COMET • Vol. 10, No. 31 – 23 December 2009


(1) State Superintendent O’Connell and Education Secretary Thomas Announce Requirements for Local Education Agencies to Participate in Race to the Top

Source:  California Department of Education

On December 14, California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell and Education Secretary Glen Thomas announced the release of key elements that will be included in California’s Race to the Top (RttT) plan and requirements for local education agencies (LEAs) that want to participate. (See for the teleconference briefing.)  State applications for securing a portion of the $4.35 billion federal RttT monies are due to the federal government by January 19, 2010. California can secure up to $700 million in funding, half of which must go to LEAs.

In addition to prompting legislative education reforms required for states to compete, Race to the Top calls on LEAs to voluntarily partner with the state through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to implement reforms that improve student outcomes. California’s MOU was developed in accordance with the recently released final RttT guidelines. (See below for links to the MOU documents.)

“Race to the Top is prompting an historic undertaking with the potential to change the face of education in California,” O’Connell said. “By investing in state and local systems that will accelerate and drive growth in student achievement, Race to the Top represents our state’s best chance to engage in the fundamental reforms that are needed to develop our workforce and fuel future innovations. We are now asking local education agencies to collaborate with the state and with each other in unprecedented ways. It won’t be easy, but by joining as a group of committed educators focused on providing the opportunity for all children to reach their full potential, we know we can win this race.”

“The development of California’s Race to the Top plan and MOU is an important collaborative effort that is the result of the ongoing work between education leaders across the state. It is important to note that the MOU represents just one piece of the state’s application process–the California legislature must pass legislation to ensure California can be highly competitive for this funding.” said Secretary Thomas. “Although we had initially hoped to release the MOU in conjunction with the necessary legislation to make California truly competitive, we can no longer wait for the legislature to begin the important work with LEAs with the looming January 19, 2010 deadline.” (See the third article below for more regarding pending legislation.)

Race to the Top (RttT) offers an opportunity to strategically build upon current education reform efforts by investing in key supports that (1) refine California’s rigorous state standards, (2) provide new supports for teachers and principals to improve effectiveness, (3) enhance local data systems and coordinate those with state data systems, and (4) transform persistently low performing schools. A key element of California’s application is the explicit inclusion of LEAs that desire to partner with the State and thus be eligible for a portion of the RttT funds should the state’s application be successful.

The superintendent of each participating LEA is required to sign an MOU to indicate commitment to partnering with the State to implement each of the four key reform areas. California’s State application has a greater chance of being successful if MOUs are also signed by the local school governing board president and the local teachers’ union leader.

An LEA may choose to draft a plan that would focus only on a select number of schools or can draft a plan that would encompass all schools in the LEA. No limits are set, but the more schools that are included, the greater the funding for that LEA. If California wins a Race to the Top grant, participating LEAs will have 90 days to revise and submit their final plans.

“In order to win up to $700 million in Race to the Top funds, California must prepare the most competitive application possible,” Secretary Thomas said. “The legislature must make critical changes to our state laws that affect our whole system or we will be left on the sidelines of the Race to the Top. I continue to call on the state legislature to share our sense of urgency and pass the bold bi-partisan Race to the Top legislative package already approved by the Senate.”


Memorandum of Understanding Documents:
Memorandum of Understanding Letter:

Memorandum of Understanding:

Exhibit I: Preliminary Scope of Work:

Attachment 2: Definitions from the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top Application for Initial Funding (CFDA Number: 84.395A); pages 7-11:

Attachment 3: Description of Intervention Models from the US Department of Education’s Race to the Top Application for Initial Funding (CFDA Number: 84.395A); pages 71-74:


(2) California State Board of Education Addresses Race to the Top at December Meeting


The California State Board of Education (SBE) devoted the afternoon of December 15 to presentations by California Department of Education Deputy Superintendent Rick Miller and Kathryn Radtkey-Gaither, the governor’s undersecretary in his Office of Education. The meeting agenda ( contains a number of attachments, including the MOU documents referenced in the report above, as well as summaries of SBX5 1 (Romero) and ABX5 8 (Brownley).

Both Miller and Radtkey-Gaither stressed that Race to the Top (RttT) would foster a much more collaborative relationship between the state and districts than is currently the case–that LEAs (Local Education Agencies) and the state would move to a model of mutual accountability rather than the current “top-down” approach of “we decide, you comply.” If California is successful in securing the RttT funds, the state will have 90 days to develop the scope of work. “That’s when the real work begins,” Miller said.

