COMET • Vol. 1, No. 20 – 5 August 2000


(1) Mathematics Professional Development Institutes

The following announcement was received from Elizabeth Stage (Director, MPDI) and shared at her request:

The Mathematics Professional Development Institutes (MPDI) are a California statewide effort to upgrade the mathematics content understanding of people who are teaching mathematics from grades 4 through 12 inclusive.

Five positions are open at the University of California (UC) Office of the President (in Oakland, CA), which administers the MPDI on behalf of UC, the California State University, and the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. They are:

= Mathematician in Residence
= Secondary Mathematics Leader
= Algebra Leader
= Elementary Mathematics Leader
= Mathematics Assessment Leader

Position descriptions will be posted at starting August 8th, 2000.

The MPDIs are governed by two pieces of legislation and encompass four programs, targeted at (1) elementary mathematics teachers, (2) teachers of algebra and the courses that prepare students for algebra, (3) teachers of algebra intervention programs for students who are at risk of failing, and (4) high school teachers of mathematics with content goals ranging from the High School Exit Exam to Advanced Placement Calculus.

The focus of the MPDI’s is deepening teachers’ conceptual understanding (as defined by Liping Ma) of the mathematics that they teach so that they are better able to teach it. There is an ambitious evaluation plan, including tracking increases in teachers’ content knowledge and their students’ content knowledge in mathematics, and innovative development plans, including developing a web-based, video lesson-study system. There are currently 25 sites offering 75 institutes for 2,500 teachers. The program is expected to expand during this fiscal year to 35 sites with 140 institutes for 7,500 teachers. The work is challenging and the salaries and benefits are generous.

For more information, contact:

Elizabeth K. Stage
Mathematics Professional Development Institutes
University of California Office of the President
300 Lakeside Drive, 7th floor
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 987-9509 (510) 238-8475 (fax)

(2) California Debates Voucher Initiative” by the Associated Press

Source: The Dallas Morning News – 3 August 2000

A California ballot proposal seeks to create the nation’s largest school voucher program, covering as many as 6.5 million children who would be sent to private schools with taxpayer money. Proposition 38 would give parents $4,000 per pupil to send their children to private schools, including religious ones. Parents would get the vouchers regardless of family income…

Voters have rejected similar initiatives in Colorado and Washington, as well as in California, said Martha McCarthy, an education professor at Indiana University who studies voucher programs. California’s initiative is one of two before voters in November, along with one in Michigan….

California voters overwhelmingly rejected a 1993 measure that would have given parents a $2,600 voucher. But voucher supporter Alan Bonsteel of California Parents for Educational Choice said things have “gone downhill dramatically” since then.

Nearly 12,000 children in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Florida attended private schools last year using vouchers. All three programs limit the vouchers — Milwaukee’s and Cleveland’s to low-income children and Florida’s to students in schools with two failing state ratings within four years. More than 70 percent of children in the Milwaukee and Cleveland programs are black or Hispanic.

Proposition 38 opponents say it would prohibit schools from discriminating on the basis of race or ethnicity but let them exclude students based on their language, religion, ability to pay or academic or physical abilities. “Proposition 38 is a cruel hoax, especially for ethnic minority children,” said Leon Beauchman, a member of the Santa Clara County Board of Education and a director of the California School Boards Association…

Mr. Draper has pledged to spend $20 million of his own money to match the $20 million he expects to be spent on ads by opponents, including most of the state’s education establishment. But he has been unable to attract support even from private schools, which might be expected to back the ballot measure, and is opposed by a conservative taxpayer group that backed the 1993 plan.



(1) Leadership Grants: National Foundation for the Improvement of Education

* The National Foundation for the Improvement of Education (NFIE) awards grants of up to $1000 to individuals to engage in professional development activities that address the needs of the students they serve. Apply now for funding for Spring 2001 training. Proposals must be submitted by October 15, 2000. For more information about the grant process, go to:

Summary: NFIE’s Leadership Grants underwrite professional development opportunities for public school teachers, public education support personnel, and public higher education faculty and staff, and thereby enable them to provide collegial leadership in efforts to improve teaching and learning.

Amount: The grant amount is $1,000. NFIE will award up to fifty grants per year.

Duration: Leadership Grants will fund activities for twelve months from the date of the award.

For more information about NFIE, go to:

(2) “For 2000, the G.O.P. Sees Education in a New Light” by Jodi Wilgoren

Source: New York Times – 2 August 2000

Seated in a mock classroom in front of the stage, 20 children banged out a beat on their desks, chanted multiplication tables and rapped, “Read, baby, read.”

It was a surprising opening night symbol for the Republican National Convention, which just four years ago called for the abolition of the Department of Education and declared public schools all but beyond repair. Now, Republicans are not only embracing children and classrooms — long icons of Democratic politics — but are also talking about how the federal government can ensure equity in education.

