COMET • Vol. 10, No. 26 – 11 November 2009


(1) Senators Lead Charge to Ensure California Wins Race to the Top Funds

URL (Romero):
URL (SBX5 1):

On November 3, the California state Senate passed SBX5 1 with a 21-12 bipartisan vote. The comprehensive bill containing reforms necessary for California to be eligible and competitive for the federal Race to the Top grants was authored by Senator Gloria Romero (D-East Los Angeles), Chair of the Senate Education Committee, and Senators Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara), Bob Huff (R-Glendora), and Mark Wyland (R-Escondido). The bill next goes to the Assembly Education Committee.

Last Wednesday, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell stated, “While last night’s Senate approval of this bill is a major step forward, we should not lose sight of the hard work that remains ahead of us to win the Race to the Top. I look forward to working with the California State Assembly to gain approval of this measure. I also remain committed to working closely with the Governor, the Legislature, the State Board of Education, and our education community to develop an innovative and effective Race to the Top application.”

Governor Schwarzenegger called a Fifth Extraordinary Session on education in August to focus on California’s response to the federal Race to the Top Fund eligibility requirements. Race to the Top will provide $4.35 billion in competitive grants to encourage and reward states that create the conditions for education innovation and reform. According to a recent Ed Source report on Race to the Top, California “may have troubleŠconvincing the federal government that it is serious about taking aggressive actions to turn around struggling schools” because of the limited effectiveness of past efforts and unwillingness to impose severe sanctions on low-performing schools. (See for more information on this detailed and informative report.)

“This bipartisan legislation will make California eligible for a Race to the Top grant, ensure that other federal dollars are not at risk, and implement much-needed reforms to ensure that every child has access to a quality education,” said Romero. “But Race to the Top is not just about the money. It is about equality and opportunity for our children.”

SBX5 1 provides for turning around historically low-performing schools, using data to improve instruction and student performance, removes the state’s cap on the number of charter schools, authorizes open enrollment for students in low-performing schools, and requires the state to develop a plan to implement reforms that will make California competitive for a Race to the Top grant.

Since September, Senator Romero has held informational hearings in Sacramento, San Diego and Los Angeles. A fourth informational hearing on Race to the Top was held in San Jose on November 9 at the Santa Clara County Office of Education. The next article in this issue of COMET describes this hearing.


Related articles:

“Education’s Race to the Top: A Question of Equality, Civil Rights and Opportunity”

“SBX5 1 (Romero) Is Not The ‘Reform’ California Needs”


(2) California Senate Education Committee Informational Hearing: STEM Panel in San Jose


California Senator Gloria Romero (D-East Los Angeles), Chair of the Senate Education Committee, held an informational hearing on Race to the Top on Monday, November 9, at the Santa Clara Office of Education in San Jose. Representatives from a number of Silicon Valley businesses and organizations gave statements at this hearing during a panel discussion focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), which is one of the priorities in the Race to the Top grant competition: “To meet this priority, the State’s application must describe plans to address the need to (i) offer a rigorous course of study in mathematics, sciences, technology, and engineering; (ii) cooperate with industry experts, museums, universities, research centers, or other STEM-capable community partners to prepare and assist teachers in integrating STEM content across grades and disciplines, in promoting effective and relevant instruction, and in offering applied learning opportunities for students; and (iii) prepare more students for advanced study and careers in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics, including addressing the needs of underrepresented groups and of women and girls in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics” (

According to Senator Romero’s office, an archived webcast of this hearing should be available later this week at COMET readers will find the presentations fast-paced and informative.

Accompanying Senator Romero at yesterday’s hearing was Senator Elaine Alquist, who is also a member of the Senate Education Committee. Senator Alquist noted that she is a “former algebra and trig teacher,” and Intel’s representative Julie Dunkle noted that she too taught high school math. Alquist and several of the speakers referred to algebra as a “critical gateway skill,” referencing the research showing a positive correlation between completing Algebra II in high school and success in college. Alquist noted that in California “we have a basic math problem” and stated that “every kid can do algebra.” Alquist dismissed Peggy’s statement in “Peggy Sue Got Married” that she will never have the slightest use for algebra as “completely untrue.”

