COMET • Vol. 10, No. 22 – 12 October 2009


(1) California and the Race to the Top

Source: EdSource – 12 October 2009

This weekend, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed three pieces of legislation that he says will make California more competitive for “Race to the Top” funds under the federal government’s stimulus package for education. [See article below for more details on one of these bills, SB 19.]

But while this signals the administration’s desire to compete for the Race to the Top grants, California still needs to grapple with significant questions and hurdles related to the reforms the federal government is asking for.

EdSource’s recent report, The New Federal Education Policies: California’s Challenges, provides an impartial look at these questions and the debates taking place around them. “This 20-page report provides an overview of the stimulus and where California stands in relation to the requirements. It also looks at the thinking behind the four reform areas [(teacher and administrator effectiveness, data systems, standards, and turning around low-performing schools)], the metrics used to measure progress on them, and the state’s initial efforts to address these new federal expectations.”
The report is available for free download from

For a brief summary of stimulus programs and legislative updates, also see the 2009 Federal Stimulus page:


Senate Bill 19: Among other things, this bill removes the prohibition against using data from the burgeoning California Education Information System for purposes of pay, promotion, sanction, or evaluation of teachers. The bill thereby removes the “firewall” that federal Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said existed between California’s personnel evaluations and student achievement data and thus addresses one of two eligibility criteria of the Race to the Top.

Senate Bill 680: This bill extends and expands the School District of Choice program, which allows districts to accept inter-district transfers according to specified criteria.

Assembly Bill 1130: The current Academic Performance Index (API) system compares annual snapshots of test scores, with different students’ test scores represented in each snapshot because of the entry and exit of students from schools each year. AB 1130 asks that the committee advising the Superintendent of Public Instruction on the Academic Performance Index recommend to the Superintendent and the State Board of Education a method of holding schools and districts accountable for the academic growth of the same students over time.

Meanwhile, the California Legislature continues to consider additional legislation related to competing for a Race to the Top grant in a special legislative session.


Related note:

For a list of legislative bills that the governor either signed or vetoed by last night’s deadline, visit


(2) Governor Schwarzenegger Signs Senate Bill 19 (Pupil and Teacher Data Systems)

Source: Office of California State Senator Joe Simitian 
URL (Bill text):

The office of State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) announced that Governor Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 19 into law yesterday (October 11), which helps ensure California’s eligibility to compete for $4.5 billion in “Race to the Top” federal funding for schools.

Specifically, SB 19 will do the following:

* Delete existing language in state law which could be deemed by the federal government as preventing the use of pupil data in teacher assignment and teacher evaluation.
* Provide clarity about system linkages between pre-K and K-12, and between K-12 and higher education, to ensure the state’s longitudinal data system is P-20 comprehensive per the federal requirements.
* Codify the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to ensure the state’s data system complies with federal funding requirements.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell praised the new law as a win for reform efforts. “The ‘Race to the Top’ competition has the potential to usher in a period of bold and far-reaching structural reform of our nation’s K-12 public education system,” said O’Connell. “Senate Bill 19 will help California move more quickly into having the right conversation about how to use data to make informed and targeted decisions that will have a great impact on improving student achievement.”

“Given that we’re never going to have all the money we want to educate kids in California, it’s all the more important that we make smart, well informed decisions,” said Simitian. “Whether your first priority is careful use of taxpayer dollars or a first-rate education for our kids, we need to know how to spend our limited funds most effectively. Every school year, on behalf of six million school kids, we spend tens of billions of dollars. We need to know what works, and what doesn’t.”

Earlier this month, Simitian traveled to Washington D.C. to discuss California’s eligibility to apply for ‘Race to the Top’ funds. Simitian met with U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Russlynn Ali and other key U.S. Department of Education officials. See the Santa Cruz Sentinel article about this visit at



(1) Investing in Innovation (i3) Grant Program Announcement

Source: U.S. Department of Education
URL (Press Release):  
URL (Webinar):

On Tuesday, October 6, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the Department’s priorities for grants under the $650 million Investing in Innovation Fund (i3). The fund, which is part of the $5 billion investment in school reform in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), will support local efforts to start or expand research-based innovative programs designed to help close the achievement gap and improve outcomes for students.