Governor Schwarzenegger has told U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that California won’t reduce the rigor of the current state standards; assurances were given that this wouldn’t be the case. California will adopt the Common Core State Standards (see article below) that are currently in development but “add sufficient standards to maintain our rigor…and protect college admissions standards… Schools will not be dealing with substantially different standards,” Miller stated.

Radtkey-Gaither noted, “In Race to the Top, everything is built around data-driven reform.” The University of California system will be engaged in conducting research related to RttT.

Miller said that there will be a shift from “highly qualified” to “highly effective.” Highly effective teachers are defined as those whose students achieve an average of 1.5 years of academic growth during a school year. Effective teachers are those whose students gain an average of one year’s growth during an academic year. Less effective teachers are those whose students do not achieve a year’s growth during the school year; these teachers will be given professional development to help them improve their skills. The LEA must determine an annual evaluation system for both teachers and principals.

Miller strongly believes that California has an advantage in the RttT competition due to the state’s population/size and cultural diversity, as well as the state’s technology industry and its current track record of educational reforms. “We are the future… We could be a model for how to educate the undereducated for the rest of the world,” Miller stated.

Following the presentation, State Board member David Lopez said that he hopes there is a serious focus on English Language Learners (ELLs) in the plans, since 25% of the state’s K-12 students (and 41% of kindergarteners) are ELL.


References to mathematics in the MOU letter to district and county office superintendents include the following:

[Page 3] Standards and Assessments

Recognizing California’s national leadership in setting and implementing state standards, California has agreed to participate in the development of a set of common core standards. The State intends to adopt the national common core standards by August 2, 2010 in such a manner as to not lower our rigorous expectations for students. The State also intends to join a multi-state consortium to develop aligned assessments. This process will include a chain of state supports for the transition to revised state standards and assessments, which will include:

— Adopt revised curriculum frameworks in English-language arts by January 2011 and in mathematics by June 2011 in a way that includes an analytic process to combine common core standards with California’s current standards;

— Offer professional development on the frameworks;

— Adopt new instructional materials for English-language arts in spring 2012 and mathematics in spring 2013;

— Revise assessments for implementation in English-language arts in spring 2014 and mathematics in spring 2015; and

— Revise the state accountability system as needed to align with new standards and assessments by 2015.

[Page 8] Additional Areas of Interest to the State

…While the activities listed below are not mandatory for participation in Race to the Top, they are priorities for the State and have evidence as important factors in raising student achievement and closing gaps. If your LEA is engaged in these activities and would be willing to partner with the State and other LEAs, we would encourage you to further commit to working in these key areas:

Address Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) needs of students and staff by working with industry experts, museums, universities, research centers, and other STEM-capable community partners to:

— Prepare and assist teachers in integrating STEM content across grades and disciplines,

— Promote effective and relevant instruction, and

— Offer applied learning opportunities for students…


(3) Race to Compromise: Senate Passes Second Reform Bill to Assembly

URL (ABX5 8, Brownley):
URL (Brownley RttT videos):
URL (SB5x 4, Romero): SBX5 4:
URL (Update):

On December 15, Senator Gloria Romero introduced SB X5 4, her second bill (following SB X5 1) addressing federal Race to the Top requirements. On December 17, the Senate passed SB X5 4 to the Assembly. That same day, Senator Julia Brownley’s competing bill, ABX5 8, was also passed to the Assembly.  Romero’s comprehensive bill was a compromise between the Senate and Assembly but still contains reforms necessary for California to be eligible and competitive for up to $700 million in federal Race to the Top grants.  The bill next goes to the Assembly Education Committee.

“I am proud that my colleagues in the Senate have again chosen to make the right decisions for our children and keep California alive in the Race to the Top competition,” said Romero, Chair of the Senate Education Committee.  “Continuing to reach compromise that will allow California to deliver a bold and comprehensive reform package is of utmost importance and our absolute obligation as elected officials.”

Following the floor vote, Senate Pro Tem Steinberg announced that he plans to reach an accord with the Assembly and Administration before the holidays; however final votes may take place in January.

Visit the Web sites above for details about SB X5 4 and ABX5 8.




(1) National Forum on Common Standards: Video Recording and PowerPoint Presentation

Contact:  Common Core Standards Initiative —
URL (Video):

The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) presented a National Forum on Common Core State Standards on Wednesday, December 2, in Washington, DC. Gene Wilhoit, Executive Director of CCSSO, and Dane Linn, Director of NGA, hosted the event.

