COMET • Vol. 10, No. 23 – 20 Oct 2009


(1) State Schools Chief Jack O’Connell Offers Education Agencies a New Tool to Combat the Achievement Gap

Source: California Department of Education – 7 October 2009

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell recently announced that a key recommendation by his California P-16 Council is being implemented with the release of a new online tool called the Resource Kit for Developing Partnerships to Close the Achievement Gap (Resource Kit).

“Family and community partners are powerful and critical allies for schools working to improve student success and close the achievement gap,” said O’Connell. “The success of our students is directly connected to the success of our state and national economy. That’s why I urge businesses, faith-based organizations, parents, community groups, and others to get involved in their local schools. We all have a stake in preparing all students to compete in the hypercompetitive global economy, and schools need our support and assistance to reach that goal.”

The Resource Kit may be used by families, communities, and organizations to develop partnerships with schools that can help narrow the academic achievement gap that exists between higher-performing and lower-performing students. This online tool can help anyone understand the importance of partnerships, how to create them, and help existing partnerships improve. Users may access links to information on different types of partnerships with families, faith-based organizations, community-based organizations, business, government agencies, institutions of higher learning, and youth service organizations. The Resource Kit also offers examples of real-life successful partnerships.

The Resource Kit is a result of one of the recommendations made in January by O’Connell’s California P-16 Council. The P-16 Council was formed in 2004 to examine ways to improve student achievement and create a comprehensive, integrated system of student learning from preschool through higher education. The Council researched factors that inhibit successful student learning and grouped them into four themes called ACES:

Access: Do students have equal access to good teachers and rigorous curriculum?
Culture and Climate: Are students’ learning environments safe and promote a sense of belonging?
Expectations: Does a culture of excellence exist for students and adults alike, so that a common, high standard is the norm for all students?
Strategies: Are proven teaching practices being used?
One of the ACES recommendations is to develop partnerships to close the achievement gap. The P-16 Council found that connecting schools with educational organizations, city and county agencies, faith-based organizations, parent groups, and businesses is necessary to foster partnerships that will support a well-defined student support system. Such partnerships recognize that students have needs outside the classroom that, if unmet, can significantly and adversely affect their ability to learn. Breaking down barriers and creating partnerships throughout California is an important step toward implementing a consistent approach to a high-quality and inclusive educational program.

“Too often in government, when recommendations are made by task forces or blue ribbon commissions on complex issues, they are forgotten as soon as the group disbands,” added O’Connell. “The Resource Kit is one of 14 recommendations by the P-16 Council to narrow the achievement gap that we are engaged in implementing. I fully intend to implement all 14 recommendations before my term in office expires so that we can improve conditions at the state level that help close the gap. We must ensure that every child has a chance to succeed academically and in life.”

The Coordinated School Health Work Group Steering Committee worked with the statewide P-16 Council to create the Resource Kit. The Committee represents education and community health partners, and other state-level stakeholders.

The Resource Kit is available online through the California Department of Education’s Closing the Achievement Gap Web site at For more information on the P-16 Council, please visit


(2) “Teaching Teachers Mathematics: Research, Ideas, Projects, Evaluation”

Source: Mathematical Sciences Research Institute – Berkeley, California
URL (Document):

From the preface to the recently-published 55-page document, “Teaching Teachers Mathematics: Research, Ideas, Projects, Evaluation” (Editor: Cathy Kessel):

In 2004, the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) launched a workshop series, Critical Issues in Mathematics Education, to provide opportunities for mathematicians to work with experts from other communities on the improvement of mathematics teaching and learning. In designing and hosting these conferences, MSRI seeks to encourage such cooperation and to lend support for interdisciplinary progress on critical issues in mathematics education.

The main goals of these workshops are the following:

– Bring together people from different disciplines and from practice to investigate and work on fundamental problems of education.
– Engage mathematicians productively in problems of education.
– Contribute resources for tackling challenging problems in mathematics education.
– Shape a research and development agenda.

