COMET • Vol. 11, No. 05 – 12 March 2010


(1) San Francisco’s Exploratorium Invites you to its 22nd Annual Pi Day Celebration


Invitation: “Welcome to our 22nd annual Pi Day! Come help us celebrate the number pi (3.14159…), as well as Einstein’s birthday [at the Exploratorium in San Francisco on Sunday, March 14, from 1-3:30 p.m.]. Founded by our own Prince of Pi, physicist Larry Shaw, Pi Day has become an international holiday, celebrated live and online all around the world. Come celebrate pi pun, participate in pi-related antics–and have a slice of pie, all lovingly prepared by museum staff and friends.” (The celebration is being co-sponsored by Marie Callender’s in Daly City.)


Visit for a brief history of pi. For a collection of Pi Day activities and links, go to  Visit for the schedule of events at the Exploratorium on Sunday.


(Free Pi Day e-cards are available at )


(2) Governor Schwarzenegger Appoints Bonnie Reiss Secretary of Education

Source: Office of the Governor

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently appointed Bonnie Reiss as his Secretary of Education. She is the fourth person to hold this position and follows Glen W. Thomas, who resigned to care for his ailing mother (see

“Bonnie Reiss is a dynamic and driven advocate for public education in California. She is a proven ally in upholding the academic standards that make our public university system the best in the world,” said Governor Schwarzenegger. “I am confident that as Secretary of Education, Bonnie will fight to expand the educational opportunities available to all of our students and improve the accountability and efficiency of our public education system to ensure California’s students are able to achieve their fullest potential.”

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell stated, “I look forward to continuing to work with Bonnie Reiss as she takes on this new role. Bonnie is knowledgeable about the challenges and opportunities faced by public education during these difficult economic times. With her leadership, the collaboration between my office and the Governor’s Office of Secretary of Education will continue as we work together to implement education reform efforts and secure critical federal funding for California schools.”

Since 2007, Reiss has served as operating advisor to Pegasus Capital Advisors, a private equity firm committed to investing in and developing scarce resources, commodities and sustainable companies. She served as senior advisor to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger from 2003 to 2007, where she advised the Governor on all major policy initiatives, including education, the environment and children’s issues. From 1994 to 2003, Reiss served as founding president of the Inner-City Games Foundation, later renamed After School All-Stars. In 1988, she founded the Earth Communications Office where she led the effort to use media for public awareness campaigns of environmental issues until 1993. Reiss’s experience includes careers as an entertainment lawyer, accountant, producer and writer from 1981 to 1988.

Reiss has served on the University of California Board of Regents since 2007. She serves on the board of directors for After School All-Stars and the Governor and First Lady’s Conference on Women. From 2004 to 2006, Reiss served on the California State Board of Education.

“I enthusiastically support the Governor’s priorities for education and his commitment to seeing that every child receives a great education that allows them to achieve their dreams,” said Reiss. “I believe that every door opened to me in my life has been because of education, and I am committed to working to ensure that all children have the tools they need to achieve success.”


Related Story:

Last week, Reiss appeared with the Governor as he sat down to talk with leaders from the California State University, University of California, and California Community College systems. A video and transcript of this discussion can be found at


(3) Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades: Why Some Schools Do Better

Source: EdSource – February 2010

EdSource recently released a “landmark study of middle grades practices and student achievement.”

This report, “Gaining Ground in the Middle Grades: Why Some Schools Do Better,” is based on surveys from 303 principals, 3,752 English language arts (ELA) and math teachers in grades 6-8, and 157 superintendents in California. Educator responses were analyzed against spring 2009 scores on California’s standards-based tests in ELA and math in grades 6, 7, and 8, which were taken by close to 204,000 students.

The study was designed to identify the practices and policies that differentiate higher- from lower-performing middle grades schools that serve similar student populations.

The major contribution of this study is the identification of numerous actionable practices that are leading to gains in middle grades student outcomes.

But the single most important overarching finding was in how these higher-performing schools create a shared, school-wide intense focus on the improvement of student outcomes:

— They set measurable goals on standards-based tests and benchmark tests across all proficiency levels, grades, and subjects;
— Their school mission is “future oriented,” with curricula and instruction designed to prepare students to succeed in a rigorous high school curriculum;
— They included improvement of student outcomes in evaluations of the superintendent, the principal, and the teachers; and
— They communicate to parents and students their responsibility as well for student learning, including parent contracts, turning in homework, attending class, and asking for help when needed.

