COMET • Vol. 12, No. 16 – 27 September 2011


State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces that California
 Will Participate in Effort to Write New National Science Standards

Source: California Department of Education – 20 September 2011

Last Tuesday, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced that California had been chosen as one of 20 states to lead a nationwide effort to develop the next generation of science standards for public schools.

“From our universities to our laboratories, California has always led the way in science and technology, so it’s only fitting that we help craft the next generation of science lessons for students,” Torlakson said. “Having a hand in shaping these standards will give other states the benefit of our success as a technology leader, and give California’s education system and our own students a leg up in preparing for their futures in a science and tech-savvy world.”

A recent U.S. Department of Commerce study (see article below) found that over the past 10 years, growth in jobs involving science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM fields) was three times greater than that of non-STEM occupations. The report also forecast that STEM jobs are expected to continue to grow at a faster rate than others in the coming decade. STEM-related industries continue to be a major factor in California’s economy.

The 20 lead state partners selected to develop the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are Arizona, California, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia. NGSS will clearly articulate the science standards, defined as the educational content and practices students will need to learn from kindergarten through high school.

“The lead state partners will provide important leadership and guidance throughout the development of the Next Generation Science Standards and are to be congratulated for making a strong commitment to improving science education,” said Michael Cohen, president of Achieve, the nonprofit organization heading up the effort. “This will be a collaborative process that will lead to a set of standards that provides America’s students a strong foundation in science and supports college and career readiness for all.”

The development of NGSS is a two-step process. The first step was the building of a framework that identified the core ideas and practices in natural sciences and engineering that all students should be familiar with by the time they graduate. In July, the National Research Council released A Framework for K-12 Science Education, developed by a committee representing expertise in science, teaching and learning, curriculum, assessment, and education policy. For more information on the Framework, please visit

The second step is the development of science standards based on the Framework. As a lead state partner, California will help guide the standards writing process, gather and deliver feedback from state-level committees, and come together to address common issues and challenges. The lead state partners also agree to commit staff time to the initiative and, upon completion, give serious consideration to adopting the NGSS. In order to be considered as a leader in the effort, states had to submit a letter with the signature of the Chief State School Officer and the chair of the State Board of Education.

For more information on NGSS, please visit the Achieve Web site at 


“STEM: Good Jobs Now and For the Future”

Source: U.S. Department of Commerce

Earlier this summer, the U.S. Department of Commerce released an issue brief entitled, “STEM: Good Jobs Now and For the Future.” The Executive Summary for this informative report is available online at  The data and projections contained in this document should provide more impetus for students to focus on STEM areas in their studies.

[From the Web site] Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workers drive our nation’s innovation and competitiveness by generating new ideas, new companies, and new industries. However, U.S. businesses frequently voice concerns over the supply and availability of STEM workers. Over the past 10 years, growth in STEM jobs was three times as fast as growth in non-STEM jobs. STEM workers are also less likely to experience joblessness than their non-STEM counterparts. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics workers play a key role in the sustained growth and stability of the U.S. economy, and are a critical component to helping the U.S. win the future.

Key report findings include the following:

— In 2010, there were 7.6 million STEM workers in the United States, representing about 1 in 18 workers.
— STEM occupations are projected to grow by 17.0 percent from 2008 to 2018, compared to 9.8 percent growth for non-STEM occupations.
— More than two-thirds of STEM workers have at least a college degree, compared to less than one-third of non-STEM workers.
— STEM workers command higher wages, earning 26 percent more than their non-STEM counterparts.
— STEM degree holders enjoy higher earnings, regardless of whether they work in STEM or non-STEM occupations.


Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Source: California Department of Education

Earlier this summer, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson nominated six outstanding secondary teachers as 2011-12 California finalists for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST). PAEMST is the highest recognition that a kindergarten through twelfth grade math or science teacher may receive for outstanding teaching in the United States. The nominees’ applications have been sent to the National Science Foundation and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy for additional consideration. The national winners will be named next year by President Obama. Each will receive a $10,000 award from the National Science Foundation plus a trip to Washington, D.C. where they will be honored.

Math nominees:

– Kentaro Iwasaki, a math teacher and chair of the Mathematics Department at Mission High School in the San Francisco Unified School District, San Francisco County
– Juliana E. Jones, an algebra teacher at Longfellow Magnet Middle School in the Berkeley Unified School District, Alameda County
– William Conrad Thill, an Advanced Placement (AP) statistics and calculus teacher at the independent Harvard-Westlake School in North Hollywood, Los Angeles County

Science nominees:

– Dean Andrew Baird, a physics teacher at Rio Americano High School in the San Juan Unified School District, Sacramento County;
– Ziba Mayar, a biology teacher at Temecula Valley High School in the Temecula Valley Unified School District, Riverside County.
– Ericka Senegar-Mitchell, a biotechnology teacher at Junipero Serra High School in the San Diego Unified School District, San Diego County;

“As a teacher, it is my honor to recognize these educators and the work they are doing to inspire students in mathematics and science, and prepare them for success in our technology-driven economy,” said Torlakson, a science teacher-on-leave from Contra Costa County’s Mount Diablo Unified School District. “All six nominees have demonstrated a deep understanding of their respective disciplines. Congratulations and good luck to all of them as they move forward in the national competition.”