Numerous speakers at the hearing referred to the importance of strengthening both mathematics and science in grades K-12 to help produce a highly educated workforce for California to help the state (and nation) to remain competitive globally. The weak performance of black and Hispanic children on mathematics assessments (and the achievement gap between these children and their white peers) was a strong concern. Technology was viewed as a promising partner in helping increase students’ STEM skills and as a vital skill. Students–and their teachers–need to be educated about technology’s effective use in teaching/learning (including distance education). Neeru Khosla mentioned her company’s commitment to Web-based textbooks. Collaboration with the private sector was especially encouraged.

Speakers such as TechAmerica’s Devin Whitney urged a focus on science that made the teaching of this subject, like physical education, a state mandate. He and other speakers promoted hands-on science, as well as offering more pre-engineering courses, where math and science are integrated.

Near the beginning of the discussion, Senator Romero excitedly announced that she just received a newsflash that U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan would be releasing the final application for Race to the Top this week. (See She said that her office wanted to hear from everyone with innovative ideas, concerns, etc., related to the state’s application, and she promoted her bill, SBX5 1 (see article above).

In addition to Romero and Alquist, speakers at the hearing included the following individuals (visit the Web sites for more information):

– Stephanie Couch–Project Director, CA STEM Innovation Network (

– Manny Barbara–VP, Advocacy and Thought Leadership for the Silicon Valley Education Foundation (

– Tim Valderrama–Executive Director, TechNet (

– Jan Owens– Strategic Initiatives Manager, Apple

– Julie Dunkel–U.S. Education Project Manager, Intel (

– Jim Vanides–Worldwide Education Strategy, Hewlett-Packard (

– Neeru Khosla–Founder, CK-12 Foundation (

– Devin Whitney–Legislative Advocate, California State Government Affairs, TechAmerica (

– Dennis Cima–Sr. VP, Silicon Valley Leadership Group (



(1) Common Core State Standards K-12 Work Group and Feedback Group Members Announced

Source: Common Standards –
URL (Group Members):

The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) today announced the individuals who will develop the K-12 standards for English-language arts and mathematics in the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI). Fifty-one states and territories have joined this state-led process.

The draft college and career-readiness standards, the first step in this initiative, were released in September and are available at The K-12 standards for English-language arts and mathematics will align with the college- and career-readiness standards. They also will be research and evidence-based, aligned with college and workforce training program expectations, reflective of rigorous content and skills, and internationally benchmarked.

The K-12 standards development process has a parallel structure to the college- and career-readiness standards, with a work group drafting the standards and receiving continual input from outside experts and practitioners.

The Work Group for K-12 standards development is composed of individuals representing multiple stakeholders and a range of expertise and experience in assessment, curriculum design, cognitive development, early childhood, early numeracy, child development, English-language acquisition and elementary, middle, and postsecondary education.

The Feedback Group will continue in its current capacity for the K-12 standards, providing information backed by research to inform the standards development process by offering expert input on draft documents. Visit to view the list of work and feedback group members.

“The Common Core State Standards Initiative allows states to work together to develop common standards that will ensure our students are prepared for the future,” said Dane Linn, director of the NGA Center’s Education Division. “The K-12 standards will articulate and help us make sure students are on track to meet the college- and career-readiness expectations.”

“These standards, both the college- and career-ready and the K-12, are the critical first step for the transformation of our state education systems,” stated Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. “We’re committed to ensuring students are achieving to their highest levels and given every opportunity throughout their education to do so.”

The draft K-12 standards are expected to be released by early 2010. States and national organizations will have the opportunity to review and provide evidence-based feedback on the draft documents throughout the process. As with the college- and career- readiness standards, the NGA Center and CCSSO will solicit public feedback on the K-12 standards at

An advisory group also has been formed to provide advice and guidance on the initiative. Members of this group include experts from Achieve, Inc., ACT, the College Board, the National Association of State Boards of Education and the State Higher Education Executive Officers. For more information, please visit


(2) Knowles Science Teaching Foundation Fellowships Support Beginning Mathematics and Science Teachers

Source: Knowles Science Teaching Foundation (KSTF)

Do you have a passion for teaching high school science or math? Are you committed to becoming an outstanding professional teacher? The Knowles Science Teaching Foundation (KSTF), an advocate for improving the quality of science and mathematics teaching in United States high schools, is now accepting applications for its Teaching Fellowships.

