COMET • Vol. 10, No. 21 – 6 October 2009


(1) Report Presents Reviews of Free Digital Mathematics and Science Textbooks

Source: California Learning Resource Network (CLRN)
URL (Table of Textbooks Reviewed):

On June 9, 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger implemented the Free Digital Textbook Initiative (FDTI), making it possible for educators to access and download free high school math and science textbooks that align to the California Content Standards. The California Learning Resource Network (CLRN) reviews and determines the extent to which digital textbooks align to the Standards and then posts the information on the CLRN Web site:

Educators are invited to complete a survey at to help CLRN assess familiarity with and use of the digital textbook program by California schools. Your completion of this survey will help to determine the value of and make improvements to the digital textbook initiative. (As an incentive, survey participants are entered into a drawing to win an iPod nano.)


The “Free Digital Textbook Initiative Report” contains reviews facilitated by CLRN. The report, which is available online at, contains reviews of one textbook for Algebra II (see article below), one for Geometry, one for Trigonometry, three for Calculus, and nine for science (biology, chemistry, earth science, and physics). Report excerpts appear below:


California’s Free Digital Textbook Initiative was created to provide students, teachers and parents access to free digital high school textbooks that meet California’s rigorous academic content standards.

At Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s request, Secretary of Education Glen Thomas, Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, and State Board of Education President Theodore Mitchell invited content developers to submit materials for review so that schools would have access to standards-aligned digital math and science textbooks in time for the start of classes in fall 2009. The California Learning Resource Network (CLRN) coordinated resource acquisition and facilitated the reviews.

It is important to note that while the digital textbooks in this report were reviewed for alignment with California’s content standards (see, social content review criteria were not applied during this phase. Thus, a textbook’s inclusion in this report does not in any way constitute an endorsement by the State of California. Districts, schools and individuals planning to take advantage of these books are reminded to conduct their own reviews to determine whether these resources meet their needs.

Textbook reviews and links to each textbook download are available at CLRN’s web site at

…CLRN’s mathematics review site at the Kings County Office of Education under the direction of Jim Shaver and CLRN’s science review site at the Humboldt County Office of Education under the direction of Cathy Dickerson were responsible for conducting the reviews. The majority of reviewers have worked for CLRN for 10 years, and all have been trained in CLRN’s review criteria. Reviewers have college majors in the subject they review and most have either completed the relevant training courses or are trainers themselves.

During the textbook reviews, teams of two reviewers used the standards correlation document for each book to search for and identify whether the publisher’s citation provided sufficient evidence to confirm each standard was developed. When a standard was partially developed or if nonstandard terms were used, reviewers annotated a citation next to each standard. Each textbook was reviewed by one of seven two-person teams at each review site.


(2) High School Teacher’s Algebra II Book Aces California Test

Source: Rice University
URL (Online textbook):

California recently became the first state in the nation to offer free, open-source digital textbooks for high school students. Earlier in the summer, state officials gave an A-plus to a North Carolina high school teacher’s algebra II textbook, one of the first open-source texts submitted for the program.

Advanced Algebra II by Raleigh, N.C., math teacher Kenny Felder was submitted to California officials by Connexions, an open-education initiative at Rice University in Houston that publishes the open-copyright book (see

“Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s initiative, together with President Obama’s proposal to invest $500 million in open-education over the next decade, are two of the most significant steps forward in open-education to date,” said Joel Thierstein, Connexions executive director. “Open education is the biggest advance in education since Horace Mann’s push for mandatory free public education in the U.S.”

Felder, who teaches algebra and calculus at Raleigh Charter High School, said he was delighted to learn that his book scored so well on California’s test. He said the book was created from the lessons he created and refined during 10 years of algebra II classes.

“My book presents math as an exploration of ideas–not a collection of facts and techniques,” Felder said. “Students often tell me they are realizing, for the first time, that math makes sense. And that’s what I hope they remember from my class; there are reasons for everything in math, and you should ask ‘Why?’ and keep asking, particularly if someone says, ‘That’s just the way it is.'”

Thierstein said Felder’s story isn’t unlike those of many authors who’ve submitted materials to Connexions.

“One of the beauties of open-education in general, and Connexions in particular, is that anyone who wants to take the time to create content can do it, and anyone who wants to update content and keep it current or improve it can do that too,” Thierstein said. “A book is never static in Connexions because everything is published under a Creative Commons Attribution Only copyright license. Any teacher can modify the book to make it culturally relevant for their students.”

