Current Trends by Natasha Sapp

Common core started out as a good idea, uniform educational standards nationally both to help us compete internationally beyond standardized testing around the globe but in jobs, economy, statistics like the gross national product and improving student achievement over all. Not only seeking to correct unfair local discrepancies in grading, but likewise gaps in information and material usually never taught in rural schools, urban blight areas forcing bright students to go to community college to catch up before attending a 4 year university, degree program, so that an A in Georgia is the same as an A in New York, as an A in California. Also so that the same basic group of materials is being taught in each grade level k-5 building to the same core things being taught at each stage of mandatory education elementary, middle/junior high, through high school regardless of where you live in the country, what state, urban community, rural, somewhere in between. This was then to dovetail into other facets to raise student academic standards like a 3rd year of core subjects math, science, social studies and English, 1 year of foreign language and financial literacy to graduation requirements along with the high school exit exam to cut down on complaints about materials in core subjects math, science, history, language arts appearing on the test that weren’t covered in class, in some cases throughout their schooling period. At the same time, giving flexibility to teachers, local municipalities to teach and include unique local and cultural pocket, regional knowledge; Eskimo poetry, Native American societies, specific history attached to parts of the United States, highlight pioneers of science, math, famous authors, historical figures in your city or state, major historical events taking place in the area. Predictably, right off the bat there were problems, because to do this the creators of common core believed it required a core set of teaching methods to be effective, show students how to do things in new ways, think in new ways, emphasis on the analytical, the process not simply the result. And what we got soon became the butt of national jokes, a galvanizing anger among parents culminating in students walking out of tests and states pushing for opt out options in areas where they were already doing well, performing above the national average. Math taking a particular beating under the revised common core standards, parents repeatedly complaining about over complication of simple addition and subtraction, ‘a math problem that took 3 hours’ showing all the work the teacher wanted to see, all the different ways A-Z you could get to 6-3 including number lines and several other seemingly combined exercises; instead of choosing the most direct route to get to the answer. Truth especially apparent when wanting students to grasp the interchangeability of numbers in addition and multiplication, that 3+5 and 5+3 yield the same answer or that 3X5 and 5X3 equally yield identical answers, no matter which way they are written. Hilarious to annoyed postings have dominated social media demonstrating live and in living color, to their perceived vindication, how royally government can screw up education on something as fundamental as second grade math; most famous, the dad who attempted to write a check using the boxes and X’s method being taught to his son in class trying to prove a point, you wouldn’t be able to write a check this way in the real world, kids need to learn how to deal with real numbers and real situations. Still, after all the negative hype and chalking the program up to a shameful failure, common core is not without its lingering supporters; enter James (Jim) Goodman high school math teacher sporting a master’s in education and time teaching at both public and private high schools. Who, in late 2015, penned the article linked below that says, in a nutshell, essentially just because it’s new, just because it doesn’t immediately make sense to you doesn’t mean it isn’t good for your kids, doesn’t mean it won’t better their math skills in the long run or that these interim exercises, though appearing silly to you, don’t have a greater purpose.  Boiling down our long standing kvetch with common core into one of two categories A-The people who spread the example (and trash it) missed the point of the Common Core Standard in question, or B- The educator responsible for the example missed the point of the Common Core Standard in question. What Mr. Goodman fails to understand is, even if he is right and common core is sound and the people looking at it from the outside or teachers teaching something fundamentally new are responsible for the lion’s share of its problems, it still presents even greater issues for the students forced to be taught by it, only increasing America’s ‘education problem,’ marked learning deficiencies common core was designed to correct on the comprehension level.