“We’re looking to drive reform, reward excellence, and dramatically improve our nation’s schools,” Secretary Duncan said.

Two days after Duncan’s announcement, the Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement, Jim Shelton, hosted a webinar to discuss the notice of proposed priorities for i3. More than 600 people across the country in school districts, foundations, postsecondary institutions, and the private sector joined the session through an interactive Web interface.

A recording of the webinar is available at and the informative presentation file is available for download from

Individual school districts or groups of districts can apply for the i3 grants, and entrepreneurial nonprofits can join with school districts to submit applications. Colleges and universities, companies, and other stakeholders can be supporters of the projects. Grant recipients will be required to match federal funds with public or private dollars. Successful applicants will need to demonstrate how their programs will be sustainable after their federal grants are completed.

Applicants must demonstrate their previous success in closing achievement gaps, improving student progress toward proficiency, increasing graduation rates, or recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers and principals.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) will collect public comment on the proposed priorities for 30 days (deadline: November 9). ED plans to publish a final application in early 2010 and accept proposals in the spring. All money under the program will be obligated by September 30, 2010. For details on submitting a public comment, visit the webinar website above.


Related Article:

“Ed. Dept. Proposes Innovation Grant Ground Rules” [detailed report about i3] by Michele McNeil
SourceEducation Week – 6 October 2009


Related Information (from the Press Release):

ARRA also includes the Race to the Top competition, which will reward states that are leading the way in school reform. The final application for Race to the Top will be available in late fall. The Department plans to make two rounds of grant awards in 2010. The Department may hold a separate competition for up to $350 million for states to create common assessments to measure whether students are on track to graduate and succeed in college and the workplace.



Arne Duncan is interviewed on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report about ED goals:


(2) “‘Race to Top’ Said to Lack Key Science” by Debra Videro

SourceEducation Week – 2 October 2009

Among education researchers, one complaint about the U.S. Department of Education under former President George W. Bush was that it relentlessly promoted “scientific research in education,” while at the same time endorsing some policies that lacked solid research evidence.

With recently published draft guidelines for federal economic-stimulus money and Title I aid (, critics are beginning to ask whether much has changed under the Obama administration.

“What is extraordinary about these regulations is that they have no credible basis in research. They just happen to be the programs and approaches favored by the people in power,” writes Diane Ravitch, a research professor of education at New York University, in her blog, Bridging Differences(, which is hosted by She served as the Education Department’s assistant secretary for educational research and improvement under President George H.W. Bush…

But some outside experts suggested the scant attention to research in the Department’s draft guidelines may be more reflective of a general lack of credible findings from education research, which has long been considered underfunded compared with “hard” sciences, such as medicine.

“There isn’t a whole lot of conclusive findings about different strategies for reform, so policymakers have to look at what is the best available evidence, even though the evidence might not be rigorous or powerful,” said James W. Kohlmoos, the president of the Knowledge Alliance, a Washington-based group that represents research organizations. “They’re still working off evidence that’s not fully developed, and it’s not their fault. It’s a generation’s fault for not paying attention to this”…

Both the Bush administration and President Obama “have supported using data to determine ‘what works,’ ” economists Sean P. Corcoran and Joydeep Roy of the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute write in a letter filed in response to the proposed guidelines for the $4 billion Race to the Top fund, part of the economic-stimulus legislation. Yet, in some areas, they say, the proposed rules “take the exact opposite approach.”

In particular, Ms. Ravitch, Mr. Corcoran, Mr. Roy, and scholars such as Duke University’s Helen F. Ladd oppose two priorities at the heart of the program that they say lack research evidence: evaluating teachers based on students’ standardized test scores and promoting the growth of charter schools.

