COMET • Vol. 1, No. 25 – 25 September 2000


(1) “State to Issue Content Guidelines for Preschoolers” by Bradley Weaver

Source: The North County [California] Times – 18 September 2000

…The California Department of Education is expected to issue a 200-page document to districts early next month detailing what is academically and socially expected of preschoolers in both the private and public sector.

The report covers virtually all areas of preschool life, including language arts, mathematics, motor development, creativity and self-confidence. Teachers are also given tips on effective classroom preparation and strategies on how to improve in their job.

However, unlike the stringent content standards for kindergartners through 12th graders, which align classroom learning with state expectations, these guidelines are encouraged rather than enforced.

Sharon Hawley, a consultant with the California Department of Education, Child Development Division, said although the report is a departure from the hard-line stance the state uses for elementary, middle and high schools, the action marks a major step in pre-kindergarten programming for youngsters ages 3 to 5.

“We really haven’t had a specific set of guidelines before,” said Hawley. “For the first time, the state is making its positions known on what is included in child-development programs. There are a lot of interesting concepts we want to develop”…

“Children are enthusiastic learners and there needs to be some way to validate the work going on in pre-kindergarten sites,” said Hawley. “There are some disturbing things going on that underlie the whole issue of quality programs”…

Children should be expected to “recognize print in the environment,” “distinguish separate words,” “recognize rhyming words,” “know some letter names and shapes, including the letters in the child’s name,” and “recite familiar poems and chants”…

State educators say the higher expectations in kindergarten and primary grades will require children to enter kindergarten better prepared than ever before. But some local educators are skeptical of the report, saying the guidelines could mean an unhealthy push for academics too early.

Cindy Layton, director and owner of Murrieta Ranch Child Care, said the standards will be valuable only if they are used with the child’s academic level in mind. A 32-year educator, Layton said traditional preschool practices involving playground sandboxes and tree climbing are slowly being replaced by flash cards and workbooks.

“The biggest block I’ve seen is people wanting to start their kids out early,” said Layton. “There’s this strong push to teach the alphabet early and learn your numbers early. Curriculum has become so paper-pencil that we’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a child. I just hope everybody doesn’t look too far ahead and get caught up in the hype”…

But state officials, like Hawley, said the guidelines rely just as heavily on social and emotional areas as academic development. They are designed to stimulate classroom activity and validate what teachers should already be doing in classrooms.

The report’s introductory chapter and table of contents are available on the California Department of Education Web site at The entire document will be available Wednesday at the department’s publications warehouse for those who want to buy it early.

A panel of 26 consultants, including teachers, parents and educators spent two years creating the report. It was fueled by the state’s $2 million investment to create better preschool programs. State officials also said it moves programs one step closer to state School Superintendent Delaine Eastin’s goal of universal preschool –public preschool for everyone…

(2) “Study Says California Plan Would Aid Affluent” by Jodi Wilgoren

Source: New York Times – 21 September 2000

The school voucher initiative on the California ballot this fall would, once fully implemented, give at least $2.6 billion in taxpayer money to families — most of them affluent — whose children already attend private schools, according to an academic study released today.

The initiative, Proposition 38, would make all the state’s students eligible for a $4,000 voucher that could be used to defray private- school tuition. While the measure is intended, in part, to help low-income parents flee failing schools, the report by Policy Analysis for California Education — a collaboration of professors at Stanford University and University of California at Berkeley — suggests that the primary beneficiaries may be wealthy private-school students. Even some voucher advocates have criticized the initiative for not limiting the vouchers to impoverished families or struggling schools.

“This does not expand choice to more families,” said Luis Huerta, a co-author of the report. “It’s essentially tax relief for the well off.”

While the voucher costs less than the $6,313 California spends to educate each public-school student, private-school enrollment would have to more than double to 1.5 million before the state would break even on the initiative — that is, before the money saved by students leaving the system would make up for the vouchers given to children already in private school. Current private schools report only 32,000 vacant seats, though more schools would probably be created if the initiative passed.

The report said, “It’s likely that the most disadvantaged children — those from low-income families with minimally educated parents — would be the ones left behind in mediocre public schools.”



(1) “Music-Thinking Link Doubtful, Study Says” by Scott S. Greenberger

Source: Boston Globe – 21 September 2000

In findings that will dismay some advocates for the arts, a Harvard study casts doubt on the link between the arts and academic achievement.

