COMET • Vol. 11, No. 17 – 18 September 2010


(1) Californians Say Science Education Should be a Priority for Schools

Source: Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning – 15 September 2010
URL (Report Links):
URL (Full Report):

Californians believe that science education should be a priority for the state’s schools and want the subject to be taught early and more often, according to a report released today by the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning and its partners in the Strengthening Science Education in California Initiative. The report, A Priority for California’s Future: Science for Students, is based on a telephone survey of 1004 adults in California, including cell phone and Spanish language interviews. The authors believe the report to be the first published public opinion research specific to science education in California.

The survey results indicate that the public wants schools to have necessary science labs and equipment; wants all high school students to take biology, chemistry, and physics; wants science taught in elementary schools; and strongly supports providing teachers at all levels with specialized training in teaching science.

“This new research clearly shows the state’s residents place a high value on science education, ranking the subject right up with reading, writing and mathematics in terms of priorities for schools,” said Nancy Belden, the lead researcher for the report. “In their view, knowledge and understanding of science are essential to keeping California and America at the forefront of technology and innovation, and essential to young people as they prepare for the future.”

The data also indicate that groups that have been historically underrepresented are more likely to perceive that science education in their schools may be lacking and express stronger support for efforts to strengthen science education.

“Californians understand the importance of science education and want it to be a priority for the state’s schools,” says Margaret Gaston, Executive Director of the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning. “We hope the state’s policymakers and educators will consider the public’s interests as decisions are made that impact science education in California’s schools and classrooms.”

A Priority for California’s Future: Science for Students was conducted as part of Strengthening Science Education in California, a new initiative that brings together educators, researchers, and others to examine the status of science teaching and learning, and to develop recommendations for improving science education throughout the state. For more information on this study, visit the links above. The full research report is available at


(2) “California Board of Education Addresses Teacher Evaluation Issue” by Teresa Watanabe

Source: Los Angeles Times – 16 September 2010

The state Board of Education took up the controversial issue of teacher evaluations on Wednesday [September 15], unanimously voting to create an online database to share information about local, state and national efforts to measure educators’ effectiveness.

The board also asked the Los Angeles, Long Beach and Fresno school districts to propose specific ways the state can support local efforts to create more meaningful evaluation tools, including the value-added method of using students’ test scores to rate teacher performance.

This is a huge step forward,” said board member Ben Austin, who proposed the resolution at the Sacramento meeting. “Including value-added as a component is just common sense, if we take seriously the notion that education is about kids and not grownups.”

Wednesday’s move was a step forward for the board, which typically doesn’t weigh in on local policy matters.

The board’s 11 members, who are appointed by the governor to four-year terms, set state educational policy. But past boards have focused mainly on technical issues, such as ensuring state and local compliance with education laws, rather than policy, according to John E. Deasy, Los Angeles Unified School District’s deputy superintendent.

“That’s huge,” Deasy said. “No question we are at a historic moment.”

Debate over the issue of teacher evaluations intensified in Los Angeles and around the nation after The Times wrote a series of articles and published a database using the value-added method to rank about 6,000 third- through fifth- grade teachers.

The California Teachers Assn. and the Los Angeles teachers union have opposed use of the value-added method, saying that students’ test scores do not accurately reflect a teacher’s effectiveness. Pixie Hayward-Schickele of the California Teachers Assn. said any board action on teacher performance reviews should be taken cautiously and only after all involved parties have a chance to weigh in. Teacher evaluations fall under collective bargaining agreements.

In his presentation to the board, Deasy talked about Los Angeles’ efforts, launched last year, to improve teacher effectiveness by strengthening evaluation systems and reviewing tenure, merit pay and professional development programs.

He told board members that multiple measures would be used in the district’s new and evolving evaluation system. Classroom observations of the teacher by a trained evaluator were the most important, he said, but value-added analysis and community feedback through surveys of parents, students and teachers would also be used.

“This is very much a civil rights issue for us in L.A.,” he said, adding that the district was particularly concerned about boosting the academic performance of students in poor and marginalized neighborhoods. The district and the teachers union have agreed to negotiate a new evaluation system.

Long Beach Unified School District officials discussed their two evaluation systems, one approved by the teachers union and one a voluntary pilot program, that both use test scores as analytical tools.