The reviews of Felder’s book and the other submissions for California’s K-12 open-source textbook initiative were presented at a symposium in Orange County during August that was organized by the California Educational Technology Professionals Association. The event attracted hundreds of officials who are tasked with choosing curriculum in a year with extremely tight budgets. Thierstein, an invited panelist, answered questions and explained how open-source texts like Felder’s book could both improve classroom instruction and save money.

“Everyone is looking to cut costs over the next couple of years, but the real beauty of open-educational resources like Kenny Felder’s book is that they provide the foundation for a step-change in the quality of education in the United States,” Thierstein said.

With more than a million visitors a month and one of the world’s largest repositories of open-education resources, Connexions is a leading global provider of open-copyright licensed, free educational materials. Connexions is available free for anyone to contribute to or learn from at


(3) Senate Bill 19 Awaits Governor’s Decision–Removes Restriction on Using Student Data for Teacher Personnel Decisions

URL (Bill text): 
URL (CDE Press Release):

Last week, Senate Bill (SB) 19 was enrolled and sent to Governor Schwazenegger’s desk for his signature. Since the Governor was an early proponent of removing any barrier to California’s eligibility for Race to the Top funding, it is strongly anticipated that he will sign the bill.

Visit the Web site above for the text of SB 19. A portion of the bill follows:

“Existing law establishes the California Education Information System, which consists of the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS) and the California Longitudinal Teacher Integrated Data Education System (CALTIDES)…
(2) Existing law prohibits data in CALTIDES from being used either solely or in conjunction with data from CALPADS for purposes of pay, promotion, sanction, or personnel evaluation of an individual teacher or groups of teachers, or any other employment decisions related to individual teachers. This bill would delete this prohibition…”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell said that “the Race to the Top competition represents an opportunity to usher in a period of bold and far-reaching structural reform of our nation’s K-12 public education system. As President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have said, education data when used effectively, is a critical tool educators must employ to improve student achievement and close the achievement gap. The Race to the Top competition encourages states to improve the use of data to help students succeed. SB 19 removes any doubt that California is committed to using data to improve instruction and teacher effectiveness.”

O’Connell sponsored SB 19, which is authored by state Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto). The measure deletes existing language in state law that prevents the state from using pupil data in teacher assignment and evaluation. Nothing in current law bars local educational agencies from doing so. In fact, President Obama cited the Long Beach Unified School District as an example of a district that effectively uses student and teacher data in their instructional decision-making processes. O’Connell has urged other districts in California to follow suit. However, O’Connell agrees that any real or perceived barriers to use data to improve instruction and teacher effectiveness should be eliminated.

Race to the Top is part of ARRA that was signed into law in February by President Obama. The entire spending and tax package to benefit the nation’s schools includes more than $100 billion for elementary, secondary, and postsecondary education. California already is eligible for $8 billion in ARRA funding to benefit public education in grades K-12 throughout the state.

Race to the Top is the largest amount of money the federal government has ever offered specifically geared toward education reform. The funding is specifically intended for states to use in order to make systemic changes at the state level that would improve teaching and learning statewide. Education Secretary Duncan has articulated four components of the Race to the Top competition and is asking states to present plans that incorporate the following:

– Adopting common core national standards and assessments to prepare students for success in college and the workplace;
– Using data effectively in our schools to improve student achievement;
– Turning around low-performing schools; and
– Improving teacher effectiveness.
SB 19 includes text to evaluate teacher preparation programs and to track areas of possible teacher shortages:

[Bill excerpt] (e) [The California Longitudinal Teacher Integrated Data Education System (CALTIDES)] shall be used to accomplish all of the following goals:
(1) Provide a means to evaluate all of the following:
(A) The effectiveness of teacher preparation programs, including, but not limited to, traditional fifth-year programs, university internship programs, and district-sponsored internship programs.
(B) Teacher workforce issues, including mobility, retention, and attrition…
(3) Enable local educational agencies to monitor teacher assignments on demand.
(f) For purposes of implementing this chapter,…the system shall include all of the following information:
(1) Age profiles of teachers in the workforce.
(2) Projections of the number of retirees in the education system over the next 10 years throughout the state.
(3) Identification of subject matter fields that have the severest shortage of teachers.
(4) Geographic distribution of teachers by credential type.
(5) Present patterns of in-service education for teachers…

For more information on ARRA and its impact on public education in California, please visit


(4) State Schools Chief Jack O’Connell Urges Governor and Legislature to Restore Curriculum Framework and Instructional Materials Development

Source: California Department of Education

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell held a teleconference yesterday to explain how students will be impacted by a provision in the state budget that suspends for five years curriculum framework revisions and the adoption of school instructional materials. (See COMET:

Following the state Legislature’s fourth extraordinary session in July, Assembly Bill X4 2 made funding flexible for textbooks. After the Governor signed the bill into law, he cut $705,000 from the California Department of Education’s budget in order to end support for the Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission and its activities. The new law also prohibits the State Board of Education from adopting any materials and prohibits the state from any framework development.

