GREENMOUNT — Rene' Naylor was furious. For months, she struggled every evening with her son Philip, 12, sitting at the dining room table trying to help him with homework. The results often were yelling matches that ended in tears.
"'Come on, why don't you understand this, you were in school all day' is what I would say to him," Naylor said in a recent interview inside her Greenmount home.
Three years prior, when Phillip was a fourth-grader, Naylor said she began noticing a change in his performance in school. Before then, Phillip was an A-plus student, his mother said.
After having a "phenomenal year," Naylor's son began to struggle in classes, often returning home from school stressed out, she said.
Looking back at when her son first began struggling in school, Naylor said, she can only attribute his stress and lack of understanding to the 2010 statewide adoption of the new educational mathematics and English/language arts standards, Common Core.
Naylor has two older daughters who had successfully matriculated through the Carroll County Public School system, as she had. Naylor's youngest child, however, was struggling in classes, particularly in his favorite subject, math, one of the subjects school officials say changed the most under the new standards.
"He went to the same school I did; I loved that school," Naylor said. "But, I just couldn't continue to watch him struggle and regress."
On a Wednesday last March, Naylor decided she had enough. She drove to the Carroll County Public Schools headquarters in Westminster and withdrew her son from North Carroll Middle School.
"I didn't really have a plan," Naylor said. "But Philip kept asking to be home schooled and my husband supported it."
Naylor is not the only parent in county, or the country, frustrated with the implementation of Common Core and its impact on their children's education. Parents and policy makers across the nation are calling for a repeal of the standards. Bills were introduced during the 2013 session of the Maryland General Assembly to halt implementation in Maryland, but many of those bills did not make it through committee.
Naylor's decision to home school her son, however, does not appear to be a typical expression of frustration over the Common Core. Carroll County school system administrators say they have not become aware of a mass exodus involving parents pulling their children from the school system because of Common Core.
Public school officials, however, say they are aware of the concerns and frustrations expressed by parents.
"But regardless of what leads to a parents concern or frustration, they should feel free to contact the teacher or principal or both and have some important conversations," Margaret Plaff, director of curriculum for the county school system, said.
Plaff urges parents to get as much information as possible before deciding to pull a child out of the public school system.
When Common Core was adopted in Maryland in 2010, Carroll public school officials spent the following year doing an analysis to determine what adjustments needed to be made to the existing curriculum, Steve Johnson, assistant superintendent, said.
Carroll schools established a curriculum transition plan for both math and English/English language arts.
"Math at the elementary level seems to be the biggest shift in curriculum expectations," Johnson said.
Carroll County Public Schools began implementing the Common Core standards at the kindergarten and first-grade levels in the 2011-2012 school year. In 2012-2013, pre-kindergarten, second and third grade began transitioning. By the 2013-2014 school year, fourth to eighth grades were implementing the Common Core standards in mathematics.
Secondary schools in Carroll began transitioning to Common Core math in the 2012-2013 school year and that curriculum will be fully implemented by 2014-2015, according to data provided by the school system.
"The philosophy is to build understanding of the math, not just memorizing," Johnson said. "The one way of doing things fits nicely for a lot of kids, but not all kids.
According to Plaff, there was also a huge shift at the high school level in English, as the school system moved to the new standards.
Previously, high school students had a choice of several English courses, such as journalistic writing, public speaking, multicultural literature, mythology and mystery and detective fiction.
Plaff said those options do not align with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers assessment, which correlates with the Common Core standards.
A traditional English course had to be developed and implemented at every grade in Carroll's high schools to ensure students were receiving the material that was being tested for on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Colleges and Careers assessment, Plaff said. All other English courses would be treated as electives, she said.
Johnson said he invites parents concerned about the Common Core standards to take a look at the school's curriculum. There's a lot of information available online about what Common Core is, he said, but a lot of the concerns can be justified.
"The curriculum is transparent; we don't hide anything," Johnson said.
Johnson said, parents should understand Common Core is not a curriculum, but rather a set of standards the curriculum is based on.
"We don't have a curriculum that is dictated that you must teach this, this way on that day," Johnson said, "Teachers have a lot of academic freedom."
Johnson acknowledged criticism from parents that there was no major announcement made about the adoption of Common Core is valid.
"It was not intentional or because we are hiding something," Johnson said. "But, we try hard at the beginning of any new unit to send something to let parents know what to expect as we adjust the curriculum."
Parents receive a newsletter at the beginning of each new unit which explains the objectives for the unit, what students will learn during the unit, how parents can help, links with background information and examples, and key vocabulary.
The Carroll public school system has also set up a series of online videos accessible from the district's website to help parents understand Common Core and give them examples of new teaching methods their children will be exposed to in their schooling.
"That's another excellent resource for parents," said Plaff. "They are short, direct and to the point in terms of the model that is provided."
Principals also sent out newsletters with information regarding updates, Plaff said.
But most of the information announcing changes in curriculum was shared in-person through back-to-school nights or parent-teacher conferences.
"I can't imagine that a parent would not have some sense that there has been some curriculum changes over the course of the years," Plaff said.
But, Plaff agreed the Common Core standards require a shift in learning style for students.
According to Plaff, over the decades students were taught to do things a certain way, which makes sense to them.
"Our nature intuitively, we want to help [our kids] learn it the way we learned it," said Plaff.
But, Plaff said that way often hinders students from truly understanding the material; rather it promotes memorizing a method of completing the problem. She said Common Core is about building conceptual understanding from a younger age.
She encourages parents to review all resources provided to help them understand changes in their children's work, so they can help in the learning process.
Hoping for results
For Naylor, pulling Philip out of school was necessary because the "new" way was not working for her son.
Naylor said she would have Philip show her the method his teachers taught him to complete math problems, such as a complex multiplication problem with numbers that have multiple place values.
Instead of memorizing the multiplication facts, Philip was taught to break the multiplication problem into a graph and use addition values to solve the problem.
"I picture him as a man standing in line at a bank trying to get a bank deposit together — does he need a long piece of paper to do the math?" Naylor said.
Naylor said she understands not every child in Carroll schools will have issues with Common Core.
"Maybe they can think outside the box," she said. "But, Philip doesn't think in abstract."
A guest bedroom in the Naylor home has been rearranged into a classroom since Philip was pulled out of school.
There's a white board on one of the walls with a timeline of history. Mesozoic Era, Triassic Era, Jurassic and Cretaceous Era are written across it.
Hanging from another wall is a science project from last school year. For the assignment, Naylor had Philip cut out shapes and identify the planets in the solar system.
Unit tests on the solar system and constellations sit on a table in the center of the makeshift classroom, alongside textbooks Naylor picked up at a Catholic-based home school fair in Pennsylvania.
When Naylor pulled her son out of school, she said she had no supplies or workbooks. The first weekend, she went to a local store and purchased several grade level books in various subjects to teach her son.
Over time, Naylor said she has spent several thousand dollars on materials to home school her son. She has applied for assistance through the Carroll County Education Fund.
The county commissioners approved the controversial fund last May, allocating $400,000 of a fiscal year 2013 surplus to support and enhance opportunities for non-public school children by reimbursing parents for purchasing educational materials.
While Naylor said she thinks home schooling is the only option for her son right now, she is not completely happy about it.
"I am angry I had to do this," Naylor said. "I've been a hairstylist for 33 years, that's my chosen profession. I just had to pull him out. I just had to save him."