This booklet documents the fourth workshop in the series, Teaching Teachers Mathematics, held at MSRI on May 30-June 2, 2007. This workshop focused on mathematical preparation and professional development for teachers from kindergarten to grade 12. The nature, importance, and effect of mathematical knowledge for teachers was the topic of a 2005 MSRI workshop Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching (K–8): Why, What, and How? Discussions of how to assess such knowledge also occurred in the 2005 workshop, in the 2004 MSRI workshop Assessing Mathematical Proficiency, and in the 2007 workshop that is the subject of this report.

Much of the structure and content of this booklet comes from talks and comments by the workshop participants, especially Jeremy Kilpatrick, Raven McCrory, Hung-Hsi Wu, Judit Moschkovich, Cynthia Anhalt and Matt Ondrus, Ruth Heaton and Jim Lewis, Kristina Anthony, Susan Birnie, and Reuben Farley, Judi Laird, James Hiebert, Heather Hill, and Hyman Bass. Elaboration and augmentation of their remarks has come from the speakers’ written work and project websites…


The booklet contains numerous photographs of the workshop participants. The presentation videos are available as Quicktime files and as streaming video from Web links for the other three workshops in the series are available below. Useful publications from the first and second workshops are available for download. Presentation files are available on the Web page for the third workshop.

(a) Assessing Students’ Mathematics Learning: Issues, Costs and Benefits (March 07, 2004 to March 10, 2004):

(b) The Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching (K-8): Why, What and How? (May 25, 2005 to May 28, 2005):

(c) Raising the Floor: Progress and Setbacks in the Struggle for Quality Mathematics Education for All (May 7, 2006 to May 10, 2006):

(d) Critical Issues in Education: Teaching Teachers Mathematics
(May 30, 2007 to June 1, 2007):
Description: Building on the issues investigated in the previous workshops, this workshop will focus concretely on courses, programs and materials that aim to increase teachers’ mathematical knowledge for teaching. Both courses and programs that lead to initial certification and professional development of current teachers will be examined at the workshop. In addition, the workshop will examine efforts by colleges, universities, school districts, professional organizations and funding agencies to support people who teach these courses or lead these workshops.



(1) Secretary of Education Delivers a Call to Teach from Thomas Jefferson’s Rotunda at University of Virginia; Virtual Town Hall Meeting with Arne Duncan Today at 5 p.m. PDT

Source: U.S. Department of Education
URL (Webcast):

On October 9, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told students from the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education that they are answering a call that is as important as any career available to them now and in the future. The Obama administration, said Secretary Duncan, sees elevating the teaching profession and expanding the pool of talent as critical to closing the achievement gap and promoting the nation’s long-term prosperity.

“Today’s teachers and aspiring teachers in our colleges of education can help transform the lives of their students by boosting student learning and helping them access higher education and new economic opportunities. We need the next generation to answer the call to teach,” Secretary Duncan said. “The single most important factor influencing student learning in our nation’s schools is the quality of teaching. Students who have teachers who know their content and how to teach it effectively achieve substantially more than their peers who do not.”

The Department of Education estimates a national need for 1.7 million new teachers by 2017 due to anticipated retirements and attrition. Included in the president’s fiscal 2010 budget request is $30 million to support a national teacher recruitment campaign. If approved by Congress, the Department of Education would support the teaching profession by launching a comprehensive effort to recruit and provide support for students and professionals from other fields to become teachers. The campaign also would support the development of training programs to help candidates become qualified to teach, and provide information on alternative routes to enter the profession for nontraditional candidates.

Secretary Duncan will speak with teachers and teacher candidates three times this month. Today (October 20), he will convene a group of at least 50 teachers from the Washington, D.C., metro region from 5-6 p.m. PDT for a nationally broadcast virtual town hall meeting on the topic of elevating the teaching profession ( He will also address the needs of the nation’s colleges of education during a speech at the Teachers College at Columbia University in New York on October 22.