The California Department of Education partnered with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program. Each applicant had to demonstrate a mastery of math or science, appropriate use of instructional methods and strategies, and effective use of assessment strategies; employ life-long learning; and show leadership in education outside the classroom. Each candidate was also required to submit a 45-minute video lesson in support of their application. Visit to read more about these accomplished nominees and the topics of their videos.

PAEMST awards elementary and secondary teachers in alternate years. Since the program’s inception, 82 California teachers have been named PAEMST recipients. For more information about PAEMST, please visit the California Department of Education’s Presidential Awards for Math & Science Teaching Web page: 


President Barack Obama Offers NCLB Flexibility

Source: The White House

URL(Press Release)
URL(Fact Sheet)

Last Friday, President Obama gave a White House speech during which he discussed the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) as well as his Race to the Top (RTT) initiative and his recent jobs bill. In the speech, the president expressed frustration that Congress had yet to revise and reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (NCLB) and stated that he was going to step in and take action.

About NCLB, President Obama said, “I want to say the goals behind No Child Left Behind were admirable, and President Bush deserves credit for that.  Higher standards are the right goal.  Accountability is the right goal. Closing the achievement gap is the right goal.  And we’ve got to stay focused on those goals.  But experience has taught us that, in its implementation, No Child Left Behind had some serious flaws that are hurting our children instead of helping them.  Teachers too often are being forced to teach to the test.  Subjects like history and science have been squeezed out.  And in order to avoid having their schools labeled as failures, some states, perversely, have actually had to lower their standards in a race to the bottom instead of a Race to the Top.  They don’t want to get penalized?  Let’s make sure that the standards are so low that we’re not going to be seen failing to meet them.  That makes no sense.

“And these problems have been obvious to parents and educators all over the country for years now.  Despite the good intentions of some…Congress has not been able to fix these flaws so far.  I’ve urged Congress for a while now, let’s get a bipartisan effort, let’s fix this.  Congress hasn’t been able to do it.  So I will.  Our kids only get one shot at a decent education.  They cannot afford to wait any longer.  So, given that Congress cannot act, I am acting.”

The President stated that he was going to give states more flexibility to meet high standards, but only if they met certain condition. A Fact Sheet about this new opportunity for flexibility describes these conditions and is available online at


ESEA flexibility focuses on supporting State and local reform efforts underway in three critical areas:
– Transitioning to college- and career-ready standards and assessments
– Developing systems of differentiated recognition, accountability, and support
– Evaluating teacher and principal effectiveness and supporting improvement

A State may request flexibility through waivers of several specific provisions of NCLB. Most notably:

– Flexibility Regarding the 2013–2014 Timeline for Achieving 100 Percent Proficiency: A State will no longer have to set targets that require all students to be proficient by 2014. Instead, a State will have flexibility to establish ambitious but achievable goals in reading/language arts and mathematics to support improvement efforts for all schools and all students.

– Flexibility Regarding District and School Improvement and Accountability Requirements: States, districts, and schools will receive relief from a system that over-identifies schools as ‘failing’ and prescribes a ‘one size fits all’ approach to interventions. Instead, States will have the flexibility to design a system that targets efforts to the schools and districts that are the lowest-performing and to schools that have the largest achievement gaps, tailoring interventions to the unique needs of those schools and districts and their students. States will also have flexibility to recognize and reward both schools that are the highest-achieving and those whose students are making the most progress.

– Flexibility Related to the Use of Federal Education Funds: States, districts, and schools will gain increased flexibility to use several funding streams in ways they determine best meets their needs, and rural districts will have additional flexibility in using their funds. Funds to meet the needs of particular populations of disadvantaged students will be protected.

To receive flexibility through these waivers of NCLB requirements, a State must develop a rigorous and comprehensive plan addressing the three critical areas that are designed to improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps and increase equity, and improve the quality of instruction.

– Transitioning to College- and Career-Ready Standards and Assessments:  To request ESEA flexibility, a State must have already adopted college- and career-ready standards in reading/language arts and mathematics designed to raise the achievement of all students, including English Learners and students with disabilities. The State will then help its schools and districts transition to implementing those standards and will commit to administering statewide tests aligned with college- and career-readiness.

– Developing Systems of Differentiated Recognition, Accountability, and Support: Under ESEA flexibility, a State will establish a differentiated recognition, accountability, and support system that gives credit for progress towards college- and career-readiness. The system each State develops will recognize and reward the highest-achieving schools that serve low-income students and those that show the greatest student progress as Reward Schools…

– Evaluating and Supporting Teacher and Principal Effectiveness: Each State that receives the ESEA flexibility will set basic guidelines for teacher and principal evaluation and support systems. The State and its districts will develop these systems with input from teachers and principals and will assess their performance based on multiple valid measures, including student progress over time and multiple measures of professional practice, and will use these systems to provide clear feedback to teachers on how to improve instruction.