The purpose of this meeting was to (1) provide an update on the Common Core State Standards Initiative, (2) discuss the process for developing the K-12 standards in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics, (3) outline elements of state adoption of the common standards, and (4) gather input and feedback on the initiative. A graphic display of the standards development process is available at

During the forum, Wilhoit and Linn emphasized that the Standards effort is not a federal initiative, but one that is “coming out of the states and led by the states.”  They also emphasized that the document strives to be research-based. A significant focus on research and development is needed “to inform a richer set of standards the next time around.” Indeed, the current standards are not viewed as being set in stone but open to ongoing revision.  The vision is for a comprehensive package–standards, instructional materials, assessment, and professional development. Engaged partners such as the National Education Association and National School Boards Association are viewed as integral to the initiative’s success.

The College and Career Readiness Standards document is ready for viewing at  The current version reflects the input of over 1000 stakeholders. The K-12 Standards for mathematics and English-language arts are currently being reviewed by states and will be publicly released in January for input from teachers, superintendents, and those in higher education. Organizations are encouraged to provide feedback. Because school boards will be ultimately responsible for adopting the standards, their feedback and collaboration is viewed as crucial. Chancellors of systems of higher education will be needed to help with implementation, so their input is vital.

Organizations that have been part of the effort were asked to speak at the National Forum. Representatives from the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teacher (AFT) expressed strong support for the effort and noted that they have provided outstanding teachers to comment on the draft standards with an eye toward realistic classroom implementation of the standards. AFT has partnered with Great City Schools to help move on implementation and help teachers articulate what their needs are so that professional development can be aligned with the standards.

The National School Boards Association representative noted that the Common Core Standards effort is good for the nation’s students, who aren’t necessarily confined to one school or even one state in their education due to currently available technology. A focus on 21st century learning is viewed as vitally important in standards development.

A video of the event and accompanying PowerPoint presentation are available at the Web sites above. COMET readers are urged to view each to gain a more complete understanding of the effort’s goals and procedures.


(2) Creativity in Mathematics

Source: American Mathematical Society

“Mathematics links Art and Science in one great enterprise, the human attempt to make sense of the universe.”

So writes Abel Prizewinner and Fields Medalist Sir Michael F. Atiyah in the January 2010 Notices of the American Mathematical Society. The theme of the issue is creativity in mathematics. The entire issue is available as a PDF file at the Web site above.

Mathematicians have always felt a strong creative aspect in their subject, but only in recent years has the flowering of connections between mathematics and the arts made this aspect apparent to the general public. The collection of three articles in the Notices, together with Atiyah’s short introductory piece (“The Art of Mathematics”:, explore some of the various ways in which art and beauty appear in mathematics.

(a) Mathematics and Mime

In “Envisioning the Invisible,” Tim Chartier describes how the performing arts can be used to capture mathematical concepts in a visceral way that audiences can really connect with. Chartier is a mathematician and also a mime; he trained with the legendary Marcel Marceau. In one of Chartier’s mime sketches, he gets the audience to visualize the one-dimensional number line as a rope of infinite length. The sketch begins with the lone mime walking toward the audience and suddenly stumbling. Peering down, he sees an (invisible) object on the floor and proceeds to slowly pick it up. Examining it, he discovers a rope of infinite length in both directions. He then engages in a tug-of-war with the rope and eventually cuts it into two, prompting the audience to ponder questions about the nature of infinity. In addition to describing several such mime pieces he performs (some of them together with his wife, who is also a trained mime), Chartier discusses the work of other mathematicians who work in such performing arts as dance, theater, juggling, and magic.

(b) Mathematics and Music

The strong affinity between mathematics and music is the subject of “Music: Broken Symmetry, Geometry, and Complexity,” by Gary W. Don, Karyn K. Muir, Gordon B. Volk, and James S. Walker. Among the questions explored in the article are: Does Louis Armstrong’s voice sound like his trumpet? What do Ludwig van Beethoven, Benny Goodman, and Jimi Hendrix have in common? How does the brain sometimes fool us when we listen to music, and how have composers used such illusions? Is it possible to objectively describe the connection between pitch and rhythm in melodies? Is it possible to objectively describe the complexity of musical rhythm? How can math help create new music?

(c) Mathematics and Visual Art

In “The Life and Survival of Mathematical Ideas,” Michael F. Barnsley discusses how a specific mathematical topic, that of iterated function systems, can be viewed as a “creative system”: The forms emerging from this system are fractals. His article is illustrated with many arresting computer-generated pictures that are true works of art, including some he has sold in art shows. Barnsley explains his notion of a “creative system,” which is a system that possesses a core stable form (DNA), a fertile environment, a determination to survive, and random stimuli. “The mind of a mathematician,” he argues, “provides a locus for creative systems, a place where mathematical structures live and evolve.” He makes a parallel between biological forms, such as plants, and mathematical forms. An example of mathematical forms are the geometric building blocks of points, lines, and planes; their “DNA” consists of the equations that describe points, lines, and planes. The forms evolve and adapt as they are passed on through generations of mathematicians’ minds.

