COMET • Vol. 11, No. 07 – 31 March 2010


California State Superintendent for Public Instruction Candidates Participate in Public Discussions at UC Davis and during the EdSource Forum

URL (UC Davis):
URL (EdSource):

Candidates for the position of California State Superintendent for Public Instruction answered questions from elementary and high school students and addressed the public at the University of California, Davis on Monday, March 15. An archived Webcast of the event is available at the Web site above.

Moderated by Capital Public Radio’s Jeffrey Callison and hosted by the UC Davis School of Education and Yolo County School Boards Association, the public forum included comments and questions from five students who attend public schools in Davis, Woodland, West Sacramento, and Esparto. A UC Davis student studying to be a public school teacher also participated.

“The job of California’s superintendent is to serve students,” said Harold Levine, dean of the UC Davis School of Education. “We wanted to be sure that real students’ concerns and hopes were front and center in this discussion.”

Candidates Larry Aceves, Diane Lenning and the Honorable Tom Torlakson made opening statements and responded to questions and comments from the event organizers and students. Some of the issues students raised included the need to support and encourage diversity, provide challenging courses to all students, retain new teachers, and ensure access to healthy food in schools.

Candidates Aceves and Torlakson also participated in a discussion hosted by EdSource at its “California at a Crossroads: Crisis and Opportunity” forum held in Santa Clara on March 19. The candidates discussed their plans for K-12 education, their views on new federal initiatives, and more. Visit to view the video, as well as to learn more about these candidates.


Visit the Web sites of the following candidates for the California State Superintendent of Public Instruction position:



(1) Jaime Escalante, the Teacher who Inspired “Stand and Deliver,” Dies in Sacramento

Source: Raquel Maria Dillon – The Associated Press

Jaime Escalante, the math teacher who transformed a tough East Los Angeles high school and inspired the movie “Stand and Deliver,” died on Tuesday, March 30. He was 79. Escalante died at his son’s home near Sacramento after battling bladder cancer for several years, family friend Keith Miller said.

An immigrant from Bolivia, Escalante transformed Garfield High School by motivating struggling students to excel at advanced math and science. The school had more advanced placement calculus students than all but four other public high schools in the country.

Edward James Olmos played Escalante in the 1988 film based on his story. “Jaime exposed one of the most dangerous myths of our time–that inner city students can’t be expected to perform at the highest levels,” Olmos said. “Because of him, that destructive idea has been shattered forever.”

Escalante was a teacher in La Paz before he emigrated to the U.S. He had to study English at night for years to get his California teaching credentials and return to the classroom.

At first he was discouraged by Garfield’s “culture of low expectations, gang activity, and administrative apathy,” Miller said. Gradually, he overhauled the school’s math curriculum and enabled students who were previously considered unteachable to master the advanced placement calculus test.

He used his outsized personality to goad his working-class Mexican-American students to succeed, said Elsa Bolado, 45, one of his former pupils. Bolado, now an elementary school teacher and trainer, remembers Escalante’s charisma–and the way he built her confidence with long hours of solving problems and how he inspired her career choice with his unorthodox approach to learning…

“To this day, I still think of the example he set–the study skills, how not to give up,” said Bolado. “I revert back to that every time things get rough.”

Escalante left Garfield in 1991, taught at schools in Sacramento and retired to Bolivia in 2001…



= Visit the link below for an in-depth obituary for Jaime Escalante in the Los Angeles Times:,0,4111731,full.story

= To read what Jaime Escalante wrote about his math program, see  Excerpt: “I have described the elements of my program. I believe that they can be duplicated elsewhere with ease. The key, for the teacher as well as for the student, is hard work. Hard work makes the future. When hard work is combined with love, humor and a recognition of the ganas–the desire to learn, the ability to sacrifice, the wish to get ahead–that burns in our young people, the stereotypes and the barriers begin to crumble.


(2) Delaware and Tennessee Win First Race to The Top Grants

Source: U.S. Department of Education
URL (Scores/Comments):
URL (Phase 2):

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that Delaware and Tennessee have won grants in the first phase of the Race to the Top competition.

“We received many strong proposals from states all across America, but two applications stood out above all others: Delaware and Tennessee,” Duncan said in announcing the winners. “Both states have statewide buy-in for comprehensive plans to reform their schools. They have written new laws to support their policies. And they have demonstrated the courage, capacity, and commitment to turn their ideas into practices that can improve outcomes for students.”