In reviewing 188 studies over the past 50 years, Harvard researchers found some evidence that playing and listening to music improves spatial thinking, but little proof that music and art classes help students read better or score higher on tests.

“We’re not saying don’t use the arts in presenting other topics,” said the study’s co-author, Lois Hetland, a psychologist affiliated with Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. “We’re saying don’t risk putting all your eggs in the basket that art will raise math scores, because the evidence is not strong enough to support that argument.”

But Don Campbell, a Colorado-based musician and journalist who has written two books on the so-called “Mozart effect” – the idea that listening to classical music sharpens the brain – said the connection between music and thinking defies measurement.

“The rhythm, harmony, and melodies of the music all create different perceptions and sensations within different regions of the brain,” Campbell said. “The Mozart effect is far more than any one study can measure.”

The issue has sparked widespread interest ever since University of Wisconsin researchers linked music to IQ six years ago. In that study, a small group of college students did better on certain spatial-reasoning tests – such as mentally cutting and folding a piece of paper – after listening to 10 minutes of Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major.

Despite warnings from the Wisconsin researchers not to read too much into the results, the study spawned a cottage industry of classical music videotapes and CD’s designed to help infants, even fetuses, think better.

Meanwhile, advocates for art and music classes in school, trying to reverse decades of budget cuts by cost-conscious school boards, began pointing to the Wisconsin study and others like it to bolster their arguments. Given the national obsession with high-stakes tests, they reasoned, it made sense to promote art and music classes as a way to boost test scores.

The Harvard study suggests they should take a different tack. Hetland and her co-author, Ellen Winner, discovered a connection between music and spatial thinking and between drama and verbal skills such as reading, writing, and oral understanding. But they didn’t find any solid evidence that music, art, and dance improve reading, or that classes in the arts improve test scores.

Hetland says she’s a strong supporter of art and music classes, but thinks they deserve a place in the curriculum on their own merits.

“We don’t ask history to justify itself on the basis of whether it raises English scores. It’s valuable on its own,” she said.

Holly Rose of the Creative Movement and Arts Center, which has facilities in Needham, Sudbury, and Walpole and has been introducing children to music and dance for 20 years, said music has a developmental impact, if not a direct academic one.

“Music really enhances the learning experience, even if it doesn’t necessarily spawn geniuses or people who excel in particular areas,” Rose said.

Still, some arts educators insist that music and art classes can affect overall student achievement. Arnold Aprill of the Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education said expanding the arts in Chicago schools has improved students’ attitudes toward other subjects, spurred parents to get more involved, and even raised test scores.

(2) “Reviewing Questioned” by Jay Mathews

Source: Washington Post – 5 September 2000

…Some educators don’t like the content of the state exams, and some don’t like the penalties for failing the tests. But quite apart from those criticisms, the testing has spawned a debate over the proper role of review in the learning process.

Several teachers are just as unhappy as their students about the emphasis on review. They say the tests promote regurgitation, not education, and take up time that could be better spent on field trips or classroom debates that make learning more exciting.

Karen Tokos, a biology teacher at Madison High School in Fairfax County, said faculty members struggle with “a ridiculous number of disruptions to instructional time” because of standardized testing. Timothy M. Rood, who teaches history at East Hampton High School on New York’s Long Island, said that between the amount of material he must cover and the time he must spend on review sessions, he has had to resort to inviting students to come in on Saturdays.

But other teachers, as well as cognitive psychologists, say that review is more useful than it is given credit for–that ideas need to be repeated in order to sink in. If anything, the amount of review now being conducted in schools remains insufficient, some experts say.

“Review–and, certainly, spaced review–is not a common practice in the classroom,” said Frank N. Dempster, an educational psychologist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Experts suspect that some teachers don’t review as much as they should because they think students are bored by it. Bernstein said he felt that way as a student: “I would tune out, even in subjects like history and geography in which I was quite skilled.”

So, as a teacher, he attacks the problem in several ways. He sends faster students on explorations of new topics while he helps slower ones catch up. He makes the sessions fun, appearing in costumes (judicial robes when discussing justice), making deliberate mistakes (extra points for anyone who catches him) and conducting “Jeopardy!”-like quiz games.