Fresno educators told board members about growing collaboration between district administrators and the teachers union–two parties once mired in deep distrust–to improve teacher effectiveness. One tool Fresno uses is videotaping teachers to study both strengths and weaknesses.

“We are beginning to set the stage for change,” said board member David Lopez. “What we have in place is not working as well as it should. Our students deserve better and so do parents.”


Related links:

California State Board of Education Agenda for 15 September 2010:
Item 16:
(background, related legislation, and plans)
Subject: Local Education Agency Teacher and Principal Performance Evaluation Practices and Reporting Requirements
Item 16 Attachment 1:

(3) Free Forum: Grading the Teachers–Measures, Media & Policies
Source/Contact: Steve Cohen – 

The University of California, Berkeley will host a free forum on teacher evaluation, focusing a significant part of the discussion on the use of a value-added approach that utilizes student test scores as an important measure of teacher effectiveness. Entitled “Grading the Teachers–Measures, Media, and Policies,” the September 27 forum will be streamed live on the Internet from 1:30-4:30 p.m. PT. In addition to providing event details, the Forum’s Web site ( includes a number of links to articles and reports about teacher evaluation that may be of interest.


The following is from the Forum’s Web site:

A national debate has raged since mid-August when the Los Angeles Times published its evaluations of 6,000 elementary school teachers in its series, “Grading the Teachers.” The paper justified its decision to make the ratings available as an “an important service, and in the belief that parents and the public have a right to the information.”

While President Obama’s administration has made a priority of compensating teachers, at least in part, for their performance, a big part of the controversy is the evaluation method that the LA Times used in its analysis and whether the paper did enough to make the readers aware of the limitations of the “value-added” approach it employed.

“Grading the Teachers” has been a wake-up call to those in research, journalism and education circles to grapple with the evaluation, journalistic and policy issues raised by the LA Times report. On September 27, UC Berkeley answers that call by holding the first and largest public forum to consider the methods and implications of the LA Times report, what promising teacher evaluations are on the horizon and, ultimately, how and whether teachers and students can benefit from them.

(4) “California Testing iPads as Algebra Textbooks” by Gautham Nagesh

Source: The Hill – 8 September 2010

A pilot project in four California school districts will replace 400 students’ eighth-grade algebra textbooks with Apple iPads in an attempt to prove the advantages of interactive digital technologies over traditional teaching methods.

Education firm Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has teamed up with California Secretary of Education Bonnie Reiss for the pilot, which will take place at Long Beach Unified School District, Riverside Unified School District, Fresno Unified School District, and San Francisco Unified School District…

Students randomly selected for the program will receive iPads loaded with digital versions of their textbooks for the coming school year. Their progress will be tracked and compared against that of their classmates using traditional textbooks to determine the potential benefit of a switch to digital technology.

Students with iPads will have instant access to more than 400 videos from teaching experts walking them through the concepts and assignments, rather than having to rely on the teacher’s explanation in class. There is also a homework coach and animated instructions on how to complete assignments…


Related Articles:

(a) “Two Long Beach Schools Teaching Algebra with iPads” by Kevin Butler, Staff Writer

Source: Press-Telegram (Long Beach) – 8 September 2010

…Bonnie Reiss, the state secretary of education, said that the ground-breaking pilot program fits in with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s push for digital textbooks.

“You are part of history,” she told a group of Washington students [in Long Beach, CA] during a press event Wednesday.

Students using the algebra app can watch instructional videos, type, or voice-record notes and complete computer quizzes that provide immediate feedback on whether answers are correct.

The results of quizzes are sent automatically to the teacher’s iPad so that he or she can track the kids’ performance.

Students can also get hints to solve problems, review worked-out examples step-by-step, and use a built-in graphing calculator to visualize algebraic equations…

(b) “No Textbook Case: 2 Fresno Schools Get iPads” by Tracy Correa

Source: The Fresno Bee – 8 September 2010

…[Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson] said the new program provides an opportunity for California schools to take the lead in digital textbook innovation…

At the conclusion of the yearlong pilot, Empirical Education, a Silicon Valley research company, will evaluate student academic performance and produce a report comparing the 400 iPad app students to 600 other eighth-graders in California who relied solely on textbooks…



(1) President Obama Announces New STEM Initiative, “Change the Equation”

Source: The White House – 16 September 2010

On Thursday, September 16, President Obama announced the launch of Change the Equation, a CEO-led effort to dramatically improve education in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), as part of his “Educate to Innovate” campaign. Change the Equation is a non-profit organization dedicated to mobilizing the business community to improve the quality of STEM education in the United States.

