COMET • Vol. 2, No. 10 – 19 March 2001


(1) Eisenhower Professional Development State Grant Program (California)

Source: Maria Alicia Lopez Freeman, Executive Director, California Science Project

The California Postsecondary Commission (CPEC) has administered the federal Eisenhower professional Development State Grant Program since 1984 ( There will be a Request for Proposals coming out in late April for this program, available next month on the CPEC Web site: Proposals will be due sometime during the summer (most likely early August). Bidders conferences will be held during May across the state in Redding, the Bay Area, Fresno, Riverside and Sacramento. The start date for the funded proposals will be 1 January 2002.

There will also be another Teacher Achievement Award Program (TAAP) competition with applications due 1 April 2001. The application is available on-line at TAAP is looking for “creative and innovative ideas that can enhance teaching and learning in classrooms and/or schools.”

(2) “Business Influence For State’s Schools” by Nanette Asimov

Source: San Francisco Chronicle – 16 March 2001

Gov. Gray Davis steered public schooling in a decidedly pro-business direction yesterday with his latest appointments to California’s influential Board of Education.

The two appointees, who will need to be confirmed by the state Senate, are Gap clothing magnate Donald Fisher and Suzanne Tacheny, head of a business coalition.

“Both individuals have strong ties to business, and a really good understanding of the most recent changes at the state level in terms of bringing standards to schools,” Diana Michel, Davis’ undersecretary of education, said yesterday.

Fisher and Tacheny replace Kathryn Dronenberg and Marian Bergeson, appointees of former Gov. Pete Wilson, whose terms expired in January. Board member Marion Joseph is the only remaining Wilson appointee.

The Board of Education sets policy for 6 million students, choosing texts and setting academic standards.

Only three of its 11 members are minorities — and Monica Lozano, a Latina, plans to resign soon. With Fisher, the board has six heads of business, two former mayors, an ex-principal, and the state’s only 17-year-old permitted to cast a binding vote on a policy-making body.

Fisher, a 72-year-old multimillionaire who contributed $10,000 to Davis’ campaign chest in December, founded Gap, Inc., and the California Business Higher Education Forum.

But the official biography put out by the governor yesterday did not say that Fisher also favors the right of for-profit companies to run public schools. That concept is gaining popularity around the country, but has angered many public educators who see it as a giveaway of tax money.

In 1998, Fisher pledged $25 million to the Edison Corp. of New York so it could open up to a dozen “charters” — independently run public schools.

San Francisco School Board President Jill Wynns, who wants to yank Edison’s contract there, reacted with surprise yesterday at Fisher’s appointment. “The governor says he supports public schools, but he’s appointed a person who’s an advocate for privatizing them,” she said…

Tacheny, the other appointee, is the 36-year-old executive director of California Business for Educational Excellence, which backs Davis’ push for testing and academic standards.

“Like all citizens, business has a vested interest in public education,” said Tacheny, who has a doctorate in education policy and administration from the University of Southern California. Tacheny favors encouraging schools to run “on business principles, by setting goals and tracking trends.”

Jerry Hayward, a co-director of Policy Analysis for California Education, called Tacheny a “powerful and thoughtful person who will blend in well on the governor’s thrust on accountability.”

She and Fisher are “heavy hitters,” he said, who will spark new interest in the sometimes ponderous education meetings.

(3) “ Exit Polls On Math Test: Yuck” by Suzanne Pardington

Source: Contra Costa Times – 14 March 2001

Veronica Corzo stopped calculating and started guessing about halfway through the math section of the high school exit exam Tuesday. That was when the questions moved from basic math and equations to slopes, fractions and word problems — unfamiliar territory to the 14-year-old Pinole Valley High School ninth-grader…

She and the rest of the class of 2004 are the first California students required to complete an algebra class and pass an exit exam that includes algebra before they can graduate.

The new state requirement, approved by lawmakers last year, signals a fundamental change in attitude about algebra and what it takes to be successful in the work world.

Once reserved for the college-bound, algebra is now seen as an educational staple, as essential for budding mechanics as for aspiring engineers. Educators say it helps students learn to think critically and abstractly, skills increasingly valued in most jobs.

“General math classes turned out not to prepare (students) for anything,” said Gerry Hayward, co-director of Policy Analysis for California Education, a research venture between the schools of education at UC Berkeley and Stanford University.

“It was not enough math to even be useful in vocational programs. They needed more math than what they were getting in those classes”…

Before the new rule, about 40 percent of students statewide graduated from high school without passing algebra, according to John Mockler, executive director of the state Board of Education…

The governor’s office estimates the state will need 1,300 more algebra teachers to instruct 160,000 more students over the next three years.