“There is a remarkable transformation going on,” said James W. Guthrie, a professor of public policy at Vanderbilt University. “We are very slowly, awkwardly, hesitantly, reluctantly, lurching toward a national system of education.”

As the Republican and Democratic parties rush to respond to polls that show education is a top concern for voters, the distinctions between their positions are fading. Having chosen as their presidential candidate the governor of a state that has been among the leaders in education reform efforts in the past decade, the Republicans find themselves with a strong hand on the issue for the first time in a generation.

But as Gov. George W. Bush of Texas accepts his party’s nomination this week and fleshes out details of his education agenda this fall, he must grapple with an internal contradiction in his Republican philosophy: How can education be a national priority while remaining the responsibility of local governments?

While Republicans in Congress have long tried to curtail federal financing for schools or provide money in block grants rather than for specific programs, Mr. Bush has proposed withholding money from any state that does not administer annual achievement tests and break out the results by students’ race and class. He also wants to expand financing for Head Start and start a $5 billion national reading program.

“Bush believes that his experience reforming education in Texas can be refracted on the whole country,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., an assistant secretary of education in the Reagan administration. “In his view, the federal government is sort of like a magnifying glass — it takes energy originating elsewhere and focuses it and concentrates it.”

The shift in the Republican Party is partly a natural outgrowth of the movement by governors and business leaders to improve student achievement through rigorous standards and high-stakes testing.

“This coalescing around the standards agenda has brought the parties a lot closer,” said Susan H. Fuhrman, director of the Consortium for Policy Research in Education at the University of Pennsylvania. “You can go from state to state and look at the reforms and be hard pressed to tell whether there was a Democrat or Republican governor.”

The change was fueled by the failure of the Republicans’ anti-public schools message in 1996. Shortly after that election, Mr. Bush worried aloud at a meeting of Republican governors that the Democrats’ dominance on education had cost his party crucial votes among women, announcing, “Republicans must say that we are for education.”

Interest in education has only escalated since; even among the conservative delegates at the Republican convention, [25%] named education as a top priority, compared with 2 percent in 1996.

With the federal government providing only about 7 cents of every dollar spent on education, a president’s influence on the issue comes largely from the bully pulpit. Exhibit A was making education the theme of the convention’s first night.

But what is even more striking is that the Republicans chose not to talk about school choice and vouchers — issues that separate them from the Democrats — but to focus on standards and accountability, on which the two parties largely agree.

“The last I checked, there are no Republican kids and Democratic kids,” said David Levin, co-founder of the Knowledge is Power Program, the school in Houston whose students were spotlighted Monday at the convention. “We’re hoping that we get invited to do the Democratic convention as well.”

(3) “Home Schooling’s Net Effect” by Nancy Trejos

Source: Washington Post — 7 July 2000

David Botluk, 13, and his classmates are solving math puzzles with their teacher. David is at his mother’s office in the District. His teacher is in Idaho. The other students are scattered throughout the country, all tethered to their computers, joined together as a class in cyberworld.

Through the wonders of the Internet, and $199 a month, David is being taught at home, taking a full seventh-grade curriculum through Christa McAuliffe Academy, based in Washington state.

His “e-teacher” guides him through his algebra, chemistry, geography and English classes while his parents work full time…

The Internet is revolutionizing the growing home-schooling movement. More and more parents are pulling their children out of schools, particularly public schools, but no longer serving as their sole teachers…

“We’re seeing more families who are convinced that home schooling is right but they’re seeing gaps that they need to fill,” said Scott Somerville, staff lawyer for the Home School Legal Defense Association. “The online courses are wonderful in filling the need for certain specific disciplines”…

Concerns about the safety and quality of traditional schools have fueled a nationwide growth in home schooling. In less than a decade, the number of children educated at home in the United States has more than tripled to about 1.7 million. In Maryland, the number jumped from 2,296 in 1990 to 15,651 in 1999. The number of home schoolers in Virginia grew from 7,011 six years ago to 12,810 last year.

The online courses have particular appeal to parents of high-school-age students. Teaching reading and addition to the younger children is not so challenging, but once students grow older and start taking more complex courses, some parents feel out of their league…

A support network for home-schooling families has sprouted, with parents having easy access to any number of Web sites offering online courses–some with virtual classrooms that are essentially chat rooms for students and teachers.

Cyberschools like Christa McAuliffe Academy are finding a ready and willing pool of customers in home-schooling families….

“I think it’s a great tool but a tool that needs to be used carefully,” she said. “I think with the whole virtual movement, you have to make sure that the children are socially and emotionally stable.”

Others say the courses teach students to rely too heavily on Web sites rather than books for information…

Blomgren, a public school teacher for 14 years, founded Christa McAuliffe Academy 15 years ago. In those early years, students turned in written assignments through the mail. Since the school started offering the online courses, enrollment has boomed, Blomgren said. It now has almost 400 students….

Many of the cyberschools are trying to combat the concern that home-schooled youngsters are not properly socialized, a widespread complaint from critics.

