COMET • Vol. 10, No. 18 – 14 September 2009


(1) State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell is Now Using Twitter

Source: California Department of Education

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell is accessible via Twitter at and will be holding periodic online office hours using the social networking Web site.

“Technology is helping break down the barriers between government and the people,” said O’Connell. “I hope that these Web-based tools will make information from the CDE more accessible to Californians.”

Twitter is a Web site designed to help people communicate and share information through the exchange of text messages that are a maximum of 140 characters long. This is a useful tool for citizens and journalists to keep updated on O’Connell’s and the CDE’s activities, ask him questions, and follow the latest developments about education.

CDE also launched a simplified version of its Web site for cellular telephones: Users also may access the regular Web site:

“The CDE Web site provides access to tremendous amounts of information about public education, but it can be overwhelming to look at it through a tiny screen on a handheld device,” added O’Connell. “We [launched] a simplified version so users may access the latest developments and certain resources at the CDE much more quickly and easily through today’s mobile technology tools”…


(2) Governor Signs Bill That Suspends Curriculum Framework Revisions and Instructional Materials Adoptions


The following statement appears on the California Department of Education’s “Curriculum Frameworks and Instructional Materials” Web page ( in reference to the (a) Schedule for Curriculum Framework Development and Adoptions of K-8 Instructional Materials and (b) 2010 Follow-Up Adoptions: “Assembly Bill X4 2 (Chapter 2, Statutes of 2009-10 Fourth Extraordinary Session) signed on July 28, 2009, suspended the process and procedures for adopting instructional materials, including framework revisions, until the 2013-14 school year.”

Among many other authorizations, AB X4 2 states the following:

(20) Existing law requires the State Board of Education to adopt basic instructional materials for use in kindergarten and grades 1 to 8, inclusive, and requires the state board to adopt procedures for the submission of basic instructional materials, including the review of the curriculum frameworks.
This bill would prohibit the state board from adopting instructional materials and procedures for their submission until the 2013-14 fiscal year.
(21) Existing law establishes the Instructional Materials Funding Realignment Program that requires the State Department of Education to apportion funds to school districts and requires the governing board of a school district to use that funding to ensure that each pupil is provided with a standards-aligned textbook or basic instructional materials by the beginning of the first school term that commences no later than 24-months after those materials were adopted by the State Board of Education, except as specified. Existing law exempts, until July 1, 2010, school districts from the 24-month requirement.
This bill would extend that exemption until July 1, 2013, but state that this exemption does not does not relieve school districts of their obligations to provide every pupil with textbooks or instructional materials as provided under specified law…


In response to this bill, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell issued the following statement (

“Over the last two years, education has been cut by a staggering $18 billion, and these cuts threaten to derail the progress we’ve made in our classrooms over the last several years.

“Unfortunately, on top of these deep cuts, the Governor and the Legislature are now calling for a delay in adopting instructional materials for our students for five years, significantly affecting learning in our schools. Each new version of our textbooks seeks to improve on the last as we learn what strategies and materials are most effective for teaching our students. Our latest Reading Language Arts/English Language Development books, for example, significantly have improved strategies for teaching English learners. Failing to provide new options for adopted instructional materials will hurt all students, especially our most vulnerable students, and threatens to increase our already unacceptable achievement gap.

“Students will not have new approved books until 2016. The impact is that tools for teachers, principals, and superintendents will be dated and stale and, in some cases, unavailable.

“We will have history textbooks that state there has never been an African American president nor will they include up-to-date lessons on the rise of terrorism and our new global challenge as a result.

“We will have science textbooks that don’t mention the value of stem cell research. Global warming and climate change will affect our lives but will not appear in our textbooks.

“Our students deserve current and accurate materials. If this decision is allowed to stand, many of our students will be stuck with books that were printed before they were born…


Related Article:

“California Budget Troubles Fuel Curriculum Crisis” by Kathleen Kennedy Manzo
Source: Education Week – 9 September 2009



(1) Series of “Back to School” Articles on Learning Mathematics

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
URL (first in the series):

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently published a series of four articles by reporter Eleanor Chute entitled, “Back to School: Do the Math.” The titles and links to these articles appear below:

(a) “Latest ‘New Math’ Concept: Start Early and Make it Fun” (August 30, 2009)


…”I think all children start thinking logically and mathematically before 2 years of age,” said Roberta Schomburg, associate dean in the School of Education at Carlow University and director of its graduate programs in early childhood education.

