teaching can always improve.

Most of all, as a parent I am aghast that my children’s teachers would rather silence me than listen just because the message might be difficult to hear.

I did what Danielson requested.  I stopped.  I thought.  I questioned.  And I’m not done.  So far, the following are questions I’d ask to teachers who wish parents would just stop sharing those common core math questions!

Reason 1.  Parents’ credentials do not give them the right to comment on what a teacher does-especially if he/she is not a teacher (since a teacher is highly trained to teach, but a parent is not highly trained to teach).

Was it your intent to perpetuate the author’s insulting tone towards parents?

Regardless, do you realize that in reposting this article you have marginalized an important parent (and student) population in your classroom?

Do you realize the implications of ignoring the perspectives, questions or needs of parents (and their children) on your classroom and school community?

Do you subscribe to the idea of “Because I’m the teacher, that’s why.”  If so, does this apply to the students in the classroom, the interactions with their parents, or both?

Do you ignore the opportunity to work with highly trained professionals in your community simply because he/she is not an educator?  In other words, do you ignore the possibility that a parent might have information, ideas, and knowledge to offer you and your students to help you improve?


Reason 2.  Parents are misinterpreting the homework and oftentimes over-reacting out of frustration.  

Did you forget that a parent is taking the time to do homework with their child?!?!  Why aren’t we celebrating this?!

Are you unwilling to take the time to dialogue with parents to help them understand the intent behind homework (more on homework below)

Is it possible that the homework is not being misinterpreted but is poorly designed, redundant, or of little significance to the child?


Reason 3.  The homework is not the fault of “common core”

If the source of the frustration is a (real or perceived) shift to common core, why did we feel we needed to make that shift?

If the homework has nothing to do with common core then why does the parent think it does?

Was the homework produced by the teacher or a corporation offering CC aligned curriculum?

Was the homework assigned for a meaningful purpose?  If so, what was the purpose?  Was it clear?

What benefit does the child receive from doing the homework using this particular algorithm?

What are the consequences of not using this algorithm?

What are the consequences of not doing the homework?

Is there a test on which the student must complete this algorithm?  What are the consequences of this test?

Have you read any research that supports the idea that homework helps students learn? (I haven’t.  In fact, I’ve read that the effectiveness of homework is quite unclear here here and here just to name a few)


Reason 4.  Anecdotal evidence from parents is not research data

Can you please point me towards data that shows that the “new common core way” is superior to the “old way”?

Can you please point me towards data that shows that this particular algorithm is better than another method, or that the student must understand this algorithm in order to be successful?

What data was used to determine that this homework was appropriate for this student at this given point in time?  Or, a better question might be, “Why was this particular assignment given to this particular student-what was the goal?”

Did you take the time to research the author?

*If not, are you aware that the author of this blog has also authored several books (here and here), at least one of which he will personally profit from if “new common core math” stays around?

Did you take the time to read the research Danielson posted to support the notion that the “old way” was no good?

*If not, please note that he cites the summary of a 1999 book by Stigler and Hiebert.  It’s interesting to note that Stigler is currently staff with the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, a very pro-reform organization.

*Also, you may be interested to read more on common core (and how it’s not really) ‘superior’ here.


Reason 5.  Teachers need support not scorn

Do you interpret parent questions as scorn?

Do you feel a parent should not advocate for his child as he sees fit?

Can a parent disagree with an assignment, algorithm, or with you, or will you interpret that as scorn?


Colleagues.  Teachers.  Fellow parents.  I expect better of you.  We have lost our way if we are supporting blogs that imply parents should shut the heck up and keep their opinions to themselves.  The issue here for me is not common core vs old school-we can take that one on another night.  The issue here is one of respect-specifically a lack of respect for parents.  Every time you see a post about homework don’t groan and roll your eyes-see it as an opportunity.  LISTEN to what parents are saying.  Learn from them.  Ask questions.  Seek to understand their frustration.  Work together.

Why?  Because for our students to succeed, we need parents to feel supported and not scorned.

Consider the thoughts of Dr. Robert Brooks, a psychologist and truly “charismatic adult” I had the pleasure of hearing speak at the beginning of the school year.  “To believe that something is not working or is ineffective in our personal and professional lives, we must ask, “What is it that I can do differently to change the situation?” rather than wait for others to change first.”

Posting a blog asking parents to “stop posting about homework” does nothing to change the situation.  And so my final question to Mr. Danielson and to the many teachers who posted his blog is as follows:

“What is it that you can do to change the situation rather than ignore it by asking for silence?”

Silence the Parents or Embrace an Opportunity?