“One theory of action seems to be that holding teachers more accountable for the gain in their students’ test scores will induce them to become better teachers,” writes Ms. Ladd, a professor of public-policy studies and economics. “At this point, I am not aware of any credible evidence in support of that proposition”…

The evidence behind Race to the Top’s call for giving priority to states that don’t impose caps on the growth of charter schools, likewise, is far from definitive, various commenters said…

Evidence is similarly meager for the emphasis in the proposed Race to the Top guidelines on developing common academic standards, said Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, the former director of the Institute of Education Sciences, the main research arm for the department.

“In general, I would give the administration a B+ for sensitivity to research in formulating Race to the Top guidelines and other initiatives,” wrote Mr. Whitehurst, now the director of the Brown Center for Education at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “I would give them an A in the future if they would only acknowledge when policy is in front of evidence–sometimes it must be.”

Indeed, a report released last month shows, policymakers at all levels of the education system–local, state, and federal–often do not rely on research to make policy decisions. They respond more often to trusted colleagues, political pressure, information from professional groups, constituents, and other sources.

“It was a common perception of the study participants that research could be shaped to say anything, that one piece of research often conflicts with another, and much research is not timely for users’ needs,” concludes the report by Education Northwest, a Portland, Ore., research group that was formerly known as Northwest Regional Education Laboratory. The findings draw on conversations with six focus groups made up of education leaders from varying levels of government…

If federal officials are going to require the use of research-based programs, they are also going to have to define what that means, experts said. While the phrase “scientifically based research” has fallen out of favor with the advent of the Obama administration, federal education officials have yet to replace it with a different definition. Both the American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the Knowledge Alliance, in their comments on Race to the Top, urged Mr. Duncan to include suggested definitions of “scientifically valid research” in final program guidelines later this fall.

But, as some experts pointed out, with final regulations yet to come on any of the new economic-stimulus programs, any judgments on the department’s stance with regard to research may be premature…


(3) Education Innovations Funded By ‘Race to the Top’ Should Be Rigorously Evaluated; Value-Added Methods to Assess Teachers Not Ready for Use in High-Stakes Decisions

Source: The National Academies

The Race to the Top initiative–a $4.35 billion grant program included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to encourage state-level education reforms–should require rigorous evaluations of the reform efforts it funds, says a new report from the National Research Council.  The initiative should support research based on data that links student test scores with their teachers, but should not prematurely promote the use of value-added approaches–which evaluate teachers based on gains in their students’ performance–to reward or punish teachers.  Too little is known about the accuracy of these methods to base high-stakes decisions on them right now, the report says.

The U.S. Department of Education is developing regulations that explain how the $4.35 billion will be awarded.  The National Research Council’s report offers recommendations to help the department revise these guidelines.

The report strongly supports rigorous evaluations of programs funded by the Race to the Top initiative.  Only with careful evaluations–which allow effective reforms to be identified and perhaps used elsewhere–can the initiative have a lasting impact.  Without them, any benefits of this one-time expenditure on innovation are likely to end when the funding ends, the report says…

While standardized tests are helpful in measuring a reform’s effects, evaluations should rely on multiple indicators of what students know and can do, not just a single test score, the report adds.

The Department of Education’s proposed guidelines encourage states to create systems that link data on student achievement to teachers.  The report applauds this step, arguing that linking this data is essential to conducting research about the best ways to evaluate teachers.

One way of evaluating teachers, currently the subject of intense interest and research, are value-added approaches, which typically compare a student’s scores going into a grade with his or her scores coming out of it, in order to assess how much “value” a year with a particular teacher added to the student’s educational experience.  The report expresses concern that the department’s proposed regulations place excessive emphasis on value-added approaches.  Too little research has been done on these methods’ validity to base high-stakes decisions about teachers on them.  A student’s scores may be affected by many factors other than a teacher–his or her motivation, for example, or the amount of parental support–and value-added techniques have not yet found a good way to account for these other elements.

The report also cautions against using the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federal assessment that helps measure overall U.S. progress in education, to evaluate programs funded by the Race to the Top initiative.  NAEP surveys the knowledge of students across the nation in three grades with respect to a broad range of content and skills and is not aligned with the curriculum of any particular state.  Although effective at monitoring broad trends, it is not designed to detect the specific effects of targeted interventions like those to be funded by Race to the Top.

