Vietnamese Parents Say They Support Common Core, But Don’t Understand It

Translated from Vietnamese.

Above: Parents turn out for an information night on Common Core at Leland High School in San Jose. (April 6, 2015. Credit: Giang Phan)

SAN JOSE, Calif. – San Jose resident Ha Hoang’s two children attend Summerdale Elementary, part of the Berryessa Union Elementary school district. Hoang says the school has worked hard to inform parents about the changes that have come as a result of Common Core.

The school has hosted conferences, and provided bi-lingual materials and interpreters for non-English speaking parents, she said, adding that she is generally supportive of the shift to the new standards – even if she doesn’t quite know what it all means.

Asian students make up the majority – 44 percent – at Summerdale, followed by Hispanics. Nearly half are classified English Learners.

Like many parents in San Jose’s sizable Vietnamese community, Hoang says that while she’s been given ample information on the standards, adopted by California and 42 other states, much of it has been too general or vague for her to really understand.

This year marks the first full year of Common Core instruction in public schools across the state. Beginning in April students began taking the new computer-based Smarter Balanced assessment, an end-of-year standardized test measuring their progress under the new standards.

Educators anticipate a decline in scores from the previous California Standardized Test, a fact that could raise alarm bells among some parents in the Vietnamese community.

Kim Anh Nguyen’s son attends Quimby Oak Middle School, which also has a high percentage of students from Vietnamese and other Asian backgrounds. She says the school has provided little information on the standards or the assessment to parents. What little has been provided has usually come from the teachers.

She says she tried going to the district site for more information but found it confusing.

Ha says she welcomes the emphasis on critical thinking and reasoning that comes with Common Core, but worries about the increased amount of homework that she sees being assigned. She notes that what little time she once had to play with her two young kids is now more and more being devoted to completing assignments.

Other parents interviewed for this story echoed those concerns, adding that the work being assigned seemed beyond the ability of their children. Many also worried their lack of fluency in English hampered their ability to help.

Khoa Tran moved with his family from Vietnam to San Jose several years ago. He says the only way he knows how to help his daughter, currently in tenth grade, is to provide for her basic needs and make sure she stays on top of her work.

Asked how much he knows of the new standards, he shrugged and admitted not much, adding that for him and his wife, test scores are the sole measure of academic success.

That is the reality for many Vietnamese Americans in Bay area. Working hard and with limited English ability, expectations of academic success for their children remain high. Helping them understand how they can better support those aims amid the changes now under way in U.S. classrooms is a challenge schools and districts are contending with.

Both Ha and Anh say they spend as much time as possible getting involved with their kids learning, doing homework, reading books together, and often communicating with teachers. But they agree that schools need to do more, particularly for immigrant communities with limited English skills, to help parents better understand and practice using Common Core concepts at home with their children.

This story was produced in collaboration with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and New America Media as part of a series looking at Common Core in Silicon Valley.
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