COMET • Vol. 1, No. 06 – 5 March 2000


(1) “The Politics of California School Mathematics: The Anti-Reform of 1997-99”

by Jerry P. Becker and Bill JacobSource: Phi Delta Kappan – March 2000

“THE FEBRUARY 1999 issue of the Kappan featured a special section devoted to the recent controversies in mathematics education. Together, these articles offer an excellent background to the key issues surrounding those controversies. The discussions make clear why the traditional drill-and-practice curriculum has failed to help most students, and they explain what researchers have identified as necessary factors to improve student understanding”

“Collectively, these articles provide compelling reasons why educators must move forward with mathematics education reform. Nevertheless, the state board of education in California has mandated extreme steps in the opposite direction. Taking the February 1999 Kappan as background, we wish to outline here some of what has occurred in the nation’s most populous state. It is a story of a powerful group of parents and mathematicians who manipulated information and played off of the public’s perception of our ‘failing schools’ to acquire political clout. We will tell this story using the public writings of those who have prevailed in the debate. We will also substantiate many of the claims made in some of the articles in the February Kappan and so bring specificity to the discussion and allow readers to see what the policy documents in California actually say.

“Through this examination, we hope other states will be able to adopt a more rational course as they reconsider their policies”

“In April 2000 the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics will release the final version of its Standards 2000 document, outlining a balanced view of teaching for understanding that pays adequate attention to both skills and problem solving. The same mathematicians who helped create the new policies in California and who attacked the U.S. Department of Education’s list of exemplary and promising programs may well launch an attack on NCTM. Perhaps we will hear again about lack of mathematical precision, lack of skills (with emphasis on “standard algorithms”), mathematical errors, inappropriate calculator use, low standards, and the “research” that supports the critics’ views. But we need to be vigilant and careful and not be fooled by their seemingly impressive credentials and writing. We need to look carefully at the details. While there is always room for improvement in any endeavor, instead of joining forces with teachers and contributing to the process, these critics may once again interfere with efforts to reach more students in order to secure their vision of 13 years of precalculus symbol manipulation. Content knowledge is no substitute for knowledge of how students’ understanding develops, but this point seems lost on these critics. We ask readers to examine the NCTM document. We are convinced they will see the same merit in it as we do.”

(2) “Parent Sues to Get School Ranking Data” by Lisa Shafer

Source: Contra Costa Times – 4 March 2000

“The Department of Education has been sued for refusing to release information on how it ranked more than 7,000 schools in the state’s first Academic Performance Index.

“René Amy, a Southern California father, filed a civil lawsuit Thursday in Los Angeles County Superior Court against the department and its leader, Delaine Eastin, the state superintendent of public instruction.

“Amy is seeking access to all information related to the ‘similar schools’ ranking of the API, a school-by-school rating released by the department in January. The similar schools portion of the index was meant to offer an apples-to-apples comparison of schools. But the education department now says the rankings were based on inaccurate demographic information supplied by school districts”

“It is the department’s contention that based on the Public Records Act there is no public benefit in releasing erroneous data that we are correcting and that will be disclosed shortly,’ Eastin’s spokesman, Doug Stone, said Friday”

“In an interview Friday, Amy said he was interested in knowing more about the education department’s errors and why it didn’t recognize them before the Academic Performance Index was released in January with great fanfare.”

(3) “More Praise for CART: Innovative High School Draws Praise From State’s Top Education Official”

Source: The Fresno Bee – 28 February 2000,1738,138697.html,00.html

Delaine Eastin, state superintendent of public instruction, joined a long list of admirers this week as she praised the Center for Advanced Research and Technology as “likely the most exciting new site in California.” “The CART charter school, scheduled to open this fall, has been destined for greatness from day one and has been named a national model, even though it will not open until September. It began as a partnership between Superintendent Walter Buster of the Clovis Unified School District and Carlos Garcia, superintendent of Fresno Unified School District.”

“The focus is technology and true-to-life experience. Studies will include the global economy, environmental and agricultural technology, chemical technology and biotechnology. Happiness for these students is never having to ask ‘What good will this do me in real life?’ They will know exactly how their skills will be used in the workplace because all their lessons will be based on practical experience. Students will attend regular high school for half a day and CART for three hours.

“The school already has received millions in grants and appropriations from the government and from private businesses, including technology leader Microsoft.”



(1) “A Teaching Style That Adds Up”

by David J. Hoff

Source: Education Week – February 23, 2000

“Since 1997, Jackson and his colleagues at Paterson Public School No. 2 (known here simply as School 2) have been investigating the findings of an international study of teaching methods in various countries and how well students learn by those methods. Most schools, experts in the subject say, haven’t heeded the lessons from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study–known as TIMSS–and are teaching exactly the way they were before the U.S. Department of Education and its counterparts around the world released that ambitious analysis of teaching methods, curriculum, and student achievement.

“The 1996 Study found that elementary students from the United States scored above average in international comparisons, but then their standing dropped in middle school and high school. The researchers found the U.S. curriculum a “mile wide and an inch deep,” often covering topics in many grades, but never encouraging students to acquire a deep understanding of the material.