Applications for the 2010 fellowships are posted at along with the eligibility and selection criteria. The deadline for entries is 2 p.m. PST on 13 January 2010. Only online submissions will be considered.

Renewable for up to five years and valued at up to $150,000, the KSTF Teaching Fellowships are awarded to exceptional young men and women committed to teaching science and mathematics in United States high schools. Fellowship benefits encompass comprehensive financial support including tuition assistance, monthly stipends, and teaching materials and leadership grants; extensive summer and academic year professional development; and regular meetings and online discussions that provide each Fellow with a strong support network.

KSTF designed its Teaching Fellowships to meet the needs of beginning teachers during the critical first five years of their careers in which approximately half of all teachers leave the field. The high level of support and sense of community created by the fellowships ensure teachers remain in the profession to become leaders in their fields.

KSTF awarded its first four Teaching Fellowships in 2002. In 2009, thirty-five fellowships in mathematics, physical sciences and biological sciences were awarded, bringing the total number of current KSTF Teaching Fellows to 136 across 35 states. Together the fellows are impacting nearly 14,000 students nationwide in the 2009-2010 academic year.

Highly competitive, the KSTF Teaching Fellowships are awarded after a rigorous selection process. KSTF uses four major criteria in the selection of Teaching Fellows: exceptional content knowledge; commitment to teaching; ability to teach; and leadership. Applications are reviewed by KSTF program staff and by a judging panel of esteemed scientists, mathematicians and educators.

For more information visit


(3) Cellphonometry: Can Kids Really Learn Math From Smartphones?” by Elizabeth Svoboda

Source: Fast Company – November 2009

In middle school, math was Taylor Scott’s worst subject by far. “I honestly hated it,” says Scott, now a 15-year-old sophomore at Southwest High School in Jacksonville, North Carolina. She’d take notes as the teacher droned on, but she never really wrestled to understand the concepts until she was home alone with her textbook–and sometimes not even then. Most of the time, her math grades hovered in the B to C range.

So when Scott learned last year that she and her classmates would be participating in Project K-Nect, a Qualcomm-funded initiative to distribute cell phones for math instruction, she was all for it. Why not? It wasn’t as if math class could get any worse, and new toys are always fun to play with.

As the year got under way, Scott realized she’d be using her school-issued smartphone–equipped with a touch screen, digital video recorder, and instant-messaging application–for more than just solving homework problems with a stylus. She and her classmates had gotten used to passively absorbing teachers’ lectures, but the new data-driven curriculum demanded intense participation. “We’d tape up big poster boards, write out how we got the solution to a particular problem, then video ourselves talking about it with the phone.” After that, students posted their videos online to aid others who might be vexed by similar problems. In the end, Scott says, “we actually ended up teaching our classmates.”

Scott and her peers are at the vanguard of a corporation-driven education craze: redefining cell phones–usually the bane of teachers’ existence–as 21st-century teaching tools. Southwest High, located in the lake country surrounding a major Marine Corps base, is just one of several smartphone epicenters that have sprung up. Project K-Nect also serves five other North Carolina high schools. Verizon Wireless has partnered with educators in Texas to implement a smartphone-driven math curriculum for fifth graders at Trinity Meadows Intermediate School in the town of Keller. And expect to see cell phones in action in math classrooms all across America soon: The 2009 Horizon Report, compiled by the New Media Consortium and the Educause Learning Initiative, cites mobile devices as an educational “technology to watch” and predicts they will be adopted in many schools within the next year.

Project K-Nect began in the curious mind of Shawn Gross, the Managing Director at the education-technology firm Digital Millennial Consulting. Several years ago, he was working on a Department of Education–sponsored survey of students and noticed a pattern. “We conducted a series of focus groups–high income, low income, middle,” he says. “The one common element was that the students indicated that they wanted to be connected. They wanted to take advantage of a mobile device like a cell phone that would give them a support network. We offered them a laptop, a PlayStation–but they wanted a phone.”