Studies show that review is best when it occurs soon after the initial lesson. Chemical pathways are opened when the brain absorbs a new concept, and, like any trail, they need to be reused to remain open. Studies also have found that short and frequent breaks for review are more effective than one long pre-test cramming session…

Dempster said that not only do teachers not review enough, but also many textbooks do little to help them. One of the exceptions has been the math books produced by Saxon Publishers Inc., of Norman, Okla., which has made its emphasis on review a major selling point. At the end of each Saxon chapter, students are asked questions that relate not only to the material just learned but also to concepts covered in chapters all the way back to the beginning of the book.

The approach has been rejected by some educators as drill-ridden and old-fashioned. One University of Maryland professor said students need “a more flexible ability to apply their mathematics to novel problems” than Saxon provides. But the books appear to have helped raise achievement scores in many schools, particularly those with many disadvantaged students.

Lynn Dehart, principal of North Dallas High School in Dallas, which uses the textbooks, said Saxon helps students absorb concepts “so they can function without thinking, and then move on to something new.” A well-practiced student, for instance, can see at a glance whether a quadratic equation can be broken down into useful parts without testing all the possible solutions…

(3) “Math Comes Alive in Clayville” by Julia Steiny

Source: Providence Journal – 17 September 2000

Ariana, a fourth-grader at Clayville Elementary School in Scituate, rolls her eyes and exclaims emphatically, “Math used to be so boring! Math when we were doing it with the textbook was very, very boring. Now Mrs. Angelotti gives us fun ways to do it. Like, if you’re stuck, she’s got a bunch of different ways that can help you.”

Ariana’s colleague, Gabe, says “I wasn’t in this school last year, but where I was, there wasn’t anything to learn. The ways (of learning math) were really confusing. The teachers got it, but none of the kids got it.”

Amanda says, “It’s so much more fun when you don’t already know what you’re learning.”

Child after Clayville child remembered the bad old days of the previous math program and enthuses about the new games, manipulatives and math presentations. But most of all they love the sense of not doing the same thing over and over again. Of course, they are repeating the times tables, for example, but the approach is different each week…

[Betty] Angelotti was the first teacher to pilot the “Investigations” math program at the tiny 115-student school. Her own enthusiasm convinced the rest of the teachers to try the program school-wide. She says, “I like the activity of the whole program. You talk less. The children like it because it uses different intelligences. You move around; you work together; you work alone; you can always get help.”

“Investigations” came to my attention because Clayville’s 1999 fourth-grade assessment scores, in both language arts and math, jumped significantly. Yes, “Investigations” is primarily a math program, but children are also required to explain their work, out loud and in writing. They build “word banks” with math vocabulary words that they can trust will have the same meaning when they move on to the next grade…

In Linda Parillo’s third-grade class, teams of two students report on their brain-storming session to their colleagues and critical friends…

Parrillo says, “My role as teacher has changed considerably because I’m guiding them through their own investigations, rather than teaching them computations. They no longer memorize facts. I give them a problem and they work in teams. Today, for example, one team came up with a few big number fractions. The audience would not accept them because the numbers were so much bigger than they are used to using. The team proved their point.

“The students often present in front of the class and sometimes the group is hard on them, but they take it well. Their oral and communications skills are improving. They do more writing and speaking about math, so the children are developing a rich math vocabulary. Even children who are ‘remedial math students’ seem to blossom and learn a lot from their peers. And whatever gender bias there was is gone. They all feel good at math and if a child feels good at something, they tend to try harder and do better.”

Nancy Fraser, the first-grade teacher, says, “We do so much with number patterns (which always have visual representations), so the children are carrying over a lot of the patterning into bigger and bigger numbers. They add much bigger numbers in their heads than they did when they memorized the facts. The drill-and-kill never gave you any understanding. It was tedious for everyone. We used to use flash cards for math facts. Now they just know it.’

Like the students, Clayville teachers still cringe at the memories of feeling ground down by their old-style learning process. They all love feeling turned on now.

You get the feeling the teachers couldn’t admit their sense of drudgery to each other because there seemed no way out. But lo, the highly energetic Mrs. Angelotti talked them into taking on the considerable work and responsibility of a new program — they were very clear about looking forward to becoming more familiar with the lessons — and striking out on a new path. “Investigations” is certainly working for them.