This large-scale study documents the role of the superintendent, principal, and teachers in aligning a standards-based curriculum and instruction, the extensive use of student assessment data to improve instruction and practice, and a wide array of required and voluntary intervention strategies to get struggling students on track.

The Narrative Summary Report, Full Research Report, Technical Appendices, and other materials are all available free of charge at


(4) Northern California Undergraduate Mathematics Conference   


Who is invited? 
Undergraduate students and faculty from Northern California and Southern Oregon universities, colleges, and community colleges

Date/Time:  April 10, 2010; 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Location:  San Jose State University; San Jose, CA

Why attend? 
The main focus of this conference is to showcase the achievements of undergraduate students in mathematics and to give these aspiring mathematicians an opportunity to present their work in a very supportive environment. Student talks range from expository presentations to original undergraduate research. Students may also talk about their independent study projects as well as other independent work that goes beyond the standard course curriculum.  Students are encouraged to participate and give 15 minute presentations on any area of mathematics, including applications to other disciplines.  While we hope that many students will give talks, we welcome all students and faculty to attend.  For examples of student talks, read the programs from past conferences here:
A panel of professional mathematicians will discuss career options for mathematics majors.  The conference will conclude with a special lecture by Robert Lang (, entitled “From Flapping Birds to Space Telescopes: The Modern Science of Origami.”

Registration is free. The deadline for student speaker registration is March 26, 2010.   Lunch and light refreshments will be provided to all registered attendees.

Conference Support 
The Northern California Undergraduate Mathematics Conference is an MAA-RUMC sponsored activity and is partially funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.




(1) Draft K-12 Common Core State Standards Available for Comment

Contacts: Jodi Omear (NGA), 202-624-5346; Kara Schlosser (CCSSO), 202-336-7034
URL (Math Standards):

On Wednesday morning (3/10/10), the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) released the first official public draft of the K-12 standards as part of the Common Core State Standards Initiative, a process being led by governors and chief state school officers in 51 states, territories, and the District of Columbia. These draft standards, developed together with teachers, school administrators and experts, seek to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare students for college and the workforce.

The NGA Center and CCSSO have received feedback from national organizations representing teachers, postsecondary education, civil rights groups, English language learners, and students with disabilities. The NGA Center and CCSSO encourage those interested in the standards to provide further feedback by Friday, April 2, 2010, at

“We are pleased to release the K-12 standards today and to begin reviewing comments from the public,” said Dane Linn, director of the NGA Center’s Education Division. “These standards build upon the goals articulated in the college- and career-readiness standards released last year [(] and will ensure our students are prepared to compete and succeed in a global economy. We look forward to working with educators, leaders and state board members in the states as they consider adopting these standards that will guide their educational programs.”

“The feedback and comments states and our additional stakeholders have provided us are solidifying these standards into the better standards our students need,” stated Gene Wilhoit, executive director of CCSSO. “We will continue to work diligently and tirelessly to ensure these standards are where they need to be, and today we are asking the public to help us do just that.”

California’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O’Connell, stated, “The draft common core state standards are rigorous and will better prepare students for college and careers in the 21st century,” O’Connell said. “They are well organized to give a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn so teachers and parents will know what they need to do to help all students succeed in both college and the workforce. They are internationally benchmarked and will make us more competitive as a nation.”

These standards define the knowledge and skills students should have within their K-12 education careers so that they will graduate high school able to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing academic college courses and in workforce training programs. The standards are:

= Aligned with college and work expectations;
= Clear, understandable and consistent;
= Informed by other top performing countries, so that all students are prepared to succeed in our global economy and society; and
= Evidence- and research-based.

Further, they include rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills, and build upon strengths and lessons of current state standards.

The standards should be finalized in early spring. For more information, visit


Related stories:

(a) “Panel Proposes Single Standard for All Schools” by Sam Dillon
SourceThe New York Times – 10 March 2010

(b) “Draft Common Standards Elicit Kudos and Criticism” by Catherine Gewertz 
Source: Education Week – 10 March 2010
Excerpt from Education Week article:

“The 71-page mathematics standards attempt to avoid the charge of ‘mile-wide, inch-deep’ treatment of the subject by carving out key ideas and emphasizing conceptual understanding of them, and placing a premium on students’ ability to explain math problems, not simply compute them. A 60-page appendix is a guide to designing high school courses that capture the content standards…

“Some teachers have participated in drafting the standards, but the organizers said they want many more to offer feedback during the public-comment period.

