My first year of teaching was a spectacular failure and the only thing that saved my second year was that I stuck around.  I kept changing my plans until something clicked. My students saw that my failure did not send me running and they started to trust me—and that trust led to learning.

After two years of teaching, I was angry. Angry about institutional racism, the achievement gap, abject poverty, and the fact that most of my students would not graduate from high school ready to choose a four year college.  Angry that those who jumped for joy at their acceptance letters would spend the first few years of their college experience struggling through remedial courses because their high school diploma did not guarantee success.

Ten years later I am the Chief Curriculum Officer of STRIVE Preparatory Schools and am leading a curriculum redesign, driven by the Common Core Standards.  I am still angry, but am finding hope in the bar set by these standards.

“These Standards are not intended to be new names for old ways of doing business. They are a call to take the next step… It is time to recognize that standards are not just promises to our children, but promises we intend to keep” (

Reading those words made me stop and pay attention. Too often in education we shy away from change because it is too hard. We are too proud of the work we’ve already done. We are scared to stretch beyond what is known and comfortable.  We are scared of failure.

I think that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) create a common language that clearly defines college and career readiness. In English Language Arts Standards, students are asked to make purposeful text-based conclusions and draw connections between texts—with an equal balance of fiction and non-fiction reading. In the Math Standards, students are asked to develop procedural and conceptual understanding of math skills. In both sets of Standards, depth, not breadth, is the name of the game.

These Standards have the potential to help dispel the myth that students can’t think critically until they have mastered “basic skills.”

We owe it to our students to take a chance on these Standards. We need to take the time to work together and figure out how to thoughtfully assess students in a way that tests their thorough understanding of a topic, not their ability to take a standardized test. We need to help foster the next generation of critical thinkers who are ready to choose college when they get there. We need to take risks. We need to fail and then pick ourselves up and try again because it is only in struggling through failure that we create something new.

These Standards are not a magic solution, but they are not a bad place to start. Be brave. Embrace the change. Work hard. Let hope supplant the anger waiting in the wings.