COMET • Vol. 11, No. 06 – 20 March 2010


(1) Governor Schwarzenegger and Eight U.S. Governors Send Letter to U.S. Department of Education about Race to the Top Application


Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger–joined by a bipartisan group of governors representing Connecticut, Kansas, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Virginia and West Virginia–sent the following letter to the U.S. Department of Education on Tuesday to request that the timeline be accelerated for the release of peer reviewers’ comments and scores for the Race to the Top Phase 1 applications. The letter also requests an extension of the deadline to submit the Race to the Top Phase 2 applications until July 1, 2010.

“California is committed to fight for the additional education reforms necessary to make sure we have the strongest Race to the Top application possible and we must have sufficient time to evaluate the changes needed before we resubmit our application,” said Governor Schwarzengger.

Letter Text:…

Dear Secretary Duncan,

As Governors–Republicans and Democrats alike–we were proud to stand with President Obama, and with you, to bring about real systemic change in education through the Race to the Top competition. Under the first phase of competition, you saw forty states and the District of Columbia respond to your call. While only fifteen states and the District of Columbia were selected as finalists for Phase One, we all remain committed to pursuing necessary reforms to help ensure that our states’ applications are competitive for the second phase of funding.

The finalists were announced on March 4, with applications for the next round due less than 90 days later on June 1. You also announced that our comments and feedback on our applications would not be available until sometime in April, which would further reduce that already short timeline for meaningful course correction to fewer than 60 days.

Our states need more time to properly evaluate the changes needed to resubmit our applications, as well as to engage in meaningful and collaborative discussions with our legislatures, our schools, our unions, and our communities. We need to make informed changes to our applications, whether in the area of evaluations, turnarounds, standards, or data collection. These changes will be stronger if they are informed by the comments of those who reviewed our initial application.

Therefore, we request that you considerably accelerate the timeline for release of peer reviewers’ comments and scores from Phase One or extend the deadline to submit our Phase 2 application until July 1, 2010, so our states can continue the necessary hard work, without losing momentum, to reform education and apply for Race to the Top Phase Two.

Thank you for your consideration.


[Governors of California, Connecticut, Kansas, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Virginia and West Virginia]


(2) Critical Issues in Mathematics Education: Reasoning and Sense-Making in the Math Curriculum: MSRI Workshop

Source: Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI)

On June 7-9, the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI) is sponsoring a workshop entitled, “Critical Issues in Mathematics Education: Reasoning and Sense-Making in the Math Curriculum.” This workshop is being organized by Dave Auckly, Scott Baldridge, Deborah Loewenberg Ball, Aaron Bertram, Wade Ellis, Deborah Hughes Hallett, Gary Martin, and William McCallum (Chair) and will be held at MSRI in Berkeley, CA.

Description: The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has just released a new document, “Focus in High School Mathematics: Reasoning and Sense-Making.” The Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governor’s Association have initiated a state-led effort to produce Common Core State Standards, which they hope will move states toward national curricular coherence. The national scene is being transformed through stimulus money aimed at having states adopt common standards. This is a significant time for mathematicians to weigh in for coherence and a focus on thinking, understanding, and sense-making. For this reason, MSRI will host the seventh “Critical Issues in Mathematics Education” workshop on this topic. Themes of the workshop will include international comparisons, the role of a coherent national curriculum in the teaching of mathematics, and the ways in which technology can be used to support reasoning and sense-making.

Registration: Please register online by the deadline of June 7, 2010. (If you are applying for travel or lodging funding, the deadline is May 1, 2010.) A list of those already registered for the workshop is available at


(3) New Tool to Help Close the Achievement Gap 
by Improving School Culture and Climate

Source: California Department of Education

Last month, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell announced the availability of a new resource to help close the achievement gap by improving the culture and climate of the teaching and learning environment in schools.

The Workbook for Improving School Climate & Closing the Achievement Gap is designed to give teachers and school leaders step-by-step guidance on how to interpret and respond to the results of their state-sponsored school climate surveys in order to make changes that can help close the achievement gap between higher- and lower-performing groups of students.

“There are many factors that go into effective teaching and learning,” said O’Connell. “If students feel disconnected from their teachers or unwelcome at school, these factors can interfere with learning and contribute to the achievement gap.

“To give schools more insight into conditions and issues related to race and the achievement gap, we expanded and improved the state’s school climate surveys for students and staff. And I am pleased to announce today that we have created a guide to help schools interpret these results and make beneficial changes. Our school climate Workbook can help foster crucial conversations at schools and districts that can lead to changes that will help all students feel safe and supported in their schools and better engaged in learning.”

