COMET • Vol. 11, No. 01 – 6 February 2010


California Submits Race to the Top Application and Commits to Educational Reforms

Sources: Office of the Governor of California; U.S. Department of Education; California Department of Education
URL (Governor):
URL (CDE): and

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed California’s Race to the Top (RTTT) Application at Martin Luther King Elementary School in Compton Unified School District on January 15 in a ceremony attended by a number of California dignitaries.  See for a transcript, photos, and a video of the event. California’s revised application was posted on the governor’s RTTT Web site several days later. The application and appendices can be downloaded from  All 41 RTTT applications (40 states plus Washington, DC) are available for download from

Over 800 Local Education Agencies (LEAs) representing over 5700 schools (approximately 56% of the state’s schools) submitted a signed Memorandum of Understanding to partner with California in the RTTT competition by the January 15 deadline. Education-related legislation that made California eligible for RTTT funding (i.e., SBX5 1, SBX5 2, and SBX5 4) was signed by the governor on January 7.

On January 22, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell delivered his 7th annual State of Education Address. O’Connell outlined the promise of Race to the Top to improve student achievement and help close the achievement gap, even as schools face the challenge of absorbing billions in budget cuts.

“Race to the Top offers an opportunity to make systemic changes that could fundamentally improve our education system,” O’Connell said. “Our success will rely on creating a new relationship between the state and the local education community–a relationship that allows educators to focus on the core business of school: student learning.”

O’Connell said that the state’s role must evolve from regulating inputs and monitoring processes to maintaining world-class standards, providing assistance, leveraging best practices, and monitoring results; the role of local educational agencies will need to become one of leadership and innovation. The state will strengthen the local reform efforts by investing in a more comprehensive education data system that will support the effective use of data to focus on the needs of students. Researchers, county offices of education, and other support providers will collaborate by helping to identify what works, share expertise, and rapidly implement proven strategies.

“Our goal is to foster professional learning communities of teachers and leaders who will work together to innovate, examine data, and share effective practices,” O’Connell continued.

O’Connell described how California can support professional learning communities by revising–but not weakening–California’s standards, by streamlining and improving their sequencing. [See article below about the Common Core State Standards.]

O’Connell said that work to revise California’s standards would be coupled with the development of aligned assessments that use multiple measures to evaluate student learning, an accountability system based on individual student growth, and a teacher evaluation system that measures effectiveness by using student achievement data as a key measure. In order to create such a system, the state will facilitate a collaborative process with teachers unions, management organizations, and local educational agencies to design model teacher and principal evaluations. The results could then be used appropriately for decisions such as promotion, compensation, professional development, and tenure and ensure the equitable distribution of effective teachers and school leaders in hard-to-staff schools, subjects, and specialty areas.

During his State of Education Address, O’Connell also urged adequate funding for California’s public school system and called for passage of Senate Constitutional Amendment 6 by Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) that would allow Californians to pass parcel taxes to support local schools with a 55 percent vote of the people.

“People who choose to make education their life’s work are our heroes,” O’Connell said in conclusion. “They need better tools, more support, and, yes, more funding. But the vast majority of those in our system do incredible work transforming the lives of students. We have an opportunity–indeed, an obligation–to step up and help them. We cannot afford to wait any longer. We cannot let our challenges become obstacles to student success. We will find no better time than now.”

For the full text of O’Connell’s 2010 State of Education Address, please visit


The following questions/answers are excerpted from a Race to the Top FAQ page on the Governor’s RTTT Web site (see for the full listing):
What should an LEA do with instructional materials recently purchased but prior to the intended adoption of the new standards aligned with the [Common Core State Standards]?
It will be necessary that an LEA integrate new course materials that are aligned with the common core standards when these are adopted. However, the adoption schedule has been staggered so that LEAs will not be required to adopt all materials in the same year. Our tentative timeline indicates that we do not anticipate new materials being required until the spring of 2013.

If the State does not win Race to the Top, are all the provisions of [SBX5 1, SBX5 2, and SBX5 4] still in effect?
… The bills from the special session on Race to the Top contain provisions that will be implemented regardless of Race to the Top funding.




(1) New Math Column Debuts This Week in The New York Times

Source: The New York Times — 31 January 2010

On Monday, The New York Times debuted a weekly column on mathematics written by Steven Strogatz, “a professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University. In 2007 he received the Communications Award, a lifetime achievement award for the communication of mathematics to the general public. He previously taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received the E.M. Baker Award, an institute-wide teaching prize selected solely by students. ‘Chaos,’ his series of 24 lectures on chaos theory, was filmed and produced in 2008 by The Teaching Company. He is the author, most recently, of ‘The Calculus of Friendship,’ the story of his 30-year correspondence with his high school calculus teacher. In this series, which appears every Monday, he takes readers from the basics of math to the baffling.”