“Chris Minnich, who is leading the common-standards work for the CCSSO, said he wants to know whether teachers find the standards ‘teachable,’ and whether the grade-by-grade progressions of skills outlined in them make sense. Dane Linn, who leads the work for the NGA, said he would also like teachers’ ideas on curriculum materials and assessments that could be developed to reflect the standards.”


(2) NCTM Public Comments on the Common Core Standards

Source: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) strongly supports the goals, aims, and intent of the Common Core Standards initiative to ensure that every American student graduates from high school with the skills and knowledge needed to thrive in the 21st century. Throughout this process NCTM has made the following points:

(a) A challenging and coherent curriculum that is focused in scope and deep in meaning is a critically important step in learning mathematics with understanding.

(b) Much of the content that is included in the Common Core Standards is addressed in NCTM’s previous work, including Guiding Principles for Mathematics Curriculum and Assessment (, Principles and Standards for School MathematicsFocus in High School Mathematics:  Reasoning and Sense Making, and Curriculum Focal Points.

(c) Problem solving, reasoning and sense making, connections within mathematics and to other contexts, and mathematical representations and communication need to be represented and well integrated in the Common Core Standards.

NCTM’s public comments on the Common Core Standards will be posted soon on this page:


(3) PTA Legislative Conference Core Standards Panel Discussion

Source: Parent Teacher Association (PTA)

On the same day that the Common Core State Standards were released, the National PTA (Parent Teacher Association) held a panel discussion on the standards during the organization’s Legislative Conference in Arlington, VA. Following a luncheon, during which First Lady Michelle Obama addressed the audience on her “Let’s Move” initiative, the following individuals served on a panel to discuss the Common Core Standards and answer questions from the audience.

– Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana, Assistant Secretary for Elementary Education and Secondary Education, U.S. Department of Education (former superintendent of Pomona Unified School District)
– Gene Wilhoit, Executive Director, Council of Chief State School Officers
– Dane Linn, Director of the Education Division, National Governors Association Center for Best Practices
– Sandra Boyd, Vice President for Strategic Communications and Outreach, Achieve

Melendez discussed the importance of reauthorizing ESEA (NCLB) and of having common, internationally-benchmarked standards that prepare all students for success in college and career. (In fact, President Obama’s proposed FY 2011 budget requires Title I schools to adopt common math and reading standards in order to receive federal Title I funding.) She urged parents to hold schools accountable and let their voices be heard. Wilhoit discussed the development and purpose of the standards and asserted that providing common, challenging standards for all children across the nation is a civil rights issue and an economic issue for the United States. He said that the standards mean high expectations for all children, for parents and for all of those in the public education system.

Linn said that a system of professional development needs to be created.  He also discussed infusing more technology into instruction and the importance of developing better tests–and using these assessments to inform instruction. Boyd pointed out that having one set of standards prevents states from spending so much time and money developing their own. She also noted that while the world has changed significantly in recent decades, schools haven’t kept pace with changes, and this is a significant problem.

During the question and answer period, Linn reiterated that states adopting the standards must adopt them in their entirety but that they could add “15% on top” of the standards (although NGA wouldn’t become “the 15% police”). Linn stated that fundamental restructuring of what teacher preparation programs look like needs to occur, starting with higher standards for those who are admitted into the programs. The NGA will begin to put pressure on higher education to “step up to the plate” regarding accountability for their graduates.

Wilhoit stated, “I think we need leaders that understand curriculum and instruction… We need teachers looking at themselves as researchers, with leaders in the school who can help guide and direct them… This idea of a single teacher…serving all of the needs of the students in this day and time is an outdated model of delivery of public education… You’ve got to know what to do with knowledge these days, and it takes teachers who facilitate a learning process, who becomes a guide and a coach, not the single source of knowledge…” Linn asserted, “We need better teacher evaluation systems… We need to use them to weed out the bad teachers, but we need principals who know how to evaluate bad instruction.”

COMET readers are encouraged to watch the archived webcast: see


Also of Interest:

“Experts Lay Out Vision for Future Assessments” by Catherine Gewertz
Source: Education Week