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Common Core the path to success for Nevada students

Consider an 8- or a 9-year-old child. Their bright eyes, mischievous smiles and wild imaginations that create new worlds and take them on wonderful adventures. Those same children, when matched with an engaging teacher, like many of the ones here in Nevada, also spend their time doing multiplication and division, learning fractions and doing math problems in their heads, instead of scratching them out on paper.

I am one of those third-grade teachers who has the pleasure of building relationships with young learners whose minds are beginning to make the connections between numbers and math, problems and solutions, and questions and how to seek the answers. Under the Common Core State standards, the students I teach have a better chance of seeing success in college or their eventual career, which is lost on a 9-year-old but certainly not on that child’s parents. Students are learning to think critically, for themselves, instead of solving math through rote memorization or tricks.

As the debate over the Common Core unfolds, I see more and more that the most important voices are drowned out by politics and heated rhetoric that is not grounded in facts or reality. The criticisms of the standards are off-base, and as a teacher on the front lines of implementing this new system, it is important that educators such as myself have a chance to explain why the Common Core will benefit our students.

Unfortunately, the voices drowning out the educators are spreading misinformation and harmful myths about the Common Core. The so-called “Common Core math problems” seen on social media networks are not Common Core. The standards are just that — level-setting expectations that make clear what students are expected to know by the time they complete each grade. Schools and districts write curriculum, and then teachers create their own lesson plans. It is a shame that a few bad apples are ruining it for those of us committed to making the Common Core a success for our students.

The Common Core does not tell teachers how to teach. It does not mandate we use certain books, handouts or reading lists. As before, those materials are at the discretion of local school districts, school boards, principals and teachers. The core does provide for greater professional development and collaboration, because we are now speaking a common language across state lines.

Before the Common Core, Nevada’s math standards were a checklist of concepts with many standards. Now, we work with the concept of “fewer, deeper,” so that while we reduce the amount of materials presented, students’ mastery goes deeper and is more complete. For third-graders, that means we can focus on deepening their understanding of fractions and whole numbers, with multiplication and division connecting math ideas and concepts together to prepare them for the more complex concepts of algebra, geometry and trigonometry.

The great advantage that I have as a third-grade teacher is being at the start at their academic career. William Butler Yeats once said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Third grade is an exciting time to spark the fires of learning.

My ultimate goal in the classroom is to prepare my students for later success. Third-graders have dreams of what they want to be when they grow up; it is a primary responsibility of their teachers to provide them the tools to pursue those dreams. Studies show that anywhere from 28 percent to 40 percent of enrolled college students need at least one remedial course. ACT outcomes show that just 43 percent of high school students who took the test and graduated were ready for college-level math. As both a teacher and parent, it frightens me that we are not preparing our children. I know that the Common Core standards will put Nevada’s students on the path to academic success.

Katy Scherr is a third-grade teacher in the Washoe County School District, with 16 years of teaching experience in public and private schools.

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