Gov. Gray Davis has proposed in next year’s budget a $30 million program to provide incentives for schools to beef up their algebra programs. Schools would earn $50 per student enrolled in algebra this year and $100 per additional student who takes algebra the following year. The extra money could be used to recruit and train math teachers…

(4) “Clovis Schools’ Tech Clicks With Visitors” by Felicia Cousart Matlosz

Source: The Fresno Bee – 13 March 2001,1724,248077,00.html

Clovis Unified’s widespread use of laptop computers in its classrooms is attracting global attention. The district welcomed about 150 visitors, some from as far away as the British Virgin Islands, Canada and Australia, for its two-day “ThinkPad at School Fly-in.”

It’s an event co-sponsored by IBM that showcases how the district has integrated technology into its daily studies.

One of the guests is Andrew Fahie, minister of education for the British Virgin Islands. Nearly 4,000 students live on the Caribbean islands east of Puerto Rico.

“Right now, we have already started with technology in our schools. However, we wanted to fine-tune it a little bit more and actually move into the aspect of having computers in the classroom as learning tools,” Fahie said Monday morning during a break in the event’s hectic schedule.

Fahie and the other visitors, mostly educators and technology representatives from private companies, were scheduled to see laptops in action. Tours were scheduled, for example, at Alta Sierra, the district’s first intermediate campus to fully integrate computers into all core subject areas. All seventh-grade laptop classes there have wireless connections.

Also on the tour stop: the Center for Advanced Research and Technology, which opened in August as a high-tech campus for 11th- and 12th-graders. CART is a joint project of Clovis Unified and Fresno Unified.

Clovis Unified has been at the forefront of education technology for years, by investing in computers and urging students and teachers to embrace technology. But it is its use of laptops in its “Anytime Anywhere Anyone Learning” program that is the main focus of this week’s event.

Chuck Philips, the district’s director of information technology, said that the program has resulted in 4,500 students having one-to-one access to a laptop at school in the 32,700-student system. Parents apparently believe in the approach: About 4,000 of the 4,500 laptops are owned by the student and his or her family.

Superintendent Walt Buster emphasizes that technology is a tool — and not the sole solution — to improve student achievement. In other words, a computer isn’t going to make a mediocre teacher any better. But the laptops, under the guidance of an effective teacher, can be a draw to learning. “Students learn best when they are engaged, when they are interactive,” Buster said…

Educators such as Judith Barranti of Milipitas Unified wanted an up-close look at how it all works in Clovis Unified. Her district may be in the heart of technology-driven Silicon Valley, but the search for expertise led eight of its school officials to the Clovis system…



(1) “Teaching Algebra: How, And How Soon” by Maureen Fitzgerald

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer – 9 March 2001

…In 1996, 28 percent of eighth graders nationwide were enrolled in Algebra 1 for high school credit or placement, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

There have always been students who excel at math and can handle a more accelerated program, but more and more schools are moving students into traditional Algebra 1 classes in middle school, said Robert Riehs, a math specialist for New Jersey’s Department of Education.

“It’s a nationwide phenomenon, and it’s a mistake, from my point of view,” Riehs said. He believes that many schools are misinterpreting national and state core-curriculum standards that recommend introducing “algebraic concepts” in middle school.

“We should be introducing the solving of simple equations. We should not be expecting middle school students to master the factoring of trinomials and all the other traditional Algebra 1 content,” Riehs said…

Many schools are introducing algebra earlier to allow more students to progress to calculus and advanced calculus in high school, but that is not necessarily in the best interest of students, according to many math experts.

“Many schools want the cachet of having so many kids taking calculus in high school,” said Dennis DeTurck, chairman of the mathematics department at the University of Pennsylvania. “But I have gone on record saying it should be illegal to teach calculus in high school. The students get a very superficial notion of what calculus is…and in the rush to get there, there is fundamental material – that isn’t fun to do but is crucial – that gets glossed over.”

He has found that even top math students, scoring 700 or even a perfect 800 on the math portion of their SATs, are often weak on Algebra 2 skills. “We find ourselves reteaching…There is no depth.”

At Radnor Middle School, about 40 percent of the students take Algebra 1 in eighth grade.

“We have a very academic population, but we still have kids who are weak in the basics,” said Ken Levine, chairman of the school’s math department. “We want to make sure the kids know what they are doing before they get into that algebra course.”

More students probably could take the more advanced classes, he said, “but I, personally, say: What is the need to take it that early