Delaware will receive approximately $100 million and Tennessee $500 million to implement their comprehensive school reform plans over the next four years. As with any federal grant program, budgets will be finalized after discussions between the grantees and the Department, and the money will be distributed over time as the grantees meet established benchmarks.

The U.S. Department of Education will have about $3.4 billion available for the second phase of the Race to the Top competition.

“We set a very high bar for the first phase,” Duncan said. “With $3.4 billion still available, we’re providing plenty of opportunity for all other states to develop plans and aggressively pursue reform.”

The $4.35 billion Race to the Top Fund is an unprecedented federal investment in reform. The program includes $4 billion for statewide reform grants and $350 million to support states working together to improve the quality of their assessments. The Race to the Top state competition is designed to reward states that are leading the way in comprehensive, coherent, statewide education reform across four key areas:

1. Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace;
2. Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals how to improve instruction;
3. Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
4. Turning around their lowest-performing schools.

Forty states and the District of Columbia submitted applications for the first phase of grants. Delaware and Tennessee were selected from among 16 finalists who presented their proposals to panels of peer reviewers earlier this month.

The peer reviewers awarded Delaware and Tennessee high marks for the commitment to reform from key stakeholders, including elected officials, teacher’s union leaders, and business leaders. In both states, all school districts committed to implementing Race to the Top reforms. These two states also have aggressive plans to improve teacher and principal evaluation, use data to inform instructional decisions, and turn around their lowest-performing schools. In addition, both states have put in place strong laws and policies to support their reform efforts.

Applications for Phase 2 of Race to the Top are due on June 1, 2010. To help states as they prepare their proposals and to continue the nationwide dialogue on education reform, the Department of Education has made all Phase 1 applications, peer reviewers’ comments, and scores available on its website: Videos of states’ presentations will be posted next week.

The Department is making one change to the rules for the Phase 2 competition. To fund as many strong applications as possible, the Department of Education is requiring states’ budgets to be within the ranges that were suggested in the original notice. Details are available on the Department’s Web site:


PostscriptCalifornia received 336.8 points out of a total possible 500; top-rated Deleware scored 454.6. All state scores are posted at  California earned 0 points (out of a possible 15) for “Competitive Preference Priority 2: Emphasis on STEM.”  See for a breakdown of the points awarded in each category by each of the 5 reviewers for California’s RTTT application.


(3) Reminder: Public Comment Period for the Common Core State Standards Ends this Friday

URL (Standards):

As part of the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI), the draft K-12 standards are now available for public comment. These draft standards, developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts, seek to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare our children for college and the workforce.

Governors and state commissioners of education from 48 states, 2 territories and the District of Columbia committed to developing a common core of state standards in English-language arts and mathematics for grades K-12. This is a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

The NGA Center and CCSSO have received feedback from national organizations representing, but not limited to teachers, postsecondary education (including community colleges), civil rights groups, English language learners, and students with disabilities. These standards are now open for public comment until Friday, April 2.

Key Points

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;
  • – Include rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills;
  • – Build upon strengths and lessons of current state standards;
  • – Informed by other top performing countries, so that all students are prepared to succeed in our global economy and society; and
  • – Evidence-based.

An advisory group provides advice and guidance on the initiative. Members of this group include experts from Achieve, Inc., ACT, the College Board, the National Association of State Boards of Education and the State Higher Education Executive Officers.


Key Takeaways from the Draft K12 Common Core State Standards Initiative in Mathematics

– The K-5 standards provide students with a solid foundation in whole numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions and decimals, which help young students build the foundation to successfully apply more demanding math concepts and procedures, and move into applications.

– In kindergarten, the standards follow successful international models and recommendations from the National Research Council’s Early Math Panel report, by focusing kindergarten work on the number core: learning how numbers correspond to quantities, and learning how to put numbers together and take them apart (the beginnings of addition and subtraction).

– The K-5 standards build on the best state standards to provide detailed guidance to teachers on how to navigate their way through knotty topics such as fractions, negative numbers, and geometry, and do so by maintaining a continuous progression from grade to grade.

– The standards stress not only procedural skill but also conceptual understanding, to make sure students are learning and absorbing the critical information they need to succeed at higher levels–rather than the current practices by which many students learn enough to get by on the next test, but forget it shortly thereafter, only to review again the following year.