In his first column, “From Fish to Infinity” (, Strogatz writes, “Crazy as it sounds, over the next several weeks… I’ll be writing about the elements of mathematics, from pre-school to grad school, for anyone out there who’d like to have a second chance at the subject — but this time from an adult perspective. It’s not intended to be remedial. The goal is to give you a better feeling for what math is all about and why it’s so enthralling to those who get it…”


(2) Applications Due Soon for Intel Schools of Distinction Competition

Source: Julie Dunkle, Headquarters Education Manager, Intel Corporation

Does your school demonstrate 21st century teaching and learning environments that promote excellence in math and science?

If so, enter the 2010 Intel Schools of Distinction Awards competition and your school could win up to $25,000. The annual awards recognize U.S. schools that implement innovative, replicable programs that inspire their students and lead to positive educational outcomes in the areas of math and science.

Eighteen finalists–three from each grade range (K-5, 6-8, and 9-12) in each of the two categories of math and science–will be selected in April 2010 and will receive $5000 from the Intel Foundation, as well as a trip to Washington, D.C.

Six winners, selected out of the eighteen finalists, will receive an additional $5,000 from the Intel Foundation and more than $100,000 in products and services from the program award sponsors.

One of the final six winners will be identified as the Star Innovator for 2010. This school will receive an additional $15,000 cash grant from the Intel Foundation as well as additional services and products from the award sponsors.

The application deadline is 17 February 2010. For more information and to apply, please visit the Web site above.


(3) Informational Webinar on the National Science Foundation’s Math and Science Partnership Program

Source:  Joan Bissell, California State University (CSU) Chancellor’s Office

On 20 November 2009, the California State University Chancellor’s Office hosted a workshop and webinar presented by Jim Hamos on the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Mathematics and Science Partnership Program (MSP) and related topics. Hamos, a senior Program Officer for the MSP, delivered three interrelated presentations, each of which is now available for online viewing (audio and PowerPoint files). Short descriptions of these presentations follow below:

(a) The Math and Science Partnership Program: The MSP supports projects that are models of K-12 STEM education excellence. They are based on and contribute to the evidence/research base for improving science, mathematics, engineering and technology outcomes for all students. Proposals will be due in April 2010 or later (see the MSP Web site for updated information: Presentation Link:

(b) How to Write a Successful NSF Proposal (MSP and others): This presentation addressed the features NSF looks for in proposals, including (1) innovative ideas, (2) contributions to knowledge, (3) a project team with capacity for success, (4) institutional commitment to sustainability, (5) rigorous evaluation, and (6) promising approaches for dissemination. Presentation Link: (Please note that due to technical difficulties, the sound quality for presentations (b) and (c) is not optimal. However, the PowerPoint slides contain useful information. To advance the slides on your own, use the slider bar toward the bottom of the frame.)

(c) Roles of Math, Science, Engineering, and Education Faculty in NSF Partnerships: This presentation addressed the roles of faculty in math, science, engineering, and education departments in effective collaborations that bring about the significant improvements in K-12 STEM education outcomes that NSF seeks. Presentation Link:

Additional information concerning the MSP program may be found at the following Web site: 


(4) Investing in Innovation Fund (i3) Seeks Peer Reviewers for its Grant Competition

Source: Peter Kickbush, U.S. Department of Education – 5 February 2010
URL (i3):
URL (Call for Reviewers):

The Investing in Innovation fund (i3) was established under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) to encourage and reward school districts, nonprofits, and consortia of schools that are developing fresh ideas, growing promising programs, and scaling what works in an effort to dramatically improve student achievement, promote school readiness, close achievement gaps, decrease dropout rates, increase high school graduation rates, and improve teacher and school leader effectiveness.

These grants will (a) allow eligible entities to expand and develop their work so that their work can serve as models of best practices, (b) allow eligible entities to work in partnership with the private sector and the philanthropic community, and (c) identify and document best practices that can be shared and taken to scale based on demonstrated success.

The Request for Proposals for this program is expected to be issued in late winter or early spring 2010. The Notice of Proposed Priorities is available online at

In addition, i3 proposal reviewers are sought from various backgrounds and professions: PK-12 teachers and principals, college and university educators, researchers and evaluators, social entrepreneurs, strategy consultants, grant makers and managers, and others with education expertise.

Reviewers will independently read, score, and provide written comments for grant applications. The application review will be conducted electronically from the reviewer’s location, except for one set of reviews that may be conducted in Washington, D.C. Reviewers will receive an honorarium. For more information, visit


(5) Standards for Elementary Mathematics Specialists

Source: Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMTE)

At last week’s annual meeting of the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators in Irvine, CA, the Elementary Mathematics Specialist (EMS) Project Team presented its new publication, Standards for Elementary Mathematics Specialists: A Reference for Teacher Credentialing and Degree Programs. This document is available online at

In the document’s Preface, AMTE President Barbara Reys writes the following: “One of the primary goals of the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMTE) is to advocate for effective policies and practices related to mathematics teacher education. A persistent area of need is the preparation of professionals who are charged with helping young students (particularly in K–6) learn mathematics.