O’Connell called for an intensive effort in 2007 to close the state’s pernicious achievement gap that exists between higher-performing subgroups of white or Asian students and their lower-performing African American or Latino peers. He charged his California P-16 Council with providing recommendations on what the state can do differently to assist local educational agencies in closing the gap.

The P-16 Council identified several areas of concern, including one that focuses on school culture and climate. This is based on an understanding that a student’s ability to learn and a teacher’s ability to educate occur within the context of the values, beliefs, and rituals of the school, community, and larger society.

The P-16 Council made 14 recommendations in its 2008 report on Closing the Achievement Gap. One recommendation was to conduct a climate survey that would assess the educational environment and overall school well-being. This recommendation was implemented by expanding the existing California Healthy Kids Survey for students and the California School Climate Survey for staff. These surveys are currently administered in 7,648 schools in 833 districts in the state, with the results publicly available. They constitute the largest effort in the nation to provide schools with their own data to guide efforts to create positive learning and teaching environments that promote achievement and well-being. Both surveys were augmented to provide schools with better data on issues relating to students’ and staff’s race, culture, school conditions, and supports that impact the achievement gap, as well as the needs of migrant education and special education programs.

This led to the Workbook, which is a collaboration between the California Department of Education and the national nonprofit research and service agency, WestEd. The goal was to produce a valuable and user-friendly document that recognizes the importance of creating a positive school environment to support students and teachers.

Schools may use the Workbook to gain a deeper understanding of the data collected in their Surveys to assess what is working and build on those strengths in the classroom, school, and district. The Surveys may also help identify aspects of the school climate that need improvement. Then the Workbook offers strategies to address those needs, helping schools link data to practice and policy.

There are three sections of the Workbook focusing on various aspects of the achievement gap: (1) closing the racial achievement gap, (2) closing the achievement gap between special education students and others, and (3) addressing the gap that often leaves students in migrant education programs behind. The Workbook is available online at

For more information on Supt. O’Connell’s “Closing the Achievement Gap” initiative, visit For the P-16 Council, visit For WestEd, visit



(1) Siemens STEM Institute for Grades 6-12 Teachers

Source: Siemens Foundation

The Siemens STEM Institute is a unique immersion program that promotes hands-on, real-world integration of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in the classroom.

Fifty teachers will be selected as STEM Fellows to attend this all-expense-paid, week-long professional development experience, hosted at the world headquarters of Discovery Communications, located just outside of Washington D.C. Fellows will be exposed to leading scientists, thought-leaders, personalities, and innovators whose work across STEM disciplines shape and define the world today.

The week will be filled with guest speakers at the forefront of STEM, field trips to leading institutions where Fellows will observe real-world applications of STEM subject matter, and opportunities for networking and collaborating with peers from across the nation. In addition to broad-based STEM applications, each Fellow will be assigned to a thematic working group that will provide additional in-depth exposure.

Dates: August 1-August 6, 2010

Expenses Covered by the Program: Travel, lodging, meals, transportation, field trips, and cultural activities

Application Deadline: April 16, 2010

Visit for more information.


(2) NASA Brings STEM Topics into K-12 Classrooms

Source: NASA

NASA’s Human Research Program Education and Outreach Project strives to reach diverse communities, inspire a new generation of scientists and engineers, and encourage future space explorers.

The areas of focus include the following:

– Expand elementary educational content into the areas of physics and physical fitness.
– Continue growth of the 21st Century Explorer into new states and communities.
– Develop advanced high school content in physics, calculus, biology, and chemistry.
– Develop supplemental problems for high school mathematics.
– Collaborate across NASA and community partners.

Current projects include the following:

– 21st Century Explorer (Bilingual lessons; targets grades 3-5)
– Fit Explorer (Lessons for grades 3-5 targeting science and health)
– Sports and Exploration (Bilingual, hands-on, inquiry-based educational program targeting STEM as well as health and physical education standards in grades 3-5).
– Exploring Space through Math (Grades 7-12: applications for Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2, and Pre-Calculus)
– Math and Science @ Work (Provides challenging supplemental problems for students in advanced STEM classes in grades 10-12; problems are formatted to practice for the “free response” section of calculus, statistics, physics, chemistry, and biology AP exams.)

Access Web pages focused on each of these projects via a menu on this page:

In addition, educators can search for lessons targeting particular grade levels and subject matter areas at


(3) Intel Science Talent Search 2010 Winners Announced


Honoring the next generation of American innovators, Intel Corporation and Society for Science & the Public announced the winners of America’s oldest and most prestigious pre-college science competition, the Intel Science Talent Search, in a ceremony held in Washington, DC, last Tuesday. Erika DeBenedictis, 18, of Albuquerque, N.M., won the top award of $100,000 from the Intel Foundation for her project developing a software navigation system to help improve spacecraft travel through the solar system. Erika’s research found that the gravity and movement of planets create “easy transit routes,” which will ultimately help spacecraft move faster and with less fuel.

