You might not have any idea what the California State Board of Education does. I didn’t.

That is, until we talked to Trish Boyd Williams, a member of the board.

Williams lives in San Diego and has a major role on the board and she explained it to me for the latest episode of Good Schools for All.

It was that board, of course, that is the reason Common Core was adopted in California so we took the opportunity to break down how it’s going and how the board determines its standards. My co-host Laura Kohn was screaming at the TV during a recent Republican presidential debate as they went on about Common Core. Take a listen to hear what she says they got wrong.

Williams said it’s having a major impact in the state.

“What’s different about the Common Core state standards in English, Language Arts and Math over the previous standards in English and Math is that it shifts the focus. There’s less memorization of isolated facts, and there is more focus on bigger ideas, and on discussion, analysis, arguing from evidence, and critical thinking skills,” Williams said.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

Williams is also spearheading the adoption of new science standards for schools.

What’s Working:

Devin Vodicka, the Superintendent of the Vista Unified School District, and was named Superintendent of the year by the California Association of School Administrators in 2015. Devon and his team are making thoughtful but ambitious changes in the schooling system. They are working from a “blueprint for educational excellence,” and are creating a very positive impact.

Numbers of the Week:

The achievement gap refers to the difference in educational achievement between different races or demographics. 72% of Asian students read at grade level last Spring, and only 30% of black students did. In 8th grade math, 73% of Asians students met grade level standards, and only 22% of black students did.

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    This article relates to: Education, Good Schools For All

    Written by Scott Lewis

    Scott Lewis oversees Voice of San Diego’s operations, website and daily functions as Editor in Chief. He also writes about local politics, where he frequently breaks news and goes back and forth with local political figures. Contact Scott at or 619.325.0527, and follow him on Twitter at @vosdscott.

    bcat subscriber

    After speaking with other teachers in California, SDUSD has CHOSEN a specific textbook for Common Core math.  IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE TAUGHT THIS WAY.

    The top level goals seem good (understanding not memorization).  However, the methods don't seem dictated by the state.  Time for SDUSD to get a new method of teaching to these standards.

    In addition, I will offer one caution regarding concepts vs. memorization.  To gain true insight, you often need to have a firm foundation of understanding and knowledge.  That means you need both concepts and memorization.  If you don't know a fact (sin x = opposite over hypotenuse) or a formula (area of a circle) you may not recognize that the problem in front of you can be solved.  It is often not enough to Google an answer; you actually need the knowledge at your fingertips.  There is not yet a good substitute for memorization.

    Ron Hidinger
    Ron Hidinger subscriber

    Interesting that the illustration for the article was bisecting an angle. Curious, I looked it up and found the standards for geometric congruence (  Seemed okay, certainly more abstract than my instruction in the 60s.  Bisection was listed under "constructions", i.e. tricks to memorize which I thought was discouraged in common core.  Apparently no discussion of proofs or related discussion like "What about trisection?" So it seems not all has changed.  Do grade schoolers still memorize the "times table?"

    scoutmom subscriber

    My daughter is currently a Freshman in high school.  Up until the 7th grade, she excelled at math and science.   She was planning on taking coursework in high school that qualified her for scholarships as an Engineering major.  While growing up, we attended all kinds of science fairs, learning programs and activities around math and science.  She enjoyed and excelled in math and science, and we were all happy with her performance.

    Once common core was introduced, her scores in math changed so drastically, that she was placed in a class for struggling math students in her 8th grade and now 9th grade.  To be clear, some of the concepts that were covered in 6th grade pre-common core, were repeated in 7th grade via common core.  The concepts that she easily mastered in 6th grade became a complete mystery to her in the 7th. This resulted in her being identified as a struggling student. 

    Common core doesn't make sense to her most of the time (nor me, and I am in IT finance, I get numbers).  We have hired a math tutor for her twice a week, and she is performing at B grade level.  Science is going better, but she isn't in any advanced track for it in school anymore. 

    This issue has resulted in her choice to leave math, science and engineering behind as possible careers.  She is on track to take AP English, AP History and AP Art next year as a sophomore - she is a smart cookie.  And, she is now considering careers around the literary world and the law. She no longer sees math or science as a viable career path for herself due to the shift in how the materials have been presented to her.  

    This has been difficult for me to watch.  As a woman in IT, I have long hoped she would also brave the way into worlds that fewer women go.  However, as a parent, I recognized that her talents and drive excel in many areas.  And, due to the circumstance of the times she is growing up in, our family is completely supportive to her changing focus.  

    My hope is that common core works itself out for the kids that come behind mine.  It would be a shame to see it affect generations of kids' choices about their future lives. 

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @scoutmom Deja Vu all over again!  I had the same experience with my son with the "New Math" in the late 60s.  It took him a decade to master things he was acing before.  A lot of the problem was that the teachers didn't really understand the stuff either.  Hopefully, this has been fixed with Common core, but somehow I suspect teacher training is an issue here as well.  

