Question: Our state has adopted something called the Common Core State Standards. What is the purpose of these standards? Who created them? What subjects are included in these standards? How will they affect what is taught in the classroom?

-- Want to Know

Answer: The purpose of the standards is to get every child in grades K through 12 ready for college and the workforce. The standards tell exactly what essential knowledge and skills students should have acquired at the end of each grade level no matter where they live. Don't think of them, however, as a statement of all that can and should be taught. States, districts and schools are free to add more content. Furthermore, the standards do not dictate how teachers are to teach, but they are going to require new teaching styles.

It is important to understand that these standards were a multi-state effort that was coordinated by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. It is not mandatory for states to adopt these standards; however, most have done so since they were developed in 2010 by teachers, school administrators and experts.

The Common Core State Standards are for math and English-language arts. You can definitely expect them to be part of new textbooks and standardized assessment tests in the coming years. These standards are likely to affect how many things will be taught in the classroom. It is expected that spelling will receive a lot less emphasis, cursive handwriting is likely to disappear and less time will be spent on drill in math and memorizing facts. The emphasis is going to be on critical thinking, rather than repetition and rote learning. Plus, your children are probably going to spend more time working on projects and in teams to solve problems.

You can find out even more about the Common Core State Standards online at corestandards.org.

Question: My daughter is already under water in eighth-grade algebra. She says that algebra is the toughest course that she has ever taken. Unfortunately, I simply don't have the skills to help her, as I just squeaked by in algebra in high school. What can be done to turn things around?

-- Severely Challenged in Math

Answer: You and your daughter need to talk to the algebra teacher immediately. The teacher should have a good idea if your child can handle algebra with the help available at the school, by a tutor or at a learning center. If it appears likely that your daughter is going to struggle and not gain the solid mastery of algebra that she needs for future math courses, find out if it is possible for her to drop algebra and enroll in a pre-algebra class now or at the end of the first semester.

We thought that you might be interested in the results of a national survey from Kelton Research and Sylvan Learning that shows parents fear equations just as much as their kids. Furthermore, more than 70 percent of the surveyed parents believe that helping their kids with algebra is harder than teaching them to drive a car.

Send questions and comments to Dear Teacher, in care of Mahoning Valley Parent, 1 North Illinois St. No. 2004, Indianapolis, IN 46204, or log on to www.dearteacher.com, or email DearTeacher@DearTeacher.com.