How, putting aside what parents don’t understand, the dad who was outraged by the 10 frames exercise, Goodman states because it was something so basic presented so unfamiliarly, look at the picture in the article of the grade schooler’s paper marked down for representing 3X5 as 5+5+5=15 teacher having written out to the side 3+3+3+3+3=15 and Goodman’s argument the teacher misapplied the common core standard. Here, make sure students can interpret the product, total number of objects in 5X7 as 5 groups with 7 objects; overlooked or ignored is the e.g., meaning for example, 5 groups of 7 objects was one way to do it, not the only way. Or in the case of 3X5 the student was correct 5+5+5 is one way to interpret it; 3+3+3+3+3 being the other, under that particular method.  Notice they did the same thing in the next problem down where the student was asked to draw the solution to 4X6 and the child drew tally marks in 6 groups of 4; teacher having docked the child a point in each case giving them a test/quiz grade 4 out of 6. This is a bigger problem by far than parent reception, national pushback thinking common core a waste of time, money, energy and students’ time in the classroom, even the child’s ultimate grade on the test or in math for the quarter, semester, year; why, if the teacher doesn’t even understand it, what concept they are supposed to convey with method X using exercise Y, forget understand how to grade ‘e.g.’ assess student skill with said method, there is little chance students will comprehend it. Thus evaporating the purportedly expanded thinking common core eventually provides; worse potentially sacrificing comprehension of rudimentary standard mathematical elements in the process, leading to yet another generation, series of them who still profess they can’t do math, struggle more profoundly with math than ever before. Outcomes costing them jobs, dreams and widening the gap between the number of needed qualified workers for extremely technical, mathematically intensive  jobs and the numbers we actually have, when common core along with initiatives like STEM (an emphasis on science, technology engineering and yes, math) were created to do the exact opposite. Indications we and the intervening generations between the adoption of the new method and teachers who can teach that method effectively, can’t wait for administrators, educators, common core experts to iron out the bugs; proof common core needs to be about unifying national standards, coalescing clear benchmarks in core subjects at each grade level and leave it to the teachers to figure out how to teach to those standards, those benchmarks, what common core’s primary objective was as advertised to the officials, administrators and teachers who took it on as their teaching method, school districts who elected to continue with it versus opting out. Further, clear from the student’s test/quiz paper, pictured in Goodman’s article, they do understand the concepts, methods being taught (they actually have a better grasp on it than their teacher— shudder) they caught on to both multiple ways to demonstrate the same thing and the interchangeability of numbers when adding and multiplying, assumedly the class goal at the time the test/quiz was given. Unfortunately, unless this teacher and the paper are both corrected, when the student receives the paper back they will be possibly disappointed, certainly frustrated and confused believing they understood math as taught, knowing they got to the respective correct answers 15 and 24 wondering what the big deal is, finding it unfair. Strike two against common core teaching methods not common core material standards, the owner of that paper is either going to suffer from chronically eroded confidence related to the subject, drastically effecting performance at their tender age it might be added, systematically conditioned to believe from an early age they can’t do math either, or, to get good marks on their paper resorts to the incorrect, one dimensional thinking their teacher has hampering their mathematical progress down the line, the more creative intuitions and analytical skills required for higher math functions in algebra, geometry, calculus and trigonometry. Mathematics classes becoming more and more required at the high school level to increase standards, student abilities and align with what our counterparts are doing internationally, meet requirements for those alluded to math intensive jobs, epic fail. Yes students will need the abstract, creative in a mathematical way function and ability later; however, they need the basics first. You can always build in the more abstract conceptual thinking once they have that critical foundation.