(2) NAEP Mathematics Scores for 2009 are Flat at Grade 4, Up Slightly from 2007 at Grade 8

Source: National Center for Education Statistics
URL (Report):
URL (Duncan statement): 
URL (O’Connell):

Nationally representative samples of more than 168,000 fourth-graders and 161,000 eighth-graders 
participated in the 2009 National Assessment of
 Educational Progress (NAEP) in mathematics. At each
 grade, students responded to questions designed to 
measure their knowledge and abilities across five 
mathematics content areas: number properties and
 operations; measurement; geometry; data analysis,
 statistics, and probability; and algebra. A summary of findings follows:

= Gains in students’ average mathematics scores seen in earlier years did not continue from 2007 to 2009 at grade 4 but did continue at grade 8.
= While still higher than the scores in the six assessment years from 1990 to 2005, the overall average score for fourth-graders in 2009 was unchanged from the score in 2007.
= The upward trend seen in earlier assessments for eighth-graders continued with a 2-point increase from 2007 to 2009.
= The percentages of fourth-graders performing at or above Basic (82 percent) and at or above Proficient (39 percent) in 2009 were unchanged from those in 2007, but still remained higher than in the assessment years from 1990 to 2005.
= The percentages of eighth-graders performing at or above Basic (73 percent) and at or above Proficient (34 percent) in 2009 were higher than those in 2007 and in all earlier assessment years.

For more information, browse the report online ( or download a copy of the report from

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated, “Our students have made real gains in math over the past two decades, but for the first time since NAEP’s mathematics test started in 1990, student achievement in fourth grade has not improved. More must be done to narrow the troubling achievement gap that has persisted in mathematics, and to ensure that America’s students make greater gains toward becoming competitive with their peers in other countries…”

California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell stated, “The NAEP math results show no statistical change in student performance in math at our state level when compared to the results released two years ago,” said O’Connell. “Yet, our state assessment system indicates that California students have made steady progress on California’s rigorous standards over the same period of time, and we have seen a slight narrowing of the achievement gap. This dichotomy is confusing, which is one reason states have said it’s time for core content standards common to all states and an assessment aligned to those standards. Having a set of common, rigorous standards that prepares all students to succeed in college and careers would raise the bar for many students, and make any national assessment much more meaningful as a gauge of student learning.”

The NAEP math results for California fourth graders indicates that white, African American, and Asian student subgroups score similarly to students in those subgroups at the national level. However, the Latino subgroup in the fourth grade scored lower than the national Latino subgroup. Eighth-grade results reveal that only white students in California are keeping pace with the nation, while African American, Latino, and Asian student subgroups score lower than those at the national level.

The results show similar sized achievement gaps at both the fourth- and eighth- grade levels when California and the national NAEP scores are compared. The NAEP math results also show no progress in closing the achievement gap between students who are white or Asian and their peers who are Latino or African American in California or nationwide.

“Clearly, we must better address the educational needs of African American and Latino students in California and across the nation,” said O’Connell. “The evidence of a pervasive achievement gap was apparent on both the state and national assessments and starkly underscored the need to work ever more diligently to implement effective practices to close the gap. It’s critical for the future of our state and our nation that we turn this trend around.”

Also known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” NAEP is a national assessment that tests a representative sample of students in grades four, eight, and twelve in various subjects including math, science, reading, and writing. NAEP provides a common yardstick for measuring student achievement nationwide, allowing for state comparisons. Math results for grade twelve will be reported in 2010.

Results are released for the nation, states, and certain large urban school districts. There are no student- or school-level results. The limited district results for the 2009 math assessment are expected to be released in November.


Related Articles:

(a) “Sluggish Results Seen in Math Scores” by Sam Dillon
Source: New York Times – 15 October 2009

The latest results on the most important nationwide math test show that student achievement grew faster during the years before the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Law, when states were dominant in education policy, than over the years since, when the federal law has become a powerful force in classrooms…

The latest results on the National Assessment show that in the six years since the law took effect, fourth-grade scores have risen by five points, to 240 from 235. That is slower growth than during the seven years preceding the federal law, when average fourth-grade math scores grew by 11 points, to 235 in 2003 from 224 in 1996.