– Having built a strong foundation K-5, students can do hands on learning in geometry, algebra and probability and statistics. Students who have completed 7th grade and mastered the content and skills through the 7th grade will be wellprepared for algebra in grade 8.

– The middle school standards are robust and provide a coherent and rich preparation for high school mathematics.

– The high school standards call on students to practice applying mathematical ways of thinking to real world issues and challenges; they prepare students to think and reason mathematically.

– The high school standards set a rigorous definition of college and career readiness, by helping students develop a depth of understanding and ability to apply mathematics to novel situations, as college students and employees regularly do.

– The high school standards emphasize mathematical modeling, the use of mathematics and statistics to analyze empirical situations, understand them better, and improve decisions. For example, the draft standards state: “Modeling links classroom mathematics and statistics to everyday life, work, and decision-making. It is the process of choosing and using appropriate mathematics and statistics to analyze empirical situations, to understand them better, and to improve decisions. Quantities and their relationships in physical, economic, public policy, social and everyday situations can be modeled using mathematical and statistical methods. When making mathematical models, technology is valuable for varying assumptions, exploring consequences, and comparing predictions with data.”


(4) Urban School Students Advance On State and National Tests: New Report Shows City­by­City Profiles of Urban School District Trends on Math and Reading Assessments

Source: Council of Great City Schools

Students in the nation’s big­city schools are advancing in mathematics and reading on both state and national tests, and there’s evidence that racial achievement gaps are narrowing.

A new study analyzing academic progress in 65 urban school systems in 37 states and the District of Columbia shows measurable test­score gains from 2006 to 2009 in fourth­ and eighth­grade mathematics and reading on state assessments.

The upward trend parallels student achievement in large cities and city districts participating in the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), considered “The Nation’s Report Card.” (See

“Beating the Odds: Analysis of Student Performance on State Assessments and NAEP” by the Council of the Great City Schools examines performance on the academic goals and standards set by the states and consistent with the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The report is a compilation of state data on city­by­city percentages of urban public school students performing at or above “proficiency” and those who are scoring at the lowest levels.

“The study presents the best available picture of how America’s urban public schools are performing on state tests and strongly suggests that they are making substantial progress in both reading and mathematics,” says Council Executive Director Michael Casserly.

The gains have captured the attention of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “Across the country, we see many extraordinary schools and districts serving high­poverty populations that are succeeding year after year,” he says of progress in urban education.

“We have to recognize and reward them for their excellence. More importantly, we need to learn from these examples and replicate their work elsewhere,” he stresses.

“Beating the Odds” finds that urban school students are performing better in mathematics than in reading on state­mandated tests.

Seventy­nine percent of big­city school districts increased the percentage of fourth­ grade students who scored at or above proficient between 2006 and 2009, and 88 percent of districts increased eighth­grade student performance.

Forty­four percent of urban districts showed increased performance for all grades tested on their respective state assessments, with 95 percent showing increased performance for half or more of the grades tested.

National Test Assessments

Considered a more rigorous assessment, NAEP is much different than the respective state­mandated tests.

“Beating the Odds” shows that students in large cities made significant gains on NAEP mathematics in both grades four and eight; reading in grade four.

“When analyzing both state and national assessments, it is evident that the academic gains by urban school students are real, and reform efforts by urban educators are bearing fruit,” Casserly stresses.

The percentage of fourth graders in large cities who scored at or above proficient in math rose to 29 percent in 2009 from 24 percent in 2005, and to 24 percent from 19 percent in eighth grade. The jump is considered statistically significant when compared with NAEP scores in public schools across the nation.

North Carolina’s Charlotte­Mecklenburg school system outperformed public schools nationwide in fourth­grade math on NAEP ­­ 45 percent compared with 38 percent, respectively. Also, another big­city school system, Austin in Texas, outpaced the nation’s public schools in eighth­grade math ­­ 39 percent compared with 33 percent, respectively.

“Beating the Odds” shows some progress in urban school districts reducing racial achievement gaps.

The majority of the big­city school systems­­67 percent­­narrowed the gap between their fourth­grade black and white students statewide in math proficiency, and 62 percent in eighth grade. Between Hispanic and white fourth graders statewide, 76 percent of the urban school districts narrowed the gap, and 69 percent in eighth grade.

City­by­city profiles of the ninth edition of “Beating the Odds “can be found on the Council’s Web site at