“It’s not the traditional math we think of in terms of calculations and memorization of algorithms and things like that. In the early years, they’re really learning concepts of number, space, passing of time, volume. They’re experiencing those at a very physical level. They are building those concepts. That’s very critical”…

(b) “Difficulty Understanding Fractions can Add Up to a Whole Lot of Trouble” (August 31, 2009)


…Why do American students have difficulty grasping fractions, and how can teachers best get the material across?

The implications are serious. According to last year’s report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel appointed by the president, difficulty with fractions is impeding America’s overall progress in math, which, in turn, raises national security concerns and questions about the country’s economic vitality…

(c) “Algebra, the Birthplace and Graveyard for Many in Math” (September 1, 2009)


…Algebra is so important that the National Mathematics Advisory Council…called it a “demonstrable gateway to later achievement.”

Robert Moses, founder of the Algebra Project, which for more than two decades has advocated math skills for all, considers learning algebra to be a civil right.

With the shift from industrial to information-age technologies, Mr. Moses said those who don’t know algebra will be left out.

“The consequence is that you’re not going to be able to participate as a citizen. It’s the same consequence as in the 20th century if you couldn’t read or write,” he said…

(d) “Counting Too Much on Calculators (September 2, 2009)


…Few advocate barring [calculators] from class until high school or college, said Henry Kepner, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. These days, debate centers on how best to use the now-ubiquitous devices so they encourage big picture thinking, without letting them become a crutch.

Pushing buttons runs counter to a die-hard view by some parents that math is best learned the way they were taught–by drill and memorization alone. Some still see calculators as inevitably de-emphasizing those traditions.

But some teachers…say keeping calculators away from students would bog them down by requiring too many routine calculations by hand…

Educators say geometry and other areas of math can be introduced to students sooner because of calculators. For instance, being able to display the movement of triangles or other shapes on a graphing calculator allows motion geometry to be more easily tackled as early as middle school, rather than high school, Dr. Kepner said…


(2) Report Calls for National Initiative to Improve Mathematics Education for Preschoolers

Source: The National Academies
URL (Press release):
URL (Report):

To ensure that all children enter elementary school with the foundation they need for success, a major national initiative is needed to improve early childhood mathematics education, says a new report from the National Research Council that is entitled Mathematics Learning in Early Childhood: Paths Toward Excellence and Equity. Opportunities for preschoolers to learn mathematics are currently inadequate, particularly for those in low-income groups, says the report, which is intended to inform the efforts of Head Start, state-funded preschool programs, curriculum developers, and teachers.

“Young children have a keen interest in learning about everything in their environment. That naturally translates into becoming competent in mathematics, but right now most children’s potential is not being realized because we have not given parents, educators and caregivers the tools that they need to build on that interest,” said Christopher T. Cross, chair of the committee that wrote the report, and chairman of Cross & Joftus LLC, an education-policy consulting firm. “Evidence shows that early success in math is linked to later success in both math and reading. Given the increasing importance of science and technology in everyday life and for gaining entry into many careers, it’s crucial that we give all children a strong foundation in math and that we start many years before they enter formal schooling.”

Historically, mathematics has been viewed by many early-childhood educators as unimportant or developmentally inappropriate for young children, but research indicates otherwise, the report says. As early as infancy, children are able to think about their world in mathematical ways; by 10 months of age, babies can distinguish a set of two items from a set of three. Young children continue to expand their competence in informal, spontaneous ways–by counting toys, for example, or pointing out shapes. Adult support in a positive learning environment is crucial to helping children expand their knowledge and see the mathematical aspects of everyday situations, the committee said…

Drawing on available evidence, the report recommends that mathematics instruction in early childhood settings concentrate on two major content areas. The first area–and the one to which the most time should be devoted–is the concept of “number,” used by mathematics educators to encompass counting, determining relative quantities (less and more), and basic computational operations such as adding and subtracting. The second area is geometry, spatial thinking, and measurement. Within those areas, children should reflect on and discuss the mathematical reasoning used to solve problems…

For each content area, the report describes “teaching-learning paths”–sequences of learning experiences in which one idea lays the foundation for the next. Research has shown these pathways to be effective for children to build knowledge and competence in mathematics, said the committee…

A key component of the new national initiative would be providing teachers with professional development about the teaching-learning paths and how to implement a strong mathematics curriculum, the report says. And any serious effort to improve early childhood math instruction will need to include licensure and accreditation processes that assess teachers’ and programs’ competence in teaching math.