By serendipity, the article on music by Don et al. employs some of Barnsely’s work on fractal images to produce new music. Using Barnsley’s Iterated Function Systems formulas, the authors created fractal images of a fern and of Sierpinski’s triangle and used these images to create notes for musical compositions—so the “scores” were computer images rather than the usual musical scores. This connection between the two articles shows how the power of abstraction in mathematics makes it a fertile source for artistic expression.


(3) Recession Gives True Loves Something To Be Happy About: PNC Christmas Price Index Shows Modest 1.8 Percent Increase

Source: PNC Financial Services Group, Inc.

As part of its annual tradition, PNC Wealth Management tabulates the “True Cost of Christmas,” which is the total cost of items gifted by a True Love who repeats all of the verses in the holiday classic, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” This holiday season, very generous True Loves will receive a bargain and pay $87,402.81 for all 364 gifts, a mere 0.9 percent increase compared to last year.

The PNC Christmas Price Index’s (CPI’s) sources range from retailers to the National Aviary in Pittsburgh and the Pennsylvania Ballet Company in Philadelphia and a retail jeweler in suburban Indianapolis.

The sharp rise in gold prices proved to be the main contributor to the dramatic 42.9 percent jump to $499.95 for the Five Gold Rings. Typically when the value of the dollar decreases, as it has in the last year, investors buy more gold driving up prices.

The cost of the Seven Swans-a-Swimming, which generally provide the biggest swings from year to year in the PNC CPI, fell this year by 6.3 percent to $5,250 following last year’s eye-opening 33.3 percent rise. As the most volatile item in the Index, the swans are removed to determine the underlying inflation or core PNC CPI, which pushed the rate up 4.8 percent this year.

Declines in the cost of birds in the index were a major factor in the moderate increase. The Partridge in a Pear Tree is down 27.3 percent to $159.99. The partridge came in 50 percent below last year at $10.00 and the pear tree is $149.99, off 25 percent. Also, the Six Geese-a-Laying are down a sizable 37.5 percent to $150.00.
The cost of the Four Calling Birds was even with last year at $599.96. The only birds to increase in price were the Two Turtle Doves, which rose a paltry 1.8 percent to $55.98, and the Three French Hens, flying up 50 percent to $45.00; the largest percentage increase in this year’s index.

As the only unskilled laborers in the PNC Christmas Price Index, the eight Maids-a-Milking received an automatic raise for the third straight year due to another increase in the federal minimum wage. Before 2007, they had not received a raise since 1997.

The federal minimum wage increased this year to $7.25 per hour, following last year’s increase to $6.55. In the last three years, the Maids-a-Milking have seen their wages rise by $2.10 per hour, a total increase of 41 percent. Hiring the maids this year cost $58.00, only $5.60 more than a year ago.

The cost of most performers in the index–the Drummers Drumming ($2,475.20), Pipers Piping ($2,284.80) and Lords-a-Leaping ($4,413.61)–saw no increase at all from 2008, reflecting the labor market in which the unemployment rate rose to 10 percent after sitting around 5 percent for much of the decade. Only the price for the Ladies Dancing is higher this year, up 15 percent to $5,473.07.

For those True Loves who prefer the convenience of shopping online, PNC Wealth Management calculates the cost of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” gifts purchased on the Internet.

This year, the trends identified in the traditional index are repeated in the Internet version. True Loves will pay a grand total of $31,434.85 to buy the items online. That is less expensive than last year; however, it is still about $10,000 more than in this year’s traditional index.

“In general, Internet prices are higher than their non-Internet counterparts because of shipping costs for birds and the convenience factor of shopping online,” Dunigan said.

For a historical look at PNC’s Index, please visit This year’s enhanced Web site features young children representing the items in the song.

Each year, educators across the country use the Christmas Price Index to teach economic trends to students of all ages. With that in mind, this year’s site includes interactive activities, annual results, and PNC CPI trends in a Flash presentation, MP3 download, games, and much more.

Educators who visit the site will also find sample lesson plans on the Christmas Price Index from The Stock Market Game (SMG:, a program of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association Foundation for Investor Education ( Available in all 50 states for grades 4-12, the SMG program was designed to teach children core academic and investment skills.