Communicate now about Common Core

by Laurie Weidner, APR, M.A., Sr. Director of Communications

With the governor’s announcement in the May Revision about potentially directing $1 billion to support the implementation of Common Core State Standards, the buzz is beginning about Common Core among the general public, parents and those who look for reasons to point to the failure of our public schools. Do you have a communications plan in place to communicate to your parents and constituents about Common Core?

Regardless of where your district is in the planning phases for the implementation of Common Core, we hope you will make a commitment to educating your parents and other school district stakeholders about Common Core – what it is, why it is important for the children of your community and the future of our state. With some districts already dismissed for summer break – and others doing so in the next few weeks – summer is the ideal time to begin to strategize as a governance team about your Common Core communications plan. Here are some quick tips.

1)      Continue to educate yourself about Common Core and Smarter Balance

CSBA’s pending June 19 webcast on Common Core, the Governing to the Core policy briefs, and articles from the spring issue of California Schools magazine are excellent sources to keep apprised of Common Core implementation issues and developments. California Schools magazine also includes a list of websites that you may want to bookmark and reference. Remember – information is powerful and empowering. The more you know about Common Core and how it will impact your local students, the more effectively you’ll be able to communicate about Common Core and its importance to your community.

2)    Keep messaging simple

Educators do a masterful job of making communication too complicated for parents and non-educators by using education lingo, jargon and too much data. Sample messages and many other resources about Common Core are available from the California Department of Education’s Common Core Web page. As a governance leader, you have the ability to lead and support constructive conversations about Common Core in your local community. As you identify where you may make public presentations regarding Common Core (such as to the local Chamber of Commerce, City Council, service clubs, MOPS and/or MOMs groups, etc.) with your superintendent and key district staff, be sure to carefully review all messaging to ensure it will be understandable by non-educators.

3)       Adjust your messaging to the audience

California State PTA and the CDE have produced excellent downloadable brochures and fact sheets for parents. Moreover, these resources are available in multiple languages. Encourage your superintendent to use these ready-made tools in your parent outreach and education efforts.

4)      Ensure your employees are knowledgeable

While you and the superintendent may be the official spokespersons for the district, every person who works for your district has the potential to either be a positive or negative spokesperson for not only your schools but public education. Ensuring that your employees are well informed is important because they have the potential to be public education champions. Encourage your superintendent to brief all staff – certificated and non-certificated – about Common Core: what it is, why it is important, and how it will be implemented in your district. You’ll be glad you did!

5)      Communicate proactively with parents

Common Core will change the delivery of instruction to students. You want your parents to be your partners in the implementation. What do they need to know now about Common Core? How will they need to work differently with their children once Common Core is implemented? How can you help them better understand the new Smarter Balance testing and the overlap that will occur next year in the STAR testing/Smarter Balance testing? Remember that your parents are your advocates. You want them serving as positive spokespersons in your community. The best way to do that is to be proactive when school resumes in the fall and to plan ahead with your parent councils about how, when and where to begin communication about Common Core. Encourage your superintendent to develop a plan that will integrate constructive Common Core messaging across all your communications channels from your district website and school site homepages to your district Facebook, Twitter, other social media sites, and through your district parent council and site PTA/PTSA groups.

6)      Squelch the negative rhetoric before it mushrooms

We are already beginning to see a groundswell of negative blog posts and media stories about Common Core. The concerns about Common Core are justified. The proposed $1 billion that may be directed to support the statewide implementation isn’t enough. In fact, CDE has estimated that our system needs at least $3.1 billion for full implementation. However, that said, even as the educational community has concerns (will we have the resources for teacher training, the acquisition of technology for testing, and more?), we should be engaging in an education process now about Common Core – its benefits and, yes, the obstacles to successful implementation. In this information age, information is both powerful and empowering. Informative, simple messaging and relevant data are the best way to squelch the naysayers. Common Core is being implemented by 44 other states. It is viewed as an important step toward global competitiveness.

As a governance leader, you can work with your superintendent to share details about Common Core with community leaders and business organizations, and as you do you should convey your concerns. Our communities need to understand that the resources are not there to fully implement Common Core. Thus, it’s important to keep that critical point visible. We’ll need your help and the public’s support to prioritize state funding to ensure successful implementation.

A communications plan and toolkit are available from CDE to get you started. CSBA will continue to provide you with tips and resources to support your communications efforts with parents and other local stakeholders.

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