Curriculum frameworks provide the guidance for teachers about how to help students master the state’s academic content standards. The frameworks also lay the groundwork for the development of textbooks and other instructional materials.

“If your child entered the first grade this year, his or her educator would not have access to the most up-to-date research-based guidance on how to help students master our world-class standards until your child is in the eighth grade,” said O’Connell.

“Teachers are being denied a valuable resource that is needed to guide instruction in order to improve student achievement and close the achievement gap. Freezing the work on curriculum frameworks prevents California from being ready to adopt new instructional materials when funding for textbooks becomes available,” O’Connell said. “We need to be doing more, not less, to help teachers prepare students for success in the hypercompetitive global economy. I urge the Legislature and the Governor to revisit this decision and provide funding to support the ongoing work of curriculum framework development.”

“This five-year prohibition of activity and funding cut will have serious long-term effects and far-reaching implications on public education and will signal to the nation that California is no longer a leader in standards-based curriculum,” O’Connell said.

This suspension for curriculum framework development will result in the abandonment of frameworks nearly completed in the areas of History/Social Science and Science. Restarting the curriculum framework development and instructional materials adoption process once the five-year suspension is lifted will take several years. That means students in public schools today will not receive newly adopted instructional materials until at least 2017, and teachers will not have the benefit of updated curriculum frameworks as a teacher education document. Many credential programs and professional development institutes use the frameworks to explain state guidelines. Without current frameworks, many teacher education programs will drop the frameworks and the connection between content standards and teaching will be lost.

“I appreciate the difficult decisions Governor and the Legislature had to make in handling California’s finances during the national economic downturn, but further dragging our state into the abyss by depriving children of good instructional materials and a quality education is not the answer,” added O’Connell. “Our students represent the best economic recovery plan we could ever conceive. But if we don’t invest in them and our teachers, we cannot expect California to recover its stance as a leading world economic powerhouse.”

For more information on curriculum frameworks, instruction, and materials adoption, please visit


(5) $21.8 Billion Distributed to Promote Educational Improvement

Source: U.S. Department of Education

Last Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the distribution of more than $21.8 billion in formula grants to support state-administered programs that support teachers and help students reach high standards.

Formula grant programs are noncompetitive awards based on a predetermined formula that takes into account measures such as population, poverty rates, and enrollment. The awards provide funding for a variety of programs, including resources to improve teacher quality, career and technical education, and support for children facing the challenges of living in poverty (Title I). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part B grant program supports children and students with disabilities from ages 3 to 21. Formula grants originate from the Education Department’s annual appropriation from Congress and are separate from the $100 billion in stimulus funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

“Formula funding is critically important to every state and school district as we work together to prepare young children to enter school and every student for graduation,” Duncan said. “Federal formula grants combined with Recovery Act funding present an unprecedented opportunity to drive reforms and improvements in our nation’s schools.”

The Web site above contains a state-by-state list of formula grants distributed to states last Thursday. California’s allotment follows:

CALIFORNIA — Title I: $1.25 billion; IDEA-B: $919.25 million; Teacher Quality: $185.28 million; Career-Tech: $86.95 million; TOTAL: $2.44 billion.



(1) Common Core Standards–Online Chat Transcript Now Available

Source: Education Week
URL (Common Core Standards):

Forty-eight states have joined a national effort to adopt common academic standards in mathematics and language arts. Lending momentum to that work, which is being led by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are vocally pushing states to act soon. But if previous attempts to get states to adopt common standards are any indication, challenges loom ahead.

Last Tuesday, Education Week hosted three experts who participated in a discussion of the broad disparities in academic expectations persisting across states and districts, the latest common-standards movement, and what it means for educators, policymakers, and students. The chat transcript is available for viewing at the Web site above.

The show’s guests included the following:

– Dane Linn, Education Division Director, National Governors Association Center for Best Practices

– Alan Farstrup, Former Executive Director, International Reading Association

– Michele McNeil, Assistant Editor, Education Week, chat moderator

Below is an excerpt from the chat transcript:

Michele McNeil: Lynette has a question about the quality of latest version of the standards put forth by NGA and CCSSO. Alan, what do you think of them?

