COMET • Vol. 1, No. 07 – 14 March 2000

March 14: “Pi Day” (3.14) and the anniversary of Einstein’s birth in 1879.


(1) “Request for Proposals for the Governor’s Professional Development Institutes for Teachers of Mathematics Grades 4-12”

The second draft of the “Request for Proposals for the Governor’s Professional Development Institutes for Teachers of Mathematics Grades 4-12” is currently available. If you would like to receive a copy of the final RFP, please contact . [More information about the institutes can be found in COMET 1(3) and 1(4).] The following is from the latest RFP:

“There are four Mathematics Professional Development Institutes:

“Elementary Mathematics Institutes: For teachers in self-contained classrooms, grades 4-6, whose schools are willing to assign them to teach mathematics to students in addition to those in their own classrooms. The mechanism for accomplishing this goal (team teaching, semi-departmentalization, etc.) is left up to the school to design. The idea is that some teachers will learn more mathematics and that their increased understanding will be shared beyond their own classroom. Teams of teachers from a school and/or district should include an administrator who can support the work of these teachers. Programs should correspond to one of the courses that leads to a CTC Mathematics Specialist Credential.

“Algebra Institutes: For teachers in grades 6-12 who teach the content of algebra and the coursework that prepares students for algebra, regardless of the titles of the courses or the grade levels of the students who are taking these courses. Teams of teachers from a school, a district, or across districts that serve the same students, are encouraged, including a department chair or administrator who can support the work of these teachers.

“Algebra Academies: For teachers in grades 7 and 8 who teach the content of algebra and the coursework that prepares students for algebra, regardless of the titles of the courses, who are teaching summer school (as defined by SB1503) and engage in professional development in conjunction with that summer school teaching.

“High School Mathematics Institutes: For teachers in grades 9-12 who teach the full spectrum of high school courses ranging from preparing for the High School Exit Exam through AP Mathematics. These institutes should be planned to serve the needs indicated by school districts. A single institution can propose to serve more than one of the identified needs in multiple institutes.

“All Mathematics Institutes must address the California Academic Content Standards in Mathematics and 1999 Mathematics Framework for the relevant grade levels or courses. They must, however, develop this content in such a way that teachers develop deep understanding of this subject matter by making the connections among the content addressed within the mathematics being studied and between the mathematics being studied and the courses that teachers teach.” These institutes will be hosted by colleges and universities, in collaboration with districts and county offices of education.

(2) Update on the Protest Surrounding the Elimination of Integrated Mathematics Programs in the Los Angeles Unified School District

In the 26 February 2000 issue of COMET, an article described the rationale behind Guillermo Mendieta’s planned hunger strike (see more information). A press conference is planned for 16 March 2000 at 5 p.m. in CSU-LA’s Student Union Building, Los Angeles Room A.

The President of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Glenda Lappan, has written a letter to the Superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District and Los Angeles Unified School Board Members in response to this situation:

Source: – 21 February 2000

“Dear Superintendent Cortinez:

“I write to you on behalf of the over 100,000 members of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. We have been following the events in the Los Angeles School District with growing concern. We see that once again groups with interests in the issues advocate for their perspective, with very different ideas about claims and what counts as evidence for those claims. The result is a community divided. The arguments become polarized and those who give their time, experience, and energy in schools teaching our children are ignored. This is not the environment in which decisions that affect the lives of our children should be made”.

“In your own school district, Los Angeles Unified, the data are clear. The schools using integrated mathematics materials that are more in the spirit of the NCTM Standards are working for students. The scores for African American and Latino students show very positive gains in these schools. In those same schools the scores of white students are increasing as well. Why would you want to force all integrated materials from the system and take the heart out of the teachers who have worked so hard to help students make these gains? This makes no sense.

“We urge you to listen to all sides, not just professional mathematicians who have little knowledge of or experience in teaching students in schools. Their knowledge and their voice should be heard, but it should not be the only voice, nor even the primary voice to which you attend. Look at your own district’s data. Consider the damage you will do to progress underway if you mandate a different direction. Remember that the problems we are facing are not new. Our mathematics programs have traditionally served to privilege some students over others by concentrating more on sorting than on enabling. We are trying to change this because we believe that all students should be afforded the opportunity to learn mathematics. We believe in inclusion rather than exclusion. In the year 2000 it is unacceptable to deny any child an excellent mathematics program that enables him or her to learn.”

(3) “State Scraps Flawed Data That Compared Similar Schools” by Martha Groves

Source: Los Angeles Times – 12 March 2000

“The California Department of Education has yanked information from its Internet site that ranked schools against others with similar characteristics, acknowledging that data used to compute the rankings were more extensively flawed than the agency had realized.