“For Jackson and his colleagues, the most compelling findings from TIMSS were its results on teaching methods. U.S. teachers show students how to perform mathematical functions, but don’t challenge them to learn the underlying concepts of mathematics, according to the study.”

“Jackson, who has taught at School 2 for 16 years, has discovered a new way to impart knowledge. He and his fellow teachers have written mathematics curricula for the 7th and 8th grades that is a mix of New Jersey’s academic standards and the Japanese curriculum. More important, they’ve changed the way they teach in an effort to help their mostly high-poverty, immigrant students understand the concepts of mathematics, not just how to operate formulas.

“TIMSS definitely was the catalyst for everything we have done,” Jackson says:

“At School 2, educators are seeing enough progress to keep going. Last year, the 8th graders at the school passed the state math exam at a higher rate than the Paterson average. When the school’s students move into high school, they are more likely than students from other schools to enroll in Honors Algebra and Algebra 1. Last year, all of the School 2 graduates who took the honors course passed, as did three-quarters of its graduates in Algebra 1.

“Says Smith, the Teachers College professor: ‘This came from a school that was declared one of the four worst in the system, and is now one of the most creative and productive.'”


(2) “New Formula Helps Women In Math, Science: Special Dorm Offers

Support At U. of I” by Meg McSherry Breslin

Source: The Chicago Tribune – 28 February 2000,2669,SAV-0002280030,FF.html

“Clemons lightened up as the women swapped horror stories. Professors with unrelenting standards. Long hours in the lab. Midterms so demanding the women were grateful just to pass. And of course, the isolation they often feel in classes dominated by men.”

“This small exchange of friendship and support on the University of Illinois campus is exactly what administrators hoped for when they carved out all-female floors several years ago for students studying math, science and engineering.”

“In an effort to combat the perplexing and long-standing problem of college women dropping out of math and science fields, the university turned to what is becoming a popular tool on campuses nationwide. It created a so-called ‘living and learning’ community, grouping students studying similar subjects on the same dormitory floor and showering them with support.”

“Students in the Women in Math, Science, and Engineering program’dubbed WIMSE’get personal tutors on the floor, specialized computer labs and study lounges, study buddy arrangements, catered dinners with faculty members in related fields who act as mentors and an elective seminar for discussing professional dilemmas women in the sciences confront”

“Although it’s too soon to gauge WIMSE’s effectiveness, Illinois leaders say that after four years, it’s clear the concept holds promise. Enrollment in the program has increased from one floor of 44 students in 1996 to three floors of 135 students this year”.

“Other universities that have started residential programs for women in math and science in recent years–including Purdue University, the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the University of Michigan’are also touting some success. Michigan, which started a program in 1993, just finished a preliminary evaluation. It found that women in the program were far more likely to graduate with degrees in math and science than were control groups of men and other women majoring in math and science.”

==> “Fighting Like C-A-T-S and D-O-G-S” by Julia Keller
Source: The Chicago Tribune – 3 March 2000,2669,SAV-0003030352,FF.html
[This article isn1t about mathematics education but provides an informative account of the phonics/whole language debate that COMET readers may find of interest.] “For nearly 200 years, phonics and whole-language advocates have battled for control of our schools. For students learning to read, the stakes couldn’t be higher.”



Update on the Gates Millennium Scholars Program

>From John Welty, President, CSUF: “The Gates Millennium Scholars Program has $50 million per year for undergraduate and graduate minority students and they’ve only received 250 applications so far for next fall’s scholarships! Let’s help them spend that money! I’m sure you know many worthy high school seniors or college students you might nominate. Undergraduates can be any major but should have an interest in math or science. Graduate students may be majors in math, science, engineering, computer science, education, or library science. Scholarships can help pay living expenses as well as tuition and fees; also there is a leadership component to the program. Nominations are due March 15, so act now!

“CHECK IT OUT at or where you can download the nomination forms or call the United Negro College Fund at (877) 690-4677. They are administering the program for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in cooperation with the American Indian College Fund and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund.”



(1) Danica McKellar 

Danica McKellar (“Winnie” on “The Wonder Years”) has a Web site dedicated to answering questions (especially math-related questions) posed by students. Danica has a mathematics degree from UCLA and co-authored a paper entitled “”Percolation and GIBBS states multiplicity for ferromagnetic spin models in two dimensions.” Check out her Web site at

(2) The National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics 

The National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics has a new Web site, “a resource site for those interested in leadership in mathematics education”:

(3) The Council of State School Officers (CCSSO)

The Council of State School Officers (CCSSO) has recently released a new publication: “State Indicators of Science and Math Education: 1999”


The report has four main chapters: Indicators of Student Achievement in Mathematics and Science; Indicators of Mathematics and Science Content and Instruction; Indicators of Teacher Preparation and Supply; and Indicators of Context and Conditions for Education

The report enables each state to assess its progress in mathematics and science education since 1990, and to weigh progress in relation to other states and to the nation.

A PDF version (requires Acrobat reader) of the report is available at

(also available in hard copy at $18 per copy; call 202-336-7016)


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. 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 often included. If you would like to include an announcement or article in COMET, please send it to for consideration. (Your comments and suggestions are also welcome!)