“Either the standards movement has played out, or the No Child law failed to build on its momentum,” said Mark Schneider, who from 2005 to 2008 was commissioner of the arm of the Department of Education that oversees the National Assessment. “Whatever momentum we had, however, is gone.” [See below for a link to a longer statement by Schneider.]…

David P. Driscoll, chairman of National Assessment Governing Board, said at a news conference in Washington announcing the scores: “Mathematics achievement is not close to where it should be.”

“A major reason,” he said, “continues to be the lack of content knowledge and mathematics preparation of our teachers…


(b) NAEP Math Results Hold Bad News For NCLB” by Mark Schneider
Source: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research

…The NAEP math assessment has been given eight times since 1990, and this is the first time that [fourth grade] scores did not increase. At the eighth grade level, scores continued their trend of slowly increasing, up 2 points since 2007. (Between 2003 and 2005, scores increased by 1 point, and between 2005 and 2007 by 2 points.)…

Figure 1 in [Schneider’s] report shows the pattern for fourth grade students, graphing the size of the gains overall and for each of the student groups that NCLB was specifically designed to help: low-performing students, black students, and Hispanic students.

In each case, …the pre-NCLB gains were greater than the post-NCLB gains, sometimes substantially…

[Graphs for the eighth-grade results show that] the gaps between the gains in the pre-NCLB versus post-NCLB period are much smaller than for fourth grade, but for each group the gains were lower after 2003…

In 2007, when I was commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, we showed that most states were setting their proficiency standards at NAEP’s basic level and some states even lower than that. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has called this “lying to children and their parents because states have dumbed down their standards.” The irony here is that NCLB was built on a strong state standards and accountability movement but may have actually served to undermine the movement’s goals. The work of the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers on common core state standards is particularly important in rectifying this mistake.

Others offer their own reasons for the failure of NCLB–ranging from underfunding, to maligning teachers, to offering too much choice, to… The list goes on and on. Unfortunately, we have too many possible explanations for far too little data–but the bottom line is clear: NCLB has not worked the way it was intended and the nation is worse off because of it…


(3) Focus Your Future: Getting Girls Interested In Engineering–Webinar on 22 October 2009

Source: Greg Nagy – National STEM Equity Pipeline

Project Lead The Way (PLTW) is joining forces with Engineer Your Life (EYL) to increase girls’ participation in Gateway to Technology (GTT) and Pathway to Engineering high school engineering courses.

A webinar on October 22 from 1-2 p.m. PDT for teachers and counselors will help you do the following:

* Learn how to motivate girls to join engineering courses,

* Understand why girls aren’t choosing engineering and how to you can change that trend,

* Learn what girls are looking for in a career and how engineering fits into those plans, and

* Gain access to free resources to help recruit girls to engineering courses and motivate them to pursue engineering in college and beyond.

To register, visit 
Enter the event password (case sensitive): Engineer2009

This presentation can be seen and heard through your computer. There is no need to call into the teleconference unless you have difficulty with your computer’s audio (see site for details).

If you are unable to participate in this webinar, register anyway to receive links to the archived webinar and free resources.

EYL is a growing coalition committed to repositioning engineering as an exciting and rewarding career choice for young women. Thanks to dedicated partners, girls nationwide are learning how creative, collaborative, lucrative, and flexible an engineering career can be. Visit

PLTW is a national, non-profit organization that provides rigorous and innovative science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education for middle schools and high schools. The PLTW comprehensive curriculum, which is collaboratively developed by PLTW teachers, university educators, engineering and biomedical professionals, and school administrators, emphasizes critical thinking, creativity, innovation, and real-world problem solving. The hands-on, project-based program engages students on multiple levels, exposes them to areas of study that they typically do not pursue, and provides them with a foundation and proven path to college and career success in STEM-related fields. Visit .