Opportunities to receive high-quality math instruction are especially important for low-income children, the committee said, urging implementation of the report’s recommendations by Head Start and other publicly funded programs. Children from low-income families, on average, demonstrate lower levels of competence in math prior to entering school, and these gaps persist or widen as schooling continues. Providing these children with high-quality mathematics instruction early on can provide a foundation for future learning and can help address long-term systematic inequities in educational outcomes.

To read the report online free of charge, visit

(3) Research Findings Contradict Myth of High Engineering Dropout Rate

Source: Purdue University

Research findings suggest that, contrary to popular belief, engineering does not have a higher dropout rate than other majors and women do just as well as men, information that could lead to a strategy for boosting the number of U.S. engineering graduates.

“Education lore has always told us that students–particularly women–drop out of undergraduate engineering programs more often than students in other fields,” said Matthew Ohland, an associate professor in Purdue University’s School of Engineering Education. “Well, it turns out that neither is true. Engineering programs, on average, retain just as many students as other programs do, and once women get to college they’re just as likely to stick around in engineering as are their male counterparts.”

The research also shows that hardly any students switch to engineering from other majors, pointing to a potential strategy for increasing the number of U.S. engineering graduates, Ohland said.

“A huge message in these findings is that engineering students are amazingly like those in other disciplines, but we need to do more to attract students to engineering programs,” he said. “If you look at who graduates with a degree in social sciences, 50 percent of them started in social sciences, and for other sciences it’s about 60 percent. If you look at who graduates with a degree in engineering, however, 93 percent of them started in engineering. The road is narrow for students to migrate into engineering from other majors.”

Findings were drawn largely from a database that includes 70,000 engineering students from nine institutions in the southeastern United States. Ohland manages the database, called the Multiple-Institution Database for Investigating Engineering Development, which followed students over a 17-year period ending in 2005.

Data show that the nine institutions vary dramatically in how well they retain engineering students over eight semesters, ranging from 66 percent to 37 percent. Those findings indicate policies and practices at some institutions may serve to retain students better than those at other institutions.

The findings suggest educators should develop a two-pronged approach to increase the number of engineering graduates: identify which programs best retain students and determine why they are effective, and develop programs and policies that allow students to more easily transfer into engineering from other majors.

A report prepared by the National Academy of Sciences found that a federal effort is urgently needed to bolster U.S. competitiveness and pre-eminence in engineering and science. Meanwhile, emerging nations such as India and China far outstrip the U.S. production of engineers.

One reason for the lack of migration into engineering is that institutions usually do not provide universal prerequisites, such as calculus, which can be applied to engineering, Ohland said.

“At one institution in the database, everybody takes the same calculus course,” Ohland said. “There isn’t calculus for business, or calculus for the life sciences, and this makes it much easier for students to transfer to engineering later in their academic careers. Most institutions, unfortunately, don’t do it this way, meaning you’d have to take calculus over again if you wanted to transfer into engineering, and this discourages students from switching.”

Some of the findings were reported in 2008, and newer findings have been accepted for publication in a future issue of the Journal of Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering.

“The findings in both of these papers are counterintuitive,” Ohland said. “People naturally assume there is a female persistence problem because only about 20 percent of undergraduate engineering students are women.”

By comparison, women earn more than half of bachelor’s degrees in psychology, agricultural sciences, biological sciences, chemistry and social sciences.

“The problem of few women in engineering, however, is one of recruitment, not retention,” Ohland said. “The problem is complex and is certainly affected by engineering’s culture. It is likely that engineering cannot attract significantly more women unless the profession changes…”

The database only includes institutions in the southeast because the partnership to collect the data was first formed there. Future work will include institutions in other geographical areas, but Ohland said there is no reason to assume results from other regions won’t be similar.

“Certainly, we expect to see differences at private institutions, particularly those with low enrollments, but large public institutions probably all have similar behaviors,” Ohland said. “These data should not give people the impression that persistence in engineering education isn’t a concern. Yes, engineering retains students as well as other majors, but that might be because we pay so much attention to engineering retention”…


(4) Symposium on K-12 Engineering Education: Audiocast and Online Report

Source: National Academy of Engineering

Last week’s issue of COMET announced a symposium held on September 8 in Washington, D.C., that highlighted the project, “Understanding and Improving K-12 Engineering Education in the United States.” COMET readers are encouraged to listen to the audiocast of this symposium at (also available from The agenda can be found at

The report can be read online free of charge at Chapters titles include the following:
– What is Engineering?
– The Case for K-12 Engineering Education
– The Current State of K-12 Engineering
– Teaching and Learning Core Engineering Concepts and Skills in Grades K-12
– Findings and Recommendations