Secondly the frustrated dad had a point apart from a knee jerk smart-aleck response to something new, so called new teaching methods mucking up something that’s been simple for decades, yet his reaction is in line with many, many parents today astounded by the constant state of flux in education, the new things their children are being taught and when, at what age, overall consensus homework has gotten a lot harder since they were in school last shown in a homework boot camp put on by one city roughly 5 years ago and the news anchor who went into a 6th grade classroom finding herself utterly lost. On one hand as someone who is old enough to be a parent of a similarly aged child (though I don’t have kids) I can relate both as a once student and an adult almost 10 years out of college; I can remember being in 1st and 2nd grade when phonics was the new thing (no not hooked on phonics per say) and my grandmother going what’s that, when I was in school we did it like this, me proceeding to wrinkle my 6-7 year old nose at her and trying to show her see it’s easy. No more than 2 years later my mother shaking her head complaining I still spelled things phonetically, by sounding them out and combining the letters how I thought the word should be spelled; a negative against phonics I have seen repeatedly expressed all over comment boards across the internet discussing American education and that kids need to, from the get go, simply learn how words are spelled insinuating phonics destroys that. Now phonics is the scientifically researched go to method to teach reading versus whole language without the phonetic basics and teachers instructing kindergarten who thought their primary duty in regards to reading was to instill a love of books not help less sound sensitive students master our language’s sound system.  So agreed there is a lot of parent misunderstanding and reactionary jumping to conclusions going on and Goodman is correct, the 10 frames assignment wasn’t ever intended to replace actual numbers, but—the father has the greater point in this instance. You couldn’t write a check that way in the real world and children need to deal with real numbers in real life situations; fact of particular importance considering students at his son’s stage have already learned, soon will learn money, coin and bill values, adding and subtracting same, might  see a check in there even this early on. Next, dad wins again describing not singularly his frustration with trying to help his son with homework that shouldn’t be beyond his ability level, but his son’s frustration at attempting to complete the assignment, especially if we follow Goodman’s assertion it is to be a supplementary assistance tool to gain deeper understanding. We can dissect why his wife is the one who went on YouTube, found a tutorial on the method and helped the boy compete his homework rather than dad finishing what he started, viewing the tutorial to both understand what they were doing and why they were doing it precisely that way at another time; key is, neither the parent nor the student were able to understand what they were supposed to do, the exhaustive method of either adding or subtracting simple numbers. Translation, it didn’t provide assistance to the student, it generated frustration in the student; it didn’t garner deeper understanding of our number system for him, it prompted confusion within him planting the seeds of a hatred and loathing for math. Another reason behind society’s protestations they can’t do math, their inherent, bordering on pathological avoidance of it whenever possible. Being a child who wasn’t automatically wired for math, who didn’t show an obvious facility with numbers, who struggled in math at precisely this stage, repeated the grade because of my floundering math skills I am all for better formats to give kids needed information and skill, have relentlessly advocated for catering to learning styles and providing things in different formats so every child can receive it in the way they learn best. That being said, I can also tell you the 10 frames exercise would not have helped me one iota nor the next common core viral example of a number line to explain subtraction; because, my problem wasn’t understanding what each operation meant, it was the borrowing from neighboring numbers, remembering to subtract one for the number your borrowed from, consecutive borrowing with four plus digit numbers and a string of zeros. It was too much for my second grade, wired for creativity, not the concrete, brain to handle; what common core does repeatedly approaching basic math is remove the most simplistic, straight forward way to derive solutions from kids who need them. Finally in discussing the infamous common core written check, the blocks and X’s strategy falls flat for the persons it was probably meant to help, kinesthetic learners who need 3D or tangible things to manipulate in order to understand concepts; actual blocks, beans, rocks would have worked better, a screen showing 3 dimensional cubes, a test where they demonstrate adding and subtracting by moving blocks around on a table to represent the problems written on paper. ‘Frustrated Parent’ below hits on the same practical reality, when you possess a degree or job in a math intensive area, use advanced mathematics, mathematical principles every day at work and you can’t figure out the number line problem, how is a second grader going to? They bring it farther into the real world, AKA a job site, by stating another stone cold, hard fact, simple is better, preferred and what your bosses expect you to use and, if you can’t or don’t, you will be fired. Yes having kids tell a story to explain a math problem is a good way to both test and ensure their understanding of the process involved in 427-316; the number line is just one of the problems with how students were expected to get there, what Goodman articulates is the purpose of the number line’s use in this instance. You shouldn’t be teaching students ‘what subtraction is’ using 3 digit numbers; 1-10 works fine and you can very simply show with objects subtraction is taking things away, addition is giving more things to a stack, pile, collection you already had, demonstrated easily in textbooks where Suzie had 3 apples, Tom gave her 2 apples student asked to determine the total number of apples in Suzie’s possession, hand, basket, bag exc. Subtraction working in reverse; you had, bought, were given 3 apples, ate 2 of them, student asked to answer how many are left?  Tacking 427-316, since the problem requires no borrowing under the traditional method, Goodman seemed to think made it ideal for aforementioned method and less suited for the number nine, I tend to think the opposite, going back to the visual representation we all grew up with and assuming subtracting 3 digit numbers from each other is a new step for the class, you can treat each column as its own separate problem;7-6 is what 2-1 is what, 4-3 is what,  revealing your answer as what, asking students to read the whole number at the bottom.  With blocks you have 3 groups of 7, 2 and 4 removing 6, 2 and 3 showing the same answer.  Borrowing can even be better explained visually with objects than problems on a board; students subjected to common core are relegated to a frankly illegible number line, ‘Jack’s mistake’ aside.

