Over the past few years, I have heard a lot of discussion about Common Core State Standards, their roll out, and the assessment designed to measure CCSS. As an educator immersed in Common Core implementation, here are a few of my thoughts.

New standards are not new. Standards change as we educators learn more about how to improve education for our children. In the past the biggest complaint I heard about students was that they lacked the ability to think critically and process logically. In the current system, the end of course test in math is a multiple choice exam testing the standards taught in that course. This enables teachers to teach in such a way students score well on the EOC but still underachieve on the ACT. My point is simple: standards memorized and easily tested do not necessarily translate into life-long learning or college and career readiness.

By cutting the actual number of standards, driving key standards deeper in content, and giving clear examples of fluency, the Common Core standards have forced me to rethink my classroom. Having fewer standards reduces the need to cover too much information, allowing me discretion in deciding how to introduce and teach major content. Discussion in my classroom has evolved, allowing me to help students create connections to previously learned math and clear up misconceptions they may have developed. Moreover, fluency examples from the standards help me understand what a student should be able to do with a given standard without dictating what and how I have to teach. As one of my colleagues is fond of saying “Common Core standards and testing force me to teach the way I should have been teaching all along.”

I have been teaching for 10 years, and I firmly believe the Common Core standards drive my teaching to new levels. There is little I care about more than my students’ opportunities to learn and be prepared for the future. An old coaching friend of mine often told players all he wanted for them to have at graduation was options. I have five children of my own and I am excited to see what kinds of options they will have in classrooms teaching Common Core standards. I’ve already witnessed bright students being challenged, shy students discussing and defending positions, and uninterested students engaging in ways I have never seen before.

As educated people, we know what awaits our children in the real world. We know not every problem’s solution is multiple-choice or simple and clear. I know there has been a lot of debate and concern centering on Common Core and its testing. Tennessee has consistently worked with testing agencies (like PARCC) to voice those concerns and make sure Tennessee students are protected just as they are now. I also know the state of education in Tennessee was not acceptable just a few years ago, but the 2013 NAEP (nationwide testing) results show that our shift to Common Core standards is moving us in the right direction. A lot of challenges continue to face our children as they move on to college and the workforce, but we cannot let them quit because those challenges are difficult. In fact, the challenges we know they will face are the very reason we push them harder. Oftentimes, the most difficult challenges are met with the sweetest rewards. Common Core implementation has had its share of challenges. We can, however, separate ‘the baby from the bathwater’ and recognize the tremendous value these standards have already brought to us and build on that success moving ahead.