[Comment From Lynnette Van Dyke] It is my understanding that the second draft of the standards has been released for comment, and that these standards have been developed primarily to serve as the basis for a system of high quality assessments. Accordingly, they are internationally benchmarked for rigor and organization of standards of high performing countries and states. In addition they have incorporated 21st century skills. Given you have reviewed the standards, please comment on your perception of quality. Thanks.

Dane Linn: Lynette, this is a very good question. I want to make sure that everyone who has joined us understands that the draft currently on-line includes the college and career readiness standards. We are just now starting to develop the K-12 standards which will be released in January 2010. We welcome everyone’s comments [at]. ALL COMMENTS MUST BE SUBMITTED BY OCTOBER 21, 2009.

Alan Farstrup: It is also important to give good teachers good guidance and to have standards that set expectations while at the same time providing teachers the ability to use their skill and experience to meet the needs of individual students and communities. The latest draft from NGA and CCSSO are a good step forward but in my opinion they are still very heavily oriented toward assessment and not as much toward teaching and the importance of good teachers being able to adjust and adapt to individual needs. The development and comment process is important and it is vital that we all give feedback so the developers can continue to hone these standards.


(2) Focus in High School Mathematics: Reasoning and Sense Making

Source: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)
URL (Executive Summary):

Yesterday the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) released Focus in High School Mathematics: Reasoning and Sense Making, which suggests practical changes to the high school mathematics curriculum to refocus learning on reasoning and sense making. This shift is not a minor refinement but constitutes a substantial rethinking of the high school math curriculum.

“Reasoning and sense making are at the heart of mathematics from early childhood through adulthood,” said NCTM President Henry (Hank) Kepner. “A high school mathematics curriculum based on reasoning and sense making will prepare students for higher learning, career success, and productive citizenship.”

NCTM’s new publication suggests that the more mathematics instruction builds on what students have previously learned, the more students will be able to learn and retain as they progress from prekindergarten through college. Additionally, focusing on reasoning and sense making has the potential to give coherence to the curriculum and streamline it to improve students’ learning of important mathematics. A focus on mathematical reasoning and sense making also helps students to use mathematics more effectively in making wise decisions in the workplace and as citizens.

Reasoning is the process of drawing conclusions based on evidence or stated assumptions–extending the knowledge that one has at a given moment. Sense making is developing understanding of a situation, concept, or context by connecting it with existing knowledge or experience.

The first volume in a series of companion books will also be published this month. Focus in High School Mathematics: Reasoning and Sense Making in Statistics and Probability will be followed by books that offer examples of ways to make reasoning and sense making central in algebra and geometry.

Focus in High School Mathematics: Reasoning and Sense Making was developed with the involvement of high school teachers, mathematics educators, an administrator, mathematicians, and a statistician.

A 4-page Executive Summary is available online at


(3) “New Tack on Math Promoted” by Sean Cavanagh

Source: Education Week – 5 October 2009

(Visit the above Web site to read the entire article, including some reactions to the new NCTM document.)

Article excerpt:

“Focus in High School Mathematics: Reasoning and Sense Making” is a follow-up to the NCTM’s 2006 document, “Curriculum Focal Points,” which offered grade-by-grade content standards in math for prekindergarten through 8th grade. “Focal Points” won general praise in math circles, even from some of the NCTM’s strongest critics.

The high school document has both a different purpose and a different structure. It is not a suggested set of content standards, but rather a framework that attempts to show how skills that the NCTM considers essential–reasoning and sense-making–can be promoted across high school math.

While the new guidelines say that understanding math content and procedures is important, they also argue that students need to learn to apply that knowledge in different situations—a skill that proves essential in everyday situations and in the workforce…

NCTM officials also argue that those abilities will help produce more students who are more interested in, and capable of, going into math- and science-centered occupations, a major concern of American policymakers.

“We keep teaching that learning to carry out complicated procedures is what math’s about,” said W. Gary Martin, a professor of mathematics education at Auburn University, in Alabama, who chaired the committee that wrote the document. “To me, the real question is, can [students] do anything with it?”

Something in Common

The 100,000-member math teachers’ group, based in Reston, Va., is releasing the document at a time when policymakers at the federal and state levels are pushing for more consistency in what students are taught [(see article #1 above)]…

NCTM officials provided a prepublication copy of the high school report to the Common Core authors, said Jason Zimba, a professor of mathematics and physics at Bennington College, in Vermont. The two documents touch on many of the same main ideas, he said.

“They ought to be reinforcing,” said Mr. Zimba, who is a member of the Common Core math working group. “We’ve been trying to be on the same page the whole time.”

Both documents, for instance, emphasize mathematical practices, or students’ ability to adapt math strategies to solve new problems, although they describe those skills in somewhat different language…