Countering, confronting the ‘generations of people, the sizable portion of the population saying I can’t do math,’ largely they aren’t talking about 2+2, 5X2 or 50÷2 outside a significant learning disability, terribly incompetent teacher; their continuous whine about long division is twofold consisting of can we find a shorter, less complicated, less tedious way to do this and/or why should I invest such time and energy when I can use a calculator? Dido with fractions since the technological development of both the microwave, virtually eliminating their use in cooking and the TI30 calculator now inexpensive and perfect for the workplace where they can’t be avoided.  Financial matters, peoples overall low financial IQ’s prompting financial literacy courses in high school along with national events like the housing crisis and the growing monster of student loan and credit card debt, like math anxiety in general, stemming from nightmare experiences with bad teachers, overzealous or horrified you got an F parents, largely come from intimidation. In instance one, turning math into this horrible boogeyman, something synonymous with stress, academic torture, long complicated hours centered around mindless equations and things that just don’t make sense no matter how hard you listen, take notes, attempt to remember, memorize steps to solving certain problems, categories of problems. In instance two, confusion, trepidation centered around financial, banking terminology taking a back seat to adding and subtracting numbers, calculating percentages used in sales tax, interest rates. Unless that is you do it the common core way, take Goodman’s image link to the problem 243-87 using a complex combination of mental math via rounding and a number line to solve it under common core; his admission it shows the problem, the line but not the process is almost irrelevant when you read his explanation of why it works. “If you haven’t yet made sense of the second diagram, think about the way that people used to give change at the store (perhaps a bit of a lost art these days). Suppose you purchased something that cost $8.27 and paid with a $20. The clerk would start at the value of the item purchased (in this case $8.27), then start with the change, bringing you first to $8.30, then to the 50 cent level, then to an even dollar amount, then a ten dollar amount, and so forth, until the value was brought up to the $20 you paid with: “Okay, $8.27, 30 cents <putting three pennies in your hand>, and 20 more is 50 cents <putting two dimes in your hand>, and two quarters makes nine <dropping two quarters in your hand>, and ten <giving one dollar>, and ten more makes twenty <giving a ten>.”  Except they haven’t counted change that way probably since these children’s parents were born (the 1980’s) when electronic cash registers were made standard in nearly every store. Workers at retail and fast food counters either scan or use keys to input purchased items, press a key for the total, when handed a cash amount by the customer (an increasingly rare phenomenon too Mr. Goodman with debit, credit and smartphone pay options) input that total, register calculating change, cashier only responsible for handing back correct coinage and bill values, knowing where to reach in the separated cash drawer. They routinely do this by stating the amount of change due, placing coins into your hand in a single bunch followed by the bills or placing it on the counter bills first change last depending on the sales person or customer request. To his point regarding the mental math needed to estimate the total price of an item, know how much change you should get back, these are covered later in mental math, rounding and estimation units of the same grade level math book and are NOT best explained by a number line, at the very least not the one pictured. Neither is this the best way for the human brain to calculate change or numbers either one, reinforcing the  often heard comment common core doesn’t make sense to people who are good at math, assertions it was obviously created by someone who wasn’t proficient in math, higher math. Returning to society as a whole, people who staunchly swear they can’t do math are more often than not speaking of algebra, geometry, calculus and trigonometry; which, in addition to being horribly confusing and complex to the edge of distraction, far removed from the built on basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication division, factions, percentages in the k-5 classroom, advances through middle school, appear to have zero relevance to a student’s daily life surpassing graduating high school, achieving a college degree, exasperatingly in a non-math intensive field. Students prone to standing up in class asking why they must study algebra are probably wondering where in life they are going to have to graft equations, equation answers on the X or Y axis, what the function is in determining the square root of a hypotenuse or the how Pythagorean theorem manifests itself in their daily routine, and in a direct contradiction to the opinion article below, are not alone in their confusion about being forced to learn it. Students who do not do well in phys-ed, English lit or history are likely to voice the same concerns having little to do with whether or not they require work and discipline, aren’t always easy rather to do with relevance to their daily lives, their desired career path, even currently available jobs. A stance that flies directly in the face of companies who offer employment programs teaching job, industry specific math finding no shortage of applicants or aptitudes; leaning strongly toward what we need is to bring this into schools instead of either common core or the traditional educational paradigm for math, letting students chose which one for their impending vocational choice, try different ones to find an area, a vocation where they fit best. A better approach than just telling them where they can garner a paycheck with their knowledge, no one has yet thought to ask why, if machines are taking our jobs, not so slowly revolutionizing what work looks like, the people in the last video are doing the trigonometry not the computer? Less because it is too hard and more because humans are prone to greater mistakes caused by distractions, debt, family problems, troubled children, cheating wives/husbands, fatigue, illness than computers ever will be.