(4) “What the AERA Says About High-Stakes Testing” by Michael Sadowski

Source: Harvard Education Letter – Research Online – September/October, 2000 (via Jerry Becker on the NCSM listserv)

Pressure to raise test scores can force state- and district-level officials to make decisions that may run contrary to what’s best for students, education researchers say. In an effort to provide research-based guidelines to policymakers, test publishers, and school personnel, the American Educational Research Association (AERA) has issued a position statement on the use of high-stakes testing in pre-K-12 education. According to its authors, the statement presents “a set of conditions essential to sound implementation of high-stakes testing programs.” The conditions, summarized here, include:

Protection Against High-Stakes Decisions Based on a Single Test

“Decisions that affect individual students’ life chances or educational opportunities should not be made on the basis of test scores alone . . .” At the very least, the AERA recommends that students be given multiple opportunities to pass high-stakes tests and that alternative forms of assessment be provided where there is “credible evidence” that a test may not measure a child’s true level of proficiency.

Adequate Resources and Opportunity to Learn

Before students, schools, and districts can be “passed” or “failed” by high-stakes tests, they must have access to the materials, curriculum, and instruction to enable them to succeed on such assessments:

“When content standards and associated tests are introduced as a reform to change and thereby improve current practice, opportunities to access appropriate materials and retraining consistent with the intended changes should be provided before schools, teachers, or students are sanctioned for failing to meet the new standards.”

Validation for Each Separate Intended Use

Tests must only be used for the purposes for which they are valid, and each use of a particular test must be subject to “a separate evaluation of the strengths and limitations of both the testing program and the test itself.”

Full Disclosure of Likely Negative Consequences

“Where credible scientific evidence suggests that a given type of testing program is likely to have negative side effects, test developers and users should make a serious effort to explain these possible effects to policymakers,” recommends the AERA.

Alignment Between the Test and the Curriculum

The test should reflect the curriculum in both its content and the cognitive process involved: “High-stakes tests should not be limited to that portion of the relevant curriculum that is easiest to measure.” To avoid the problem of “teaching to the test,” the AERA recommends using multiple test forms “to avoid a narrowing of the curriculum toward just the content sampled on a particular form.”

Opportunities for Meaningful Remediation

Students who fail a high-stakes test should be given a second chance, and “remediation should focus on the knowledge and skills the test is intended to address, not just the test performance itself.”

Additional conditions for sound testing implementation outlined in the statement include: setting valid and appropriate passing levels; taking into consideration language differences among examinees; paying appropriate attention to students with disabilities; and performing ongoing evaluations of the intended and unintended effects of high-stakes testing.

“These are all criteria that we believe have to be put in place in order for testing to be fair,” says AERA president Catherine Snow. “Right now, there’s not a state in the union that’s abiding by all of them.” The full text of the AERA position statement is available online at . The AERA website is at .

(5) The National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century (The Glenn Commission)

A press conference announcing the Commission’s Report will be held on Wednesday, September 27, 2000, at 10 a.m. at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, 6th Street and Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC. The press conference will be available via Webcast and satellite. The satellite coordinates and information on how to watch the Webcast will be available shortly.

Report Release — September 27, 2000

In March 1999, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley established a National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century. Chaired by astronaut and former Senator John Glenn, the Commission is poised to release their report to the Nation on how to improve the quality of teaching in mathematics and science at all grades nationwide. Joining Senator Glenn has been a diverse and talented group of 32 individuals chosen for their broad expertise and ability to help implement recommendations that emerge from the deliberations. These stakeholders in math and science teaching include business and education leaders; public officials at the Federal, national, State, and local levels; and teachers of mathematics and science.

Final Report Release The Glenn Commission met five times to review what is known about high quality mathematics and science teaching as well as the current state of teacher recruitment, preparation, retention, and career-long professional growth. Using a combination of research results, the wisdom of best practices, and a vision of “what should be,” the Commission has developed a set of recommendations and action strategies to help ensure that an adequate supply of highly skilled individuals enter and remain in the math and science teaching profession. The recommendations will also help make certain that throughout the span of a teacher’s career, he or she has the opportunity to learn, generate, accumulate, and share knowledge about math and science content and teaching methods.

Copies of the report will be available by calling 1-877-4ED-PUBS (1-877-433-7827) and will be available online at