“Given the many demands and expertise required to teach all subjects of elementary school (the typical assignment of elementary classroom teachers), AMTE supports the use of elementary mathematics specialists to teach and to support others who teach mathematics at the elementary level. We believe that special expertise is required to do this job well. This expertise includes both a deep and practical knowledge of the content and pedagogy of elementary and middle school mathematics and the ability to work with other professionals to develop their mathematical knowledge for teaching… The Standards outline particular knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed by elementary mathematics specialists (EMS).”

At the AMTE Conference, Skip Fennell gave a presentation about the  “Elementary Mathematics Specialists and Teacher Leaders” project that he directs. Two of the goals of the EMS&TL project are the following: (a) the establishment and maintenance of a Web-based clearinghouse on issues of importance for elementary mathematics specialists and their supervisors, and (b) providing ongoing professional development for elementary mathematics specialists in the region and nationally. Please visit the EMS&TL Web site for more details, as well as a link to the presentation slides from the AMTE pre-conference EMS session:

If your district uses elementary mathematics specialists, please visit to describe how they are used, and keep checking the main Web site for updates about the EMS&TL project.


(6) Common Core State Standards Initiative–NASBE’s Contributions

Source: The National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE)

The 23 December 2009 issue of COMET included a report on the December 2 National Forum on Common Standards, including a link to a video of the event (see The National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is currently “sponsoring regional conferences to give State Boards an opportunity to gain an information infrastructure of materials and resources on the common core as well as prepare State Boards for the policy and advocacy work that will be essential to a smooth approval process of the common core standards.” The Education Week article below covered the Western Regional conference held earlier this week in Las Vegas.

The NASBE Web site provides a description of the Common Core effort: “In 2009, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA) in partnership with Achieve, ACT, and the College Board launched the Common Core State Standards Initiative (, a state-led process of adopting common standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics across the nation. This initiative will provide states with fewer, clearer, and higher standards that are research-and-evidence based as well as internationally benchmarked. By adopting these standards, states will be better equipped to prepare students with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college and in a career workforce in a global economy. Currently there are 48 states and 3 territories that are committed to adopting the standards. Adoption of the standards is voluntary but should a state chose to adopt; they must adopt 100% of the common core K-12 standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics within three years, and the common core standards must make up at least 85% of a state’s K-12 standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics. A state will have adopted when the standards authorizing body within the state has taken formal action to adopt and implement the common core standards.

“While this is primarily a state-led movement, the Obama administration is supporting this initiative to develop common standards by allocating part of the $5 billion ‘Race to the Top’ funds towards the common core initiative, including $350 million for the development of common assessments. Having common standards is a significant and historic movement as students will now have clearer and consistent expectations across the nation, which can help minimize academic challenges when moving across state or district lines.

“NASBE is an equal partner with the Council of Chief State School Officers and National Governors Association on the Common Core Standards Initiative. The three organizations will work closely together to facilitate the dialogue related to standards adoption and implementation. The focus of this effort is to engage state boards of education, other governing bodies, and the larger public in supporting the adoption and implementation of a rigorous and useable set of academic standards upon which a robust and coherent educational system can be based.”


(7) “State School Boards Raise Questions About Standards” by Catherine Gewertz

SourceEducation Week – 3 February 2010

States that adopt proposed common academic standards must use the entire document word for word, leaders of the initiative said this week.

Answering questions from state school board members at a meeting here, representatives of the two groups leading the effort to design common standards said that states may not revise them or select only portions to adopt.

“You can’t pick and choose what you want. This is not cafeteria-style standards,” said David Wakelyn, the program director of the education division of the National Governors Association’s (NGA’s) Center for Best Practices.

“Adoption means adoption,” said Scott Montgomery, a deputy executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, which is organizing the common-standards endeavor with the NGA.

Mr. Wakelyn and Mr. Montgomery sought to clarify an element of the agreement that 48 states signed last year in pledging support for the Common Core Standards Initiative. It said that the common standards, which are being written for English/language arts and mathematics, must represent “at least 85 percent of the state’s standards” in those subjects.

Some thought that meant states could craft a set of standards with 85 percent of the common standards and 15 percent of their own. But NGA and CCSSO officials said that states must approve the entire common-standards document verbatim. They may choose to add 15 percent of their own material. How that 15 percent would be measured remains an open question.

That exercise in elementary math was only one of many questions that arose during a two-day meeting of boards of education from a dozen Western states [in Las Vegas on February 1-2]. It was the second of four regional meetings organized by … NASBE, to help its members learn about the proposed common standards. In most states, it is the boards of education that will decide whether to adopt the standards.

A draft of K-12 standards in math and English/language arts has been widely circulated for review by states and organizations. Drafters hope to open it to public comment within two weeks. A set of “college- and career-ready” standards was issued last fall.

Together, they are intended to establish a shared vision of the skills and knowledge students should master by high school graduation for success in college and work, and a road map for developing those skills as they progress through school. Debate persists, however, about whether that vision is the correct one.