Nan Austin

Common Core takes center stage in Bee’s Eye on Education

The Bee’s Eye on Education series continues with a special section on Common Core math arriving on doorsteps Saturday. Articles, photos and videos are available at the Eye on Education page of

My takeaway after writing it all: Math instruction has needed a robust reboot for decades, but in trying to ensure teaching really changes, Common Core comes off as didactic and its wording arcane.

Highfalutin methods and wrenching implementation aside, however, the changes it enforces will help all kids – not just the top few – grasp math concepts.

Work starts in kindergarten, laying the groundwork for fractions and algebra, the elementary and secondary gatekeepers where so many kids stop.

In every grade, it asks students to work through solving a problem before telling them how. That seemed terribly unfair, until I saw research that says kids who figure it out on their own learn more. Kids told the how-to first stop looking for better, quicker ways to solve problems.

Grade school is where most parents are struggling, faced with odd phrasing such as “decomposing” instead of just saying “break it down into tens and ones first.” Combing through the state offerings for parents yielded a very long list of grade-by-grade concepts, which we summarize with help from Stanislaus County Office of Education math gurus, adding a glossary of key Common Core phrases.

Middle school is where Common Core takes students through the ratio-rate-statistics vortex, sending them on to consumer and financial literacy as well as higher math.

High school math is where it all comes together, with a condensed version just arriving in most districts to allow high achievers to finish calculus before the march to “Pomp & Circumstance” sends them onward.

The section includes a nod to politics with pro and con opinion pieces by knowledgeable community members.

The change from hopscotching through math, topic to topic, to the Common Core’s long, slow climb feels so foreign. It is a tough method to warm up to, but anything that gives kids a better hold on the concepts, and peels back the math mystique that keeps so many kids from even trying, is worth the work and the patience in my book.

Find more on Common Core math at

Retirees step up

Members of the California Retired Teachers Association, Stanislaus County – Division 38, added their voice to CalRTA’s Advocacy Day on March 15.

Focusing on the need to recruit and retain quality teachers, members met with state Assembly members Adam Gray and Kristin Olsen, and state Sen. Anthony Cannella.

Their talking points:

1. Additional state tax revenue has enabled schools to reduce class sizes and restore programs eliminated during the economic downturn. That has led to a sudden demand for teachers the college pipeline is struggling to meet.

2. According to Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the Learning Policy Institute and co-author of a report on the teacher shortage, “With fewer fully credentialed teachers available to take over classrooms, the number of teachers hired on substandard permits and credentials has nearly doubled.”

3. California has hired 7,700 teachers with temporary permits, waivers or on intern credentials over the past two years. A third of all new credentials issued in 2014-15 fit into this category, according to the report titled “Addressing California’s Emerging Teacher Shortage.”

4. The field still has a reputation for being demanding and paying relatively low salaries despite the improved hiring picture. A secure CalSTRS retirement is a critical way to make the field more appealing.

5. Only a third of teachers who leave the profession each year are retirees.