“Doug Stone, an agency spokesman, emphasized Friday that schools’ raw scores on the state’s first Academic Performance Index and the 1-to-10 statewide rankings of schools were not affected by the data problems. Rather, the inaccuracies skewed rankings of schools against counterparts with similar ethnic and economic traits.

“About 600 school districts with a total of 4,300 schools, nearly two-thirds of the 6,700 schools rated in the Academic Performance Index, have told the department that they inadvertently supplied faulty data–or no data at all–on the percentages of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches under federal guidelines. The federal lunch program is used as the measure of poverty among schoolchildren”

“The index, released with great fanfare Jan. 25, is the cornerstone of an ambitious state program to gauge the academic improvement of schools. It will serve as a baseline for determining which schools will eventually qualify for financial rewards and which might come in for sanctions”

“In mid-February, Delaine Eastin, state superintendent of public instruction, wrote to superintendents and gave them three options: They could stick with the numbers originally reported on the Stanford 9; they could use a different percentage calculated by the state office that runs the school lunch program; or they could submit a percentage calculated by the district.

“The department says it now has the corrected data from districts and plans to revise the rankings for posting in mid-April on its Web site ( For the 2000 index, the department advised districts, only data from the Stanford 9 information form will be used”

“Now that schools know the significance of the data, said Pat McCabe, an administrator in the office of policy and evaluation for the state Department of Education, -we’re quite confident that next year the data will be more accurate.”

(4) “Prepping for Stanford 9 Tests” by Maria Sacchetti

Source: The Orange County Register – 12 March 2000

“The test-prep industry is rushing into California on the eve of the third year of Stanford 9 testing, raising concerns that the extra help is giving an unfair advantage to those who can afford it.

“Starting Wednesday, more than 4 million California students in grades two through 11 will take the state-mandated test during the spring, and this year the stakes are higher than ever. The scores will be used to judge the quality of schools, and possibly to award scholarships to high-scoring students. Students who fail are at risk of repeating a grade.

“State law bans schools from using test-prep materials that are designed for a specific standardized test such as the Stanford 9. But that cannot stop parents from paying for test-preparation programs such as Dr. Choi’s Academy in Irvine, which charges $145 a month to drill students for two hours a week in math, reading and test-taking skills”

“The state’s new accountability campaign, which kicks into high gear this year, is fueling the test-prep expansion, from national companies to tutors in local office parks, education officials said.

“In January the state released the Academic Performance Index, a new tool for measuring schools that assigns each school a number that is temporarily based only on its Stanford 9 scores. State officials plan to expand the API to include other measures, such as tests that reflect California’s academic standards, in 2001.

“While state law prohibits schools from prepping for specific tests, it allows them to use general test-prep materials. But the state is unable to monitor schools to make sure they are not violating the law, said Gerry Shelton, an administrator with the state testing program. “We don’t have an idea about how many people are getting close to the line,” Shelton said. “We aren’t in a position to review specific materials.”

“For some observers, the solution to the debate over test preparation lies simply in teaching kids the basics. Students who are taught well should succeed on the Stanford 9 or any other test, regardless of whether they take a prep class, educators say.”

(5) “Competition 101: The Test-prep Market” by Maria Saccetti

Source: The Orange County Register – 12 March 2000

“‘Any time there’s a high-stakes test, there will be test-prep’ said John Katzman, president of The Princeton Review, a New-York-based test-prep company. ‘You’ve gone from almost no stakes to extraordinarily high stakes.'”

“The competition is led by companies such as The Princeton Review and Kaplan Inc., also based in New York, both better known for preparing students for college entrance exams such as the SAT.

“Later this year, Kaplan will publish its first California test guide for grades three and four ($6.95) followed by workbooks for grades three, eight and nine ($12 each). Kaplan’s Score learning centers started giving away parents’ guides to the test last year.

“The Princeton Review will pilot its in California in coming weeks, offering a money-back guarantee for subscribing schools ($3-$4 per student) that fail to boost test scores, Katzman said. The company’s Web site tells parents: ‘It’s not enough that he’s reading every night or doing his homework. That won’t automatically add up to high performance or shining test scores'”

“Scholastic Inc., a publishing company based in New York, offered practice tests to California teachers this year., an online service, is offering free sample tests for California and other states.

“Still, test-prep companies find themselves dancing around a California law that bans schools from using materials aimed at a single test, such as the Stanford 9.

“Kaplan Inc., for example, trains teachers nationwide to prepare students for standardized tests. In states such as New York and Texas, which allow test preparation, they can discuss the tests freely.

“But in California, they avoid mentioning the Stanford 9, even though it is the only test every student must take, said Brian Anderson, Kaplan’s regional director of test prep.”