In response to President Obama’s proposal, California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson issued the following statement:

“Today’s announcement represents an acknowledgement by the Administration that the one-size-fits-all policies of No Child Left Behind are unworkable.

“We are carefully examining the proposal, which would appear to cost billions of dollars to fully implement, at a time when California and many other states remain in financial crisis.

“I would hope that the Administration is prepared to provide the funds necessary to implement these provisions, or provide greater flexibility to California, which already has a strong school accountability system in place.

“With bipartisan support for a new generation of accountability systems that measure growth in student achievement over time, I will continue to advocate for Congress to approve a new Elementary and Secondary Education Act.”

Related Articles

“Obama Turns Some Powers of Education Back to States” by Sam Dillon

Source: The New York Times – 24 September 2011


U.S. Department of Education Released Proposed Requirements for Race to the Top Round Three

Source: U.S. Department of Education – 7 September 2011

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education released the proposed requirements for Race to the Top round three (RTT3), a $200 million grant fund to continue state-led K-12 reform. RTT3 will invite finalists from round two — Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and South Carolina — to apply for a grant that supports a portion of their previously established Race to the Top plan and includes a meaningful focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.

“Through Race to the Top, these nine states helped lead the way in laying the groundwork for key education reform around the country,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “We look forward to working with them in round three as they continue their work and transform their plans into significant investments that improve education for more students.”

The suggested process for states to apply will require them to submit applications in two parts. The first will include assurances demonstrating the state’s commitment to education reform and maintaining its investment in education. Part two will include a detailed budget and narrative explaining which portion of their plan the state will pursue, describing how it will have the greatest overall impact on the their education system, and providing further details on activities their plan will support in an effort to improve STEM education in their state.

Beyond their RTT3 application, states will be expected to express a continued commitment toward the four key reform areas that frame the Race to the Top competition:

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

Suggested award sizes correspond with state population and final award amounts will be consistent with a state’s plan. As proposed, Colorado, Louisiana, South Carolina and Kentucky are eligible to apply for up to $12.25 million; Arizona can apply for up to $17.5 million; Illinois, Pennsylvania and New Jersey are eligible for up to $28 million; and, California can apply for up to $49 million.

RTT3’s nine eligible applicants are among a total of 46 states and the District of Columbia that put together comprehensive education reform plans to apply for Race to the Top in rounds one and two.

The $200 million available for round three was provided through the fiscal year 2011 appropriations bill passed by Congress in April. The Obama administration has proposed to continue Race to the Top in the U.S. Department of Education’s fiscal year 2012 budget and is seeking authority to develop a district-level competition.

Proposed requirements for RTT3 will be available in the Federal Register for public comment until October 11. A final application will follow. To read the proposed requirements or submit a comment, visit


“Reel Math Challenge” is Now Accepting Submissions


The Reel Math Challenge is a new online competition for students in grades 6-8 that encourages student innovation as they create and star in their own math videos. This free competition, sponsored by MATHCOUNTS and the Department of Defense, is designed to excite students about math while allowing them to hone their creativity and communication skills.

To participate in this free competition, students form teams of four and must utilize technology to create videos based on one of the math problems included in the MATHCOUNTS School Handbook, which is available as a free download from

The videos will be posted to the Reel Math Challenge Web site, and the top videos will win prizes–e.g., electronic gadgets, scholarships, and all-expenses paid trips to Orlando. Videos will be judged on a variety of criteria: creativity, originality, mathematical accuracy, and adherence to time guidelines.

Video submissions are due by 1 February 2012. Visit for more details about this competition.


Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM) Program

Source: National Science Foundation


The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring (PAESMEM) Program seeks to identify outstanding mentoring efforts that enhance the participation and retention of individuals (including persons with disabilities, women and minorities) who might not otherwise have considered or had access to opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The awardees serve as leaders in the national effort to develop fully the nation’s human resources in STEM.

Estimated Number of Awards:

Up to 16 awards will be made in each nomination round. These will be distributed among individuals and organizations as appropriate in a given competition.

Individual and organizational nominees must have demonstrated outstanding mentoring and effective guidance to a significant number of persons who might not otherwise have considered or had access to opportunities in STEM (including persons with disabilities, women and minorities) and who are:
— Students at the K-12, undergraduate, or graduate education level, or
— Early career scientists, mathematicians or engineers who have completed their degree in the past three years (this includes post-doctoral fellows, assistant professors and individuals in the private sector).

Individual and organizational nominees must have demonstrated a sustained mentoring effort for a minimum of five years. Nominations for the individual award must clearly delineate the achievements of the individual as separate from those of the institution or organization. Individuals and organizations may self-nominate.

Each award is in the amount of $10,000 and will be accompanied by a commemorative Presidential certificate. The Office of Science and Technology Policy will contact nominees recommended for awards.

The deadline to submit a nomination is 5 October 2011.