The study was sponsored by the National Research Council… The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.  A committee roster can be found on the Web site above. In addition, the 19-page report can be read online in its entirety at


(4) “Relation of Instruction and Poverty to Mathematics Achievement Gains During Kindergarten” by Annie Georges

SourceTeachers College Record (Volume 111 Number 9, 2009, pp. 2148-2178)

Summary of Research Article:

Background: Policy discussion to change the nature of teaching practices overshadows how social and economic inequalities contribute to unequal education outcomes. Research on how teaching practices contribute to the variance in test scores on a broad scale or on whether the relation of instruction to test scores is moderated by social and economic inequalities among students is thin. This is the focus of this article.

Purpose: Two questions are addressed. The first question has to do with the relation of instruction and poverty at the individual and classroom levels to mathematics scores. The second question has to do with whether the relation between instruction and mathematics scores is moderated by poverty among students. This article examines test scores in five mathematics subtests.

Research Design: The sample consists of 13,054 students in 822 public and private kindergarten programs from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study Kindergarten Cohort data. The statistical model accounts for the unobserved heterogeneity among students who are taught by the same teacher using a fixed effect model of students nested in the same classrooms.

Results: The portion of the variance attributable to actions occurring in the classroom (between-classroom variance) ranges from 15% to 25%, depending on the subtest examined. Of this estimated variance, instruction explains 4%; the concentration of poverty in the classroom explains about 20%; and teacher characteristics (education, professional development, experience) explain about 2%. For the first question, the results show that activities with worksheets, building students’ analytic and reasoning abilities, and activities in collaborative groups are significantly associated with mathematics scores. Worksheets are not very effective in improving scores in the addition and subtraction subtest, whereas building students’ analytic and reasoning abilities does improve scores in that subtest. The adverse effects of poverty on test scores are larger than the positive effects associated with instruction. For the second question, the results show that analytic and reasoning activities are significantly related to the test scores of students in high-poverty classrooms, but this is not the case with students in low-poverty classrooms. The findings suggest that students in poverty would benefit to be in classrooms that emphasize problem-solving and reasoning skills with greater frequency...


(5) Achievement in Mathematics Webinar Series — Free of Charge

Source: Math Solutions

Experts in mathematics professional development will discuss and answer questions about improving teacher effectiveness, student learning, and test results via a free webinar series sponsored by Math Solutions, a company founded by Marilyn Burns. Each of these webinars is one hour in length and a recording of each will be available at two days after the event.

For more information on these webinars, email or call (800) 868-9092.

(a) Achievement in Mathematics: PLCs
URL (Registration)

Learn how Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) can impact teaching, what a successful PLC structure looks like, and why PLCs are an important part of your professional development program. Cathy L. Seeley, former President of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and author of Faster Isn’t Smarter: Messages About Math, Teaching, and Learning in the 21st Century, will discuss ways to improve student learning within the structure of PLCs.

What are the three big ideas that drive effective PLCs?
– Ensuring that students learn
– Focusing on results
– Creating a culture of collaboration

Date: Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Time: 11 a.m. PT

(b)Achievement in Mathematics: Differentiation
URL (Registration):

Jayne Bamford Lynch, co-author of Math for All: Differentiating Instruction, Grades 3-5, will discuss the following:
* Essential strategies and skills for effective differentiated instruction in the K-8 math classroom
* How to develop and sustain a culture that supports differentiated instruction in your school or district

Date: Wednesday, November 18, 2009
Time: 11 a.m. PT

(c) Achievement in Mathematics: ELLs
URL (Registration):

Rusty Bresser will lead the webinar on teaching English Language Learners (ELLs). Rusty is the co-author of Supporting English Language Learners in Math Class: A Multimedia Professional Learning Resource, as well as Supporting English Language Learners in Math Class, Grades K-2 and Grades 3-5. His discussion will include the following topics:

– How to best support your mainstream teachers who have ELL students in their math classrooms,
– Classroom tested strategies and lesson planning for effective K–5 math instruction in the regular classroom, and
– How math instruction can help the teaching and learning of English language skills.

Date: Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Time: 11 a.m. PT