At the Laurel Springs School, which offers classes in grades five to 12, the more than 2,000 students enrolled can join the pen-pal program, submit their work to the poetry and art journals, and reserve spots in the yearbook. Some of the online high schools have proms for each graduating class. Other cyberschools offer field trips to places like Florida and Hawaii…

(4) “Criticisms of MSPAP Irk Officials” by Mike Bowler

Source: Sunspot – 3 August 2000

A $300,000 outside study of the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program has been declared useless by state education officials, who say the national experts who examined MSPAP were biased from the beginning and came to Maryland looking for defects.

“There’s an extremely conservative point of view” throughout drafts of the report, said state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick. “They want us to go back to facts, facts, facts, memorization and regurgitation.”

Paid for by the Abell Foundation in Baltimore, the report looked at MSPAP’s content, its scoring and its technical quality. In general, the reviewers found the MSPAP tests weak in content, and they questioned the scoring, one calling it “inexpert.”

“After reading many of the student responses, I think people would be shocked to see what is rewarded with full credit,” said Stan Metzenberg, a professor of biology at California State University, Northridge, who reviewed MSPAP’s science tests. To do well on MSPAP, Metzenberg and other reviewers said, students don’t necessarily have to know anything. Higher scores go to those who have mastered a writing style that satisfies MSPAP scorers.

But state officials said Metzenberg and several other experts appointed by Abell spent three days in Baltimore looking for things wrong with the performance tests.

“Candidly, the tone is totally unprofessional and inflammatory,” said Mark Moody, the state’s testing chief. “We certainly don’t object to an outside look at MSPAP, but this is so biased that it’s a turnoff to gaining anything constructive.”

Moody likened the exercise to “asking a creationist to review the theory of evolution.” His boss, Grasmick, fired off a letter last month to Robert C. Embry Jr., the foundation president, expressing disappointment and vowing to name a panel “of individuals who are not hostile to performance-based assessments” to carry out an objective study.

State officials said items in the performance tests are subject to exhaustive review and then field tested extensively before they become a part of MSPAP. “I trust that process far more than I trust the process these reviewers went through,” said Gary Heath, the State Education Department’s branch chief for arts and sciences. “They were extremely unfair.”

Panelists at issue

The department and foundation squabbled over the members of the review panel from the time Embry offered to finance the study nearly four years ago. Grasmick vetoed two foundation choices, while the foundation rejected at least one of the superintendent’s nominees.

The compromise chairman of the panel, which has not yet produced reports on social studies and technical aspects of MSPAP, is Williamson M. Evers, a research fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution in Palo Alto, Calif. Evers is one of the top education advisers to the Republican presidential candidate, George W. Bush.

Conservative ties

Other panelists have ties to conservative organizations such as the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, or they have been openly critical of the national academic standards on which MSPAP is based. Ralph A. Raimi, emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of Rochester reviewed the MSPAP math tests. Two years ago, Raimi advised Fordham in a critique of the states’ math standards. Maryland’s grade was an “F.”

The latest study grew out of a change of heart by Embry, a former president of the state board of education who had once been a strong MSPAP supporter and Grasmick ally.

In a memo Christmas Eve 1996, Embry said nagging doubts about the battery of tests had “expanded considerably, the more I have learned.” He suggested a 12-point study of MSPAP’s content, scoring and “efficiency.”

Embry said yesterday he would not comment on the study until he hears an official reaction from Grasmick and her staff…

Metzenberg said the panel is preparing an executive summary that will not reveal actual test items…




This web site is geared primarily toward educators who want to remain current on research in the neurosciences.


The Math Forum recommends “The Real Challenge” (, an animated and interactive testing and learning site. “The Real Challenge” is a timed test at various grade levels in either math or science, comparable to that used in the Third International Math and Science Study (TIMSS). After completing the assessment, students can see their score and compare their performance with that of students from 41 other countries.


The Math Forum has updated its Student Center with new content and age-specific search engines for their Internet Mathematics Library:

– Graduate (research)

– College (undergraduates)

– High School (ages 14-18)

– Middle School (ages 11-13)

– Elementary (ages 5-11)


Mathematics Education Position-California State University, Fresno

The Department of Curriculum, Teaching, and Educational Technology is pleased to announce a tenure-track opening for a faculty member in mathematics education (commencing August, 2001). Details may be found at the following web site:

Please share this information with individuals who might be interested in applying for this position.


COMET is an online newsletter that seeks to provide timely information in a digest format about state (California) and national news, articles, events, opportunities, and web resources related to mathematics education. Information from a variety of print and online sources is compiled and distributed via COMET approximately once a week during the regular academic year. The target audience includes California PreK-12 teachers of mathematics and school/district administrators, as well as university faculty throughout the nation who are interested in issues related to mathematics education (with a focus on California news). Because COMET is based at California State University, Fresno, mathematics education opportunities in Central California are also included.