Other factors playing into our collective upset about common core fear, fear students won’t get the fundamental math skill needed to add and subtract, balance a checkbook, cook using fractions, calculate a sale price, sales tax amount or get a high paying job because they lag in advanced math skill. Continuing, what should be underpinning a serious debate about the current operation of common core in schools when it comes to math that seemingly isn’t, conflicting discussions within the educational community about how much and the exact type of math needed for students, should we be pushing calculus on students who seek college after high school, 21st century mathematics needed but not taught such as statistics, logistics to make sense of big data, the new determining factor in so many areas, computer science to help kids understand the computers in virtually everything and every part of our lives, reality such courses only truly require a familiarity with algebra. As ‘unknown,’ ‘under developed’ as we deem our math skills to be, is likewise the knowledge of  how much math is needed for common jobs available in our economy, emerging markets, those projected to be adding the most jobs in any given decade, 5 year period along with which jobs, employment sectors indeed use the most math. Surprising to the masses, most white collar jobs don’t utilize much math and are the traditional, standard uses, not algebra, forget beyond. Counter intuitively blue collar works often use math and the more advanced forms when operating and repairing various machines, testing said machines, ensuring they meet operational specifications. Yet to be asked either is if this obsession with higher math, foisting it on students in the name of competition with other world super powers, a vain attempt to look smarter than we are, a blind panic about workers to fill jobs is if mandating all this math is worth wasting talent and resources in other areas. And no, the point of the New York Times opinion writer suggesting we remove the algebra hurdle from high school graduation and non-math focused degrees isn’t to ‘dumb down’ the American education system even further, making it easier for ‘stupid’ students to remain so, to remove something simply because it is hard giving students the wrong message about perseverance. It is to recognize the expense, the waste it costs to our society forcing everyone to understand complicated algebra, how many high school drop outs it creates, how many college degrees in totally opposite areas than math are abandoned because of algebra. Let’s also adequately define what we’re talking about when we say algebra; the most deficient math student can be taught how to solve simple algebra problems say, 2x=14 solve for X. A far cry from x2 + 3x = 8x – 6 or Find the domain of the inverse function of: f(x) = 1/(x-3). Worth noting too, can you turn many things in life into an algebraic equation to obtain information, sure; do you have to, absolutely not.  By default it is likewise to understand something we should already by now, brain wiring, that people can be sorted into roughly 4 categories; those who do well in math, those who excel at English, those who have talent and skill outside academics becoming artists, cooks, mechanics and those with a myriad of learning disabilities, impeding their would- be function in any of the other categories. It is then ridiculous to expect someone whose mind better processes words, poetry, literature and loves to write to, at the same time, have a mind wired to the concrete, rigidity of numbers, be capable of doing complicated math in their head. Conversely, it is equally ridiculous to expect someone whose mind is wired to the concrete, non-abstract concepts such as numbers and math to be proficient in literature and writing poetry, profoundly creative in art, fashion, fiction, unless you are dealing with a genius level individual. There is even a variation within the mathematical community, those who liked and did well in algebra but hated geometry or those who possibly did well in algebra but disliked it and felt more comfortable in geometry, the latter hinting at someone slightly more creative. Brain wiring and development in young people that undeniably states as well, via documented research, teaching algebra before high school is a disastrous detriment to students, even those doing well in math; why, 8th grade, where we currently have a habit of introducing algebra to non-remedial students, is a plateau period for adolescent brain development specifically for the kind of functions it takes to process algebra resulting in decreased ability long term, again even in those doing well. Andrew Hacker initiatively understands all this and argues for giving the first group a rudimentary function with numbers and sending them on their way, letting those who do extraordinarily in math, are excited by numbers, like solving the problems presented by equations of various kinds and types all the math they want. Freeing the first group to engage in other pursuits because you can do everything under the sun and then some to bolster someone’s deficiencies, quite successfully, but it will never hold a candle to someone with a passion, natural talent, true gift for the subject. It making all the better sense in the world to leave advanced math to those who can do well and want to get jobs at NASA, build buildings, solve the sun, Jupiter 3 body problem or reach beyond Estienne’s E=mc2.  Also providing some perspective answering do we have as much of a deficit in high school, college graduates with STEM credentials “…a definitive analysis by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce forecasts that in the decade ahead a mere 5 percent of entry-level workers will need to be proficient in algebra or above. And if there is a shortage of STEM graduates, an equally crucial issue is how many available positions there are for men and women with these skills. A January 2012 analysis from the Georgetown center found 7.5 percent unemployment for engineering graduates and 8.2 percent among computer scientists.” A similar article from that same year 2012 looked at our chief competitors for STEM jobs India and China classification producing profound differences; the fact that in China there is no uniform standard for engineer, applying to techs and auto mechanics, and that for the year cited by another researcher, the U.S. produced about 25,000 more engineers with bachelor’s degree than India. Similar complaints to the ‘Chinese’ problem in both classification and poor skill level have been expressed about computer programmers from the exact same areas with sloppy coding skills, only the most simplistic knowledge. Concluding this portion, most of the people arguing for the status quo, denigrating Hacker’s findings are firstly those with an inherent facility in advanced math, so no wonder one man said he repeatedly ‘thought’ calculus at work. And secondly believe it teaches people a mindset, a universal foundation to approaching and solving problems, analyzing things, understanding logic. As a person who took college algebra to get their liberal arts degree in English, passing on a wing and a prayer and thanks to the tutoring I had access to there, and not in Freshman beginning algebra, who has wowed people on multiple occasions with things they missed about cultural headlines, life situations exc., that kind of analytical thinking is a gift to be cultivated, not taught and certainly didn’t come from math.

Making common core work in math, any educational subject really, any educational instruction method really, then is about ensuring common core relates to standards, benchmarks to be reached at each grade level, a standard group of materials to be taught at each grade level, not telling teachers how to teach concept X. Instead sticking to known methods that work in instilling mathematical or other concepts; why my friend had to have her son draw a column, line down his 3+ digit addition problems to avoid mixing up which numbers went where instead of the book, or at minimum, the teacher giving his whole class that assistive trick/tool. Why she had to help one of her live in nanny charges learn to count change by simply adding and subtracting it as plain old numbers, where his teacher hadn’t. Why creative writing exercises, for 1st and 2nd grade particularly, aren’t more facilitated by, centered around prompts giving those with less creativity, those who haven’t found it yet a jumpstart with the option for the creative student to write 2-3, 4-5 sentences on whatever they want or using whatever punctuation mark, literary device they learned that week. Addressing the fundamental reality not enough teacher training time is devoted to teaching future teachers how to teach those difficult, problem students who don’t seem to learn like everyone else, how to teach students who don’t have a facility with math or English. How you can use the inherent traits or skills of either person to better teach them what they struggle with, combining that with learning styles to create that well rounded student with as increased ability in either area. Shocking how many math teachers teaching in middle and high schools are not mathematicians possessing any kind of background in math, proven aptitude for understanding then teaching mathematical principles. How do you accentuate budding creativity in a student doing well in English while simultaneously ‘teaching’ creativity, drawing out the maximum thought process toward creative writing, variety of language exc. in a student who seemingly has less? Listening to, taking cues from teachers about what realistic, feasible goals are for each grade level, the core group of information that should be fit into each grade, each section of mandatory education, how much of each core subject making time for art, music, history and science fun, especially in lower grades, can be put into the academic year; because, contrary to the popular Kahn academy’s creator, our lagging academic success versus China is not a simple as number of days in the classroom. On fact Michael Moore stumbled on in his Where to Invade Next is Finland and the U.S. used to have equally abysmal education  results until they shorted school weeks, gave students more free time and allowed teachers to create tests based on covered material not on ‘national, international standards’.  Mirroring schools here who shortened school weeks for budget reasons, usually high gas prices, finding less student and teacher absence, increased focus and, the only metric anyone cares about, test scores. Settling once and for all the classroom context debate by, where you can, substituting context and relevance for just more content and concepts being thrown at students. Digesting research and getting teacher input on when we should be teaching what; forget Condoleezza Rice’s exclamation at an education summit that kids in Korea are learning in 3rd grade what ours are in 5th, known research on adolescent brains, could I have passed the 2nd grade the first time if they had waited until the end of the year to teach barrowing subtraction, heavy on the zeros instead of in the middle?  Exposing another needed educational improvement that has nothing to do with common core, pacing; in the lower grades the first half of the year is essentially review compensating for summer lag, where summer vacation still exists, and the latter half focusing on new material going too fast for some students, my friend’s son being one, to keep up; whereas if they slowly introduced new things after the first 2 months of school, when ‘summer lag’ typically dissipates rather than cramming it all into roughly the last 3and a half, students would do better, experience less frustration. Part of the reason so many students have so many gaps in their mathematical skillsets is directly because k-5 grades went too fast in some areas for individual persons, non-math wired students; next year’s math book moved away from area X and it isn’t discovered until high school when the student can’t do higher math and the teacher can’t, has no time to, figure out why.  Recognizing common core will do nothing to solve a transitory student’s problems in school seen in students of military parents, business people’s kids who move frequently for work or those shuffled repeatedly from foster home to foster home; not because schools across the country are working with totally different standards and you don’t know what you’re getting, you’re going from a really good school to a really bad school, but that different schools in different parts of the country start in different places. All the more evidence we need to work with military personnel, companies and social services to keep kids in a school for the whole academic year. Understanding barriers to employment are many not just neatly summed up in America’s collective aversion to and low skill with math; employer laziness being top on that list always looking to India and so forth for engineers and skilled computer, trade workers because they don’t think they can find them here, refusing to engage in job training especially in trade and manufacturing arenas where skills are far less interchangeable, flabbergasted at the results, qualified applicants they get when teaming up with local high schools and community colleges to teach right-now, relevant skills even in math, proving Mr. Hacker’s point. Retuning to myself one last time, I slogged through beginning algebra in 9th grade, took the easiest math class I could find my sophomore year for the graduation credit, went to college passed everything with flying colors including C’s in algebra all the way to the ‘college algebra’ level and went on encountering the same employment barriers listed hampering my becoming the productive citizen I could be. Never pursuing a career in math even a basic job with bookkeeping, accounting, though I could have managed it, because numbers, calculations never excited me the way words did, creativity and writing, expressing an opinion in written form. A parting slap in the face to those bashing English majors and their benefit to society, how about correcting want ads like this: “Medical Office, Efficient Medical Front Office Person or Medical Assistant to work as a “float” in front office, medical records and clinic in a busy specialty office. Must be professional in attire, mannerisms, have excellent phone and personal customer skills and can handle multiple duties. Computer and electronic medical records experience a plus. Mon-Fri; no evening hours. Send cover letter, salary requirements and resume to BBP.” With something more legible like: Efficient front office person or medical assistant to work in specialty clinic. A float position with duties including front office tasks, medical records and clinic functions/check-in.  Must be professional in both demeanor and attire, have excellent phone/customer service skills, ability to multitask. Computer and electronic medical records experience a plus. Mon-Fri; no evening hours. Send cover letter, salary requirements and resume to. Adding in a couple more words that tells the applicant more about the job, computer programs used making the difference between them knowing for sure they can do the job, should apply and avoiding it due to uncertainty, oh.