LI parents discuss Common Core challenges

Martha Moreno, 42, of Massapequa, and her son Martha Moreno, 42, of Massapequa, and her son Luis, 6, attend an interactive workshop at Northwest Elementary School in Amityville, aimed at calming parents' concerns about Common Core standards. (Nov. 7, 2013) Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

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Parents across Long Island are learning Common Core to help their schoolchildren grasp the contentious curriculum. Along the way, they encounter frustration and anxiety. Here are some of their stories:

AMITYVILLE SCHOOL DISTRICT

Massapequa resident Martha Moreno, 42, a native of Ecuador, said she attended the Amityville school district's workshop to learn more about helping her son, Luís, who is in first grade and struggling with reading.

"He has the perfect English, so he doesn't need the ESL assistance, but he's a little lazy for reading," she said. "He doesn't have interest in the reading in English, because we're talking Spanish in the home."

Moreno has her own learning curve where English is concerned. She occasionally uses a cellphone application that says English words aloud.

"If I teach my son, my English may confuse him," she said. "I told the teacher, 'What do I need to do to get the extra help for him?' "

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After the workshop, Northwest Elementary School began offering weekly reading assistance, and Luís went every Wednesday for an hour before school started.

Moreno, who checks out library books to learn more English and grammar, said she and her son often read and spell together.

"He's reading for me. I'm reading for him," she said. "He says, 'Mommy, spell for me "love." ' We practice."

Math has proved easier. Moreno said her son "knows the addition and subtraction very fast."

"For example . . . in subtraction he has 3 minus 2 is 1," she said. "It's not just to learn about the numbers, but to think about why you get these numbers. The question is 'Why?' He says, 'Mommy, I show you.' "

KINGS PARK SCHOOL DISTRICT

Debbie Danley sees the difference in her daughter, 8, compared with her two sons in the sixth and 10th grades.

Curricula tied to the Common Core standards have been implemented "fast and furious," said Danley, 38, of Kings Park, leading to ample frustration at home for her third-grader.

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"You get these lessons and they tell the parents the children have to now 'close read.' I didn't understand what 'close read' was, so I asked," she said. "The answer was to read thoroughly and to look for evidence within the text. . . . Children have always been encouraged to read thoroughly."

Danley said terms such as "evidence markers" are unnecessarily complex. "I just learned that evidence markers are Post-its. Why call it an evidence marker? Just call it a Post-it."

The curriculum's impact on young children's confidence is a concern for Danley, who uses positive reinforcement at home with her daughter.

When she doesn't understand something, "I break it down the old-fashioned way and she gets it," Danley said. "My fear is that our very young learners are not going to embrace their school years; they're going to dread them early on and it's hard to recapture the opportunity."

Danley, who helped form a new parent group, Kings Park Advocates for Education, said she and others believe the curriculum is "developmentally inappropriate" for young students.

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"Right now our first-graders are doing a unit on Mesopotamia, and this unit has been set forth by the state Education Department in one of their modules," she said. "These young learners don't yet know about their own town in Kings Park, or their heritage, or religion, and yet they're expected to learn about the Euphrates and the Tigris rivers. What about the Nissequogue River?"

LINDENHURST SCHOOL DISTRICT

Sean Hendrickson of Lindenhurst said his first-grade daughter's experience this school year has been markedly different from her time in kindergarten.

Last year, "she couldn't wait to get to school. She was always first at the bus stop and first in line, first on the bus. Loved it," said the father, whose two other daughters are in the sixth and eighth grades. "Read books. Kindergarten -- I had her reading.

"This year, doesn't like school, throws up every morning before school. Every single morning, it's consistent," he said. "Doesn't want to do the extra work, having a hard time with the math, having a hard time with the literature."

Hendrickson said he has had to patiently hold his daughter's hand to get through homework time, particularly with math problems that can require students to use multiple techniques to arrive at an answer, plus show their work.

"Learning multiple methodologies is a great thing for the kids, but let the kid grab onto the one that they hold that works for them, and let them use that to get to the answer. We're not doing that with Common Core," he said. "It's frustrating and it's shutting her down. She says, 'Daddy, I can do it this way. I can't do it this way.' "

Hendrickson said he plans to use Post-its -- an English language arts tool that was suggested at a parents workshop -- to flag difficult words or return to concepts in a story "so maybe I can guide her a little bit better."

PLAINVIEW-OLD BETHPAGE SCHOOL DISTRICT

The method of teaching math under the Common Core academic standards is what concerns Wendy Bernstein, who has a son in first grade and has worked as a first-grade teacher.

"I've never encountered so much reading of the math so early in the school year," said Bernstein, 39, of Old Bethpage. "Even on a skill that's less of the mental math, that's less of the problem-solving, it's still so much reading just to get to what they're asking you to do, or to show you the work, that he gets frustrated on the reading part."

During the first few weeks of school, Bernstein said, it was "a big struggle" for her son to understand when the answer of a sum was presented first in an equation, followed by an equal sign.

"I'm sure in another month from now if I show it to him again, he probably will get it," she said.

Bernstein said she took away a few tips from a parent workshop, including one about working with young children on homework. "If you're anxious about it, they're going to be anxious about it," she said.

An earlier version of this story misidentified where Wendy Bernstein, a parent who attended a Common Core workshop in the Plainview-Old Bethpage school district, lives. Bernstein is from Old Bethpage.

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