The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has updated its Web site to include an “NCTM Speaks Out” feature: . Links to the Web sites listed on this page are included below:

(a) Letter to the Massachusetts Commissioner of Education and the Board of Education on 21 February 2000 [Note: Background on this letter can be found in the 20 and 26 February 2000 issues of COMET.]

(b) Setting the Record Straight about Changes in Mathematics Education:

“Commonsense facts about the changes in mathematics education can be found in [this] series of fact sheets developed in the interest of common sense, moving forward and helping all children learn mathematics. The fact sheets are in PDF format and require Adobe Acrobat Reader 4.0 for viewing.”

(i) Commonsense Facts about the NCTM Standards [excerpt follows (f) below]:

(ii) Commonsense Facts about School Mathematics:

(iii) Commonsense Facts to Clear the Air:

(c) Testimony by NCTM Executive Director John Thorpe submitted to the hearing record on “The Federal Role in K-12 Mathematics Reform” on 2 February, 2000 [For background on the Congressional Hearing, see the 20 February 2000 issue of COMET.]

(d) Testimony was given by John Thorp on H.R. 1265 “Mathematics and Science Proficiency Partnership Act” to the Subcommittee on Basic Research on 29 July, 1999:

(e) NCTM Legislative and Policy Updates:

(f) Contact List for Members of the 106th Congress:

Sample from (b) above:

“Commonsense Facts about the NCTM Standards

“In April 1989, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) released its Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics, thereby launching a decade of renewed interest in educational standards. These 1989 Standards have been updated in NCTM’s “Principles and Standards for School Mathematics” (to be released 12 April 2000). Overall, the NCTM Standards documents advocate a broader and more meaningful mathematics curriculum that is responsive to changing societal priorities and to changes in instructional practice that meet the needs of a far greater proportion of the student population than has been true in the past.

“The Standards call for a mathematics curriculum that emphasizes finding and justifying solutions to problems, in addition to performing calculations. Furthermore, they encourage teaching in ways that help students make sense of important concepts through representing, communicating, reasoning about, and making connections among mathematical ideas.”



(1) California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS)

COSMOS is “an innovative new residential program for academically gifted and talented students of mathematics and science that will begin this summer. Funded by the State legislature and hosted by the University of California’s campuses at Irvine and Santa Cruz, this is an exceptional opportunity for high school students to explore advanced topics generally not offered in a high school curriculum with world-class faculty, scholars, and researchers. The fields available for study at COSMOS include computer science, astronomy, chemistry, mathematics, physics, and ocean and marine sciences.” Applications, which are available online at , are due on March 15.

(2) The California Science Teachers Association

The California Science Teachers Association (CSTA) is still accepting proposals for presentations to be given at its eighth annual conference on 12-15 October 2000 at the Sacramento Convention Center. The submission deadline is March 15, 2000. For more information, go to the CSTA web site:



(1) The National Center for Improving Student Learning and Achievement in Mathematics and Science

The National Center for Improving Student Learning and Achievement in Mathematics and Science has a new web site with up-to-date research as well as teacher resources for K-12 math and science:

(2) “Figure This!”

Sponsored by the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation, “Figure This!” is intended to engage middle-school students and their parents by posing mathematical challenges for them to solve together. The goal is to prevent students from moving away from mathematics in the eighth grade, a choice that closes off many significant career options. There are currently 16 challenges on the web site; another 80 challenges will be developed and distributed over the next two years.

See the web page at for more information and the current challenge problems.

(3) “Pi Day” Web sites from the Math Forum Internet News

PI DAY 2000: March 14 at 1:59:26

For Web sites about pi and activities for celebrating Pi Day, visit the Math Forum’s Internet Mathematics Library:

Arithmetic/Early: Number Sense/About Numbers: Pi

See, in particular:

– Pi Mathematics – Ganas, Moore; National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA)

An adventure in exploring the concept of Pi, with activities, projects, applications, history, an information video, and teacher resources

– The Pi Pages – Centre for Experimental and Constructive Mathematics (CECM)

Links to many sources of information: the story of the history of the computation of pi, current records of computation, and more

– Pi Through the Ages – MacTutor Math History Archives – A history of pi

Try an activity sent to us by teacher Diana Funke: Making a Pi Necklace

or send a Pi Day greeting card: 123 Greetings–



Teachers Teaching With Technology Workshops

Fresno Pacific University is sponsoring three five-day workshops on 10-14 July 2000: Middle School Mathematics (utilizing Texas Instrument’s Math Explorer and TI-73 calculators); Integrating Multiple Technologies-Calculators, Data Collection Devices, and the Internet (TI-83+ calculator); and Statistics (for teachers of grades 8-12; TI-83+ calculator-based). For more information or an application form, email or call (559) 453-2024.


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!)