In his remarks, the President emphasized the importance of providing American students with a solid foundation in these subjects in order to compete in the global economy:

“We’re here for a simple reason: Everybody in this room understands that our nation’s success depends on strengthening America’s role as the world’s engine of discovery and innovation. And all the CEOs who are here today understand that their company’s future depends on their ability to harness the creativity and dynamism and insight of a new generation.

“And that leadership tomorrow depends on how we educate our students today –especially in science, technology, engineering and math.”

President Obama also emphasized the importance of the government working together with teachers, parents, students and businesses to achieve these goals:

“What I’ve also said for a long time is that our success will not be attained by government alone. It depends on teachers and parents and students and the broader community. It depends on us restoring an insistence on excellence in our classrooms and from our children. And that’s why last year I challenged scientists and business leaders to think of creative ways to engage young people in math and science. And now they are answering the call.

“All across this country, companies and nonprofits are coming together to replicate successful science programs. New public/private partnerships are working to offer additional training to more than 100,000 teachers and to prepare more than 10,000 new teachers in the next five years.

“Media companies are creating content to inspire young people in math and science. And businesses are working with nonprofits to launch robotics competitions and other ways for kids to make things and learn with their hands.

“So now we’re building on this effort. The business leaders gathered in this room with this board at the helm are launching a new organization called ‘Change the Equation’ to help our country reach the goal of moving to the top in math and science education. It brings together a coalition of more than a hundred CEOs from the nation’s largest companies who are committed to bring innovative math and science programs to at least a hundred high-need communities over the next year.”

[For more, see the article below.]


(2) Change the Equation — Corporate STEM Initiative Launched


About Change the Equation (from Five visionary leaders — former Intel CEO Craig Barrett, Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt, Xerox CEO Ursula Burns, Eastman Kodak CEO Antonio Perez, and Sally Ride Science CEO Sally Ride — joined forces with Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to form Change the Equation.

Change the Equation is a non-profit, non-partisan CEO-led initiative to solve America’s innovation problem. It answers the call of President Obama’s Educate to Innovate Campaign to move the U.S. to the top of the pack in science and math education over the next decade. We aim to improve science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education for every child, with a particular focus on girls and students of color, who have long been underrepresented in STEM fields.

Our members — more than 100 companies — will connect and align their work to transform STEM learning in the United States.

Change the Equation will strive to be the conscience of a sustainable national movement to improve STEM education by:

. — Shining a light on progress and problems. Change the Equation speaks with a steady, independent, non-partisan voice about the urgency of improving STEM education nationwide. We will regularly measure the nation’s progress towards our three goals.
. — Advocating and influencing. Our network of CEOs seeks to influence decision makers with a clear vision for improving all students’ learning in STEM, in and out of school. Our CEOs care passionately about STEM education, and they are driven by the need for greater consensus and more action on what it will take to make a difference.
. — Leading by example. Change the Equation members will carefully evaluate their own efforts in support of STEM education to ensure their effectiveness and quality. Before calling others to task, the corporate community will “clean its own house.”
. — Acting as catalysts for change. Change the Equation aims to scale up existing, effective STEM education programs nationwide. We are committed to a future where neither geography nor family circumstances stand in the way of a child’s success.
— Collaborating with educators and communities. Change the Equation seeks to combine the best in American schools with the power and ingenuity of American business.

“What We Will Do” (

Change the Equation aligns corporate efforts in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education to ensure that they add up to real, measurable growth in the achievement and STEM fluency of our nation’s young people.

In our first year, Change the Equation will:
— Work with our member companies to begin spreading a small number of programs that work to 100 sites across the country where student performance is low and corporate philanthropy is limited.
— Create a scorecard that can assess the condition of STEM education in all 50 states. This first scorecard will provide a baseline from which to measure states’ progress in coming years.
— Identify and broadly share principles for effective business involvement in STEM education.
— Help our member companies judge and improve the effectiveness of their own programs through robust self-evaluation tools.
— Be a leading advocate for STEM education in the United States.