Second place honors and $75,000 went to David Liu, 18, of Saratoga, Calif., for his work to develop a system to recognize and understand digital images. David’s work has already been used to examine aerial images to identify hazards to buried oil pipelines and could also be used to enable unmanned aerial vehicles and Web-based image searches.

Third place honors and $50,000 went to Akhil Mathew, 18, of Madison, N.J., for his math project on Deligne categories, a setting for studying a wide range of algebraic structures with ties to theoretical physics.

“These 40 Intel Science Talent Search finalists demonstrate that we have the capability in this country to cultivate the next generation of innovators, scientists and entrepreneurs,” said Intel President and CEO Paul Otellini.

This year’s Intel Science Talent Search finalists hail from 18 states and represent 36 schools. Of the 1,736 high school seniors who entered the Intel Science Talent Search 2010, 300 were announced as semifinalists in January. Of those, 40 were chosen as finalists and invited to Washington, D.C., to compete for the top 10 awards.

The Intel Science Talent Search encourages students to tackle challenging scientific questions and develop the skills necessary to solve the problems of tomorrow. Over the past 68 years, Science Talent Search finalists have gone on to win seven Nobel Prizes, two Fields Medals, three National Medals of Science and 11 MacArthur Foundation Fellowships.

Society for Science & the Public, a nonprofit organization dedicated to public engagement in scientific research and education, has owned and administered the Science Talent Search since its inception in 1942.

“The Science Talent Search was founded on the idea that scientific accomplishment is the first step on the road toward solving the world’s most challenging problems,” said Elizabeth Marincola, the organization’s president.

More information can be found on the Intel Science Talent Search 2010 at


(4) President Barack Obama Discusses RTTI and ESEA during Weekly Address

Source: U.S. Department of Education

During his weekly address last Saturday (March 13), President Barack Obama discussed the Race to the Top Initiative (RTTI), as well as the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, commonly referred to as No Child Left Behind). Visit the Web site above to view the speech or to read the full text.


Under the leadership of an outstanding Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, we launched a Race to the Top, through which states compete for funding by committing to reform and raising standards, by rewarding good teaching, by supporting the development of better assessments to measure results, and by emphasizing math and science to help prepare children for college and careers…

My administration will send to Congress our blueprint for an updated Elementary and Secondary Education Act to overhaul No Child Left Behind. [See article below.] What this plan recognizes is that while the federal government can play a leading role in encouraging the reforms and high standards we need, the impetus for that change will come from states, and from local schools and school districts. So, yes, we set a high bar–but we also provide educators the flexibility to reach it.

Under these guidelines, schools that achieve excellence or show real progress will be rewarded, and local districts will be encouraged to commit to change in schools that are clearly letting their students down. For the majority of schools that fall in between–schools that do well but could do better–we will encourage continuous improvement to help keep our young people on track for a bright future: prepared for the jobs of the 21st century. And because the most important factor in a child’s success is the person standing at the front of the classroom, we will better prepare teachers, support teachers, and encourage teachers to stay in the field. In short, we’ll treat the people who educate our sons and daughters like the professionals they are.

Through this plan we are setting an ambitious goal: all students should graduate from high school prepared for college and a career–no matter who you are or where you come from. Achieving this goal will be difficult. It will take time. And it will require the skills, talents, and dedication of many: principals, teachers, parents, students. But this effort is essential for our children and for our country. And while there will always be those cynics who claim it can’t be done, at our best, we know that America has always risen to the challenges that we’ve faced. This challenge is no different…

Our future is determined each and every day, when our children enter the classroom, ready to learn and brimming with promise. It’s that promise we must help them fulfill.


(5) Secretary Duncan Testifies on Blueprint for Reauthorizing ESEA

Full Text:
URL (video):
URL (Blueprint):

On March 17, Secretary Arne Duncan testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee and the House Education and Labor Committee on the Obama Administration’s blueprint for Reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).

The blueprint, he said, “is organized around our three major goals for ESEA reauthorization:
. — Raise standards.
. — Reward excellence and growth.
. — Increase local control and flexibility while maintaining the focus on equity and closing achievement gaps.
“All of these policy changes will support our effort to meet the President’s goal that by 2020, America once again will lead the world in college completion,” he said. “In particular, the ESEA will set a goal that by 2020 all students will graduate ready to succeed in college and the workplace.”

Copies of “A Blueprint for Reform” are available at