One of the survey’s goals was to gather information that would help teachers engage students in math, the subject they typically tend to balk at–and struggle with–most. According to 2007 Department of Education statistics, only 31% of eighth graders score at or above “proficient” level on standardized math tests. In some school districts, high-school-algebra failure rates approach 50%.

Gross resolved to use the mobile platform to try to nudge these dismal numbers in the right direction. In 2007, he secured funding from Qualcomm. Then, along with planners at Drexel University, Florida State University, and a Boston-based tech consultancy called Choice Solutions, he set about developing math curricula tailored for mobile phones. The Project K-Nect pilot launched in 2008 at schools where a high percentage of students receive free and reduced-price lunches–including Southwest High, Taylor Scott’s school. The kids took to it instantly, churning out a storm of interactive content. “We had 75 videos generated in the first week about solving linear equations,” Gross says. “The students started forming communities, working together, and highlighting where they were running into problems.”

What stood out to Suzette Kliewer, a Southwest High math teacher, was how the curriculum engages reluctant learners. In one lesson called “Catch the Robber,” for instance, students must identify the culprit in a fictional heist by using linear equations to determine suspects’ heights from the size of their shoe prints. Southwest students used their phones to film themselves explaining the rationale they used to nail down the guilty party, then posted their videos–which Scott deemed “hilarious.”

“The kids are able to explain the material, and when they can do that, that’s when they really get it,” Kliewer says. “Sometimes it doesn’t click when I do it.” And opportunities for reinforcement are ever present. Students can take the phones home with them, so they’re able to ask Kliewer or their classmates questions about math concepts virtually 24/7. “The connectivity has been the critical element,” says Gross. “The device allows them to continue to use instructional resources when they’re on the school bus or waiting for a parent at work. If they have a specific question, they always have access to an expert, whether it’s a student peer or a tutor.”

Given that students already spend enough time texting under their desks–and teachers spend enough time reprimanding them for it–it’s fair to ask whether new pocket-size doodads create even more distraction. “Cell phones are a social tool–they haven’t been put in the category of educational tool before,” says Heidi Glidden, an assistant director of educational issues for the American Federation of Teachers. Figuring out whether and how it makes sense to use phones in the classroom, she adds, “is going to be a learning process, and it’s going to be a little muddy at times.”

Technology can help solve some of the problems it creates. For instance, software called MobiControl enables teachers to view all messaging on the phones, which has mostly eliminated temptations like going off topic or copying other kids’ answers.

Some naysayers are being won over by data: In last year’s pilot, students in the Project K-Nect group scored higher on state Algebra I proficiency tests than their nonconnected counterparts did. At Southwest High, every student in one Project K-Nect class notched a 100% proficiency rating in algebra; students in a non-Project K-Nect class with the same teacher averaged 70% proficiency.

Such programs aren’t obvious cash cows–Qualcomm subsidizes the handsets used in Project K-Nect schools, and Verizon and HTC donated phones and service to Texas’s Trinity Meadows. But the companies’ partnerships with schools are rich in intangible benefits: Not only do kids begin to identify with the sponsoring wireless companies, but they also provide valuable feedback about the smartphones’ strengths and limitations.

“K-Nect is what we call a ‘sandbox project,’ ” says Marie Bjerede, Qualcomm’s vice president of wireless-education technologies. “We let the students and teachers show us what using this technology means for them and their learning. What do they think makes it hard to use these devices? What are the barriers?” She says the company may launch further research into curricula for mobile devices and graduate-level tech training for teachers. (Technical difficulties proved an occasional distraction during the North Carolina pilot.)

Scott hopes Qualcomm can fix some of the hardware glitches, but otherwise, she thinks the program is more than adequate. For her, the proof really is in the numbers. “My grades have improved so much,” she says. “I got a 98 on my geometry final.” This school year, she’s tackling precalculus, smartphone in hand, and–miracle of miracles–she actually looks forward to math class.