(3) Presidential Advisors Highlight Plan for Improvements in K-12 STEM Education in New Publication, “Prepare And Inspire”

Source: President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) – 16 September 2010
URL (Prepare and Inspire):
URL (Exec. Summary):

America is home to extraordinary assets in science, engineering, and mathematics that, if properly applied within the educational system, could revitalize student interest and increase proficiency in these subjects and support an American economic renewal, according to a new report from an independent council of Presidential advisors.

The new report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST)–20 of the Nation’s leading scientists and engineers appointed by the President to provide advice on a range of topics–makes specific recommendations to better prepare America’s K-12 students in STEM subjects and also to inspire those students–including girls, minorities, and others underrepresented in STEM fields–to challenge themselves with STEM classes, engage in STEM activities outside the school classroom, and consider pursuing careers in those fields.

“Getting America back to the top of the pack in math and science achievement is going to require everyone’s involvement. The Federal Government has a critical role to play, especially through a partnership between the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation,” said Eric Lander, a co-chair of PCAST, which is administered by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “The recommendations in this report have great catalytic potential and, if implemented, could transform STEM education in America,” said Lander, who is also President of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Mass.

Among the recommendations in the report, Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) for America’s Future, are that the Federal government should:
— Recruit and train 100,000 great STEM teachers over the next decade who are able to prepare and inspire students;
— Recognize and reward the top 5 percent of the Nation’s STEM teachers, by creating a STEM master teachers corps;
— Create 1,000 new STEM-focused schools over the next decade;
— Use technology to drive innovation, in part by creating an advanced research projects agency–modeled on the innovative Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)–for education;
— Create opportunities for inspiration through individual and group experiences outside the classroom;
— Support the current state-led movement for shared standards in math and science.

All told, said Jim Gates, co-chair of the PCAST Working Group on STEM Education, the report provides a practical roadmap for significantly improving Federal coordination and leadership on STEM education so American students today will grow into the world’s science and technology leaders of tomorrow.

“I think of this report as giving my generation a guidebook for how to step up to its ‘greatest generation moment,'” said Gates, who is also Professor of Physics at the University of Maryland and Director of the University’s Center for String and Particle Theory.

While recognizing that improvements in STEM education will require input by educators, the private sector, non-profits, and philanthropies, the report’s recommendations focus primarily on the Federal Government–primarily the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation. Its release coincides with the President’s announcement of an expansion of his “Educate to Innovate” initiative, with new public-private partnerships to improve STEM education via Change the Equation (see articles above).

In preparing the report and its recommendations, PCAST assembled a Working Group of experts in curriculum development and implementation, school administration, teacher preparation and professional development, effective teaching, out-of-school activities, and educational technology. The report was strengthened by additional input from STEM education experts, STEM practitioners, publishers, private companies, educators, and Federal, state, and local education officials.

Many of the recommendations in the report can be carried out with existing Federal funding of current programs, the report concludes, although new authorities may be required in certain cases. The report does not attempt to conduct a detailed budgetary analysis. Instead it offers an array of choices for the President to consider. Fully funding all of the recommendations could require investments of approximately $1 billion per year, according to PCAST–much of which, the report notes, could come from private foundations and corporations, as well as from states and districts.


(4) “Who Inspired You?” by Jim Gates

Source: President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) – 16 September 2010

A message from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST): Years may go by and memories may fade but just about everyone remembers a special teacher they had in the K-12 years who made a big difference–don’t you? A teacher who opened your eyes to something new or beautiful or showed you something about the possibilities of a subject in school that you had not appreciated before?

Those of us who have the privilege of serving on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology were talking about this recently and comparing stories about our own favorite and life-changing teachers, and we had an idea: Why not make a short video in which we could tell our stories, as a means of amplifying a message we were already developing about the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education?

The discussion came up in the course of preparing [Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) for America’s Future] that PCAST released [on September 16], and it resulted in the production of the short video you can [view at], which was produced by the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. We hope you enjoy getting a peek into the academic beginnings of some of the President’s science and technology advisors, and that it inspires you to do your share–as a student, a teacher, a corporate donor or philanthropist–to reach for the stars and do whatever you can do to strengthen this important backbone of American education.