    Good luck, and I'm sorry to hear our society may be trading a budding badly needed scientist for a surplus attorney. 

    rob thomas
    rob thomas

    @scoutmom Scoutmom, if your daughter is truly passionate about the math and sciences she will succeed. Please tell her that college learning is very different from high school. I think most people who successfully graduated from college can tell you that their high school preparation had little bearing on their success in college. In college things make sense because politicians aren't designing the standards. She will love math and sciences at the college level!  It does not matter where she attends. If she has talent she will rise! Cream always rises to the surface.

    scoutmom subscriber

    @rob thomas @scoutmom Hello Rob and Bill, thank you both for the supportive comments.   I wish I could look into a crystal ball of the future, and tell you what my daughter decides she wants to pursue (you have no idea how much I want that).  But, for now, I will continue to support whatever passion she has, and guide her to being a productive member of society - no matter in what field. 

    KIm Carpender
    KIm Carpender subscriber

    As Mr. Thomas notes, there are problems in how some of common core standards are written.  As a middle school math and science teacher I see a bigger problem with implementation.  The math books that the district adopted allow only 2 days for each skill before we move onto the next one.  Many students need more than 2 days to learn a new math skill.  Additionally, the high school level integrated math texts are so bad that some teachers refuse to use them.  They only have sets of problems for students to solve but very little instructional information or examples that students can look at to help with homework.  

    Additionally, we decided to change the standards on all grade levels at once.  This means that students in 7th grade were suddenly expected to know all the standards from earlier grades even though they had never been instructed in them. Raising or changing standards on all grade levels at once dooms some students to failure.  It would make more sense to make changes in early grades and let them work their way up each year so students are ready for what they will be taught.

    rob thomas
    rob thomas

    @KIm Carpender Yes, I agree that  the district approved textbooks are horrendous. They provide few examples and take children down a laborious path of logic. The conceptual approach is inefficient and frustrates children with short attention spans. It especially hurts our boys. If you have a son in the public school system and if he is showing signs of depression consider looking for alternative education options. The worst of the textbooks is GoMath. Poorly poorly written! There are much better textbooks on the market. Triumph learning has an excellent line of books which are aligned to CC but do a much better job of explaining concepts.  Go Math has been a nightmare for teachers and parents! 

    rob thomas
    rob thomas

    There are numerous things wrong with the New Ed reform. First of all, the architect of the reform, David Coleman,  was never a K-12 teacher. The circle of academic experts who designed the reform were also not K-12 teachers. The writer of the math standards is a physics professor and the writer of the ELA standards is a lawyer. There were no Early Childhood Development experts included in the discussion of whether or not the material is developmentally appropriate.  

    Secondly, the way it was introduced to the states was almost like bribery. The states were desperate for money in the recession economy and were offered financial incentives if they adopted the Ed Reform. Without even looking at the papers the Governors accepted it.

    My biggest problem with the Core is how it drastically transformed the way we teach math. It is obvious to most child development experts that children recognize patterns instinctually. Therefore procedural ways of teaching math initially are in line with brain development. Concepts and connections develop later, especially in the case of boys. Only thirty percent of children will be able to digest conceptual understanding before procedural practice. Therefore it seems this new method of math is setting up our children for failure.  There have been several cases reported of children "cutting" themselves due to test stress or experiencing stomach pains. Child psychologists have been extremely busy since the reform took root in 2010.

    Education experts such as Dr. Diane Ravitch and Dr. Peg Luksik have noted that the tests and the standards are developmentally inappropriate. Having had some exposure to CC textbooks and actual test questions which have been circulated among teachers and parents I would absolutely agree with their assessment. Furthermore I would go so far as to say that much of the test seems like trickery to me.  Pearson publishing a British company who are the writers of the test don't seem to have the best interests of American children at heart. The way the questions tease and taunt  with their questions almost suggests that they are intentionally being cruel. 

    I suggest that we start over and bring in new experts to write the standards, but this time require that most if not all have had served in our American classrooms. Veteran teachers would be the most qualified writers of the standards . Technocrats, bureaucrats and CEO's of testing agencies should mind their own business and recognize when they are under qualified for a job.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @rob thomas "There have been several cases reported of children 'cutting' themselves due to test stress or experiencing stomach pains."

    Could you provide a source for that claim?

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @rob thomas "Dr. Peg Luksik was clearly at her engaging best. She was charming, funny and warm, in a loving grandmother sort of way. Unfortunately, during her one-hour presentation, her combination of leaping to unfounded conclusions, cherry-picking of facts to support specious arguments, misrepresentations and outright lies left me a little surprised that her pants didn’t spontaneously combust."

    Do you have anything better?