For Chinese Parents, Traditional Methods Best Prep for Common Core

For Chinese Parents, Traditional Methods Best Prep for Common Core

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SAN JOSE, Calif. – Inside Benjamin Ellison’s 10th grade science class at Overfelt High School in east San Jose, students sit in groups discussing their most current project, which happens to be nuclear energy. Around them Ellison roams the aisles pushing, prompting and prodding the students to take their ideas ever further.

It’s as clear a picture as one can get of the change that has come with California’s adoption of the new Common Core Education Standards, which are intended to bring more rigor to English Language Arts and math but are in fact driving instructors in most subject areas to reorient.

Principal Vito Chiala says that since Overfelt began working with the new standards – which stress not so much getting the correct answer so much as understanding how one got there, and explaining that process – he’s seen an uptick in performance, particularly among traditionally lower-performing students.

But for many Chinese parents, the Common Core’s emphasis on comprehension over rote memorization hasn’t swayed them from what they see as more tried and true methods.

Cynthia Chang sits on the school board of the nearby Los Gatos-Saratoga Union Joint High School District, home to a sizable Chinese student population. She says despite the changes with Common Core, many in the community “still rely on approaches that largely stress memorization and test taking.” Chang adds many of the parents were educated this way when they were in school, meaning there’s a long-standing familiarity and trust attached to this way of learning.

“For [Chinese] parents, the best way to learn is to practice more and take more tests,” noted Chang.

Chinese students have also long excelled academically compared to other groups, leading some parents to question the need to depart from what has to date been working well for their community.

Sherry Wang is with the group Bay Echo, which works to enhance communications between local Chinese youth and their parents in the Bay Area. She says another troubling change for parents with the Common Core is that there’s “less homework that students bring home.”

Most of the practice that Chinese parents want to see being done is handled in class, she explains, which raises fears for some that “their kids’ grades may begin to slip.”

One response among parents has been to increase the amount of time spent in private cram-schools, many of which remain wedded to the traditional test-prep approach that educators say will be less effective once the new Common Core aligned assessments are rolled out this Spring.
The new tests will be computer-based and will require students to type out in writing how they arrived at their answers.

Still, there are those who welcome the change, seeing in the standards a chance to build lifelong skills that will serve their kids’ needs beyond just the classroom.

“Common Core lays the foundation for future employment,” said one father employed in the local tech industry who declined to give his name. “Students learn an array of skills, including communication, time management, project management, public speaking and leadership. Those are the skills they will need to compete in the future.”

This story was produced as part of the Informed Communities Education Reporting Fellowship, a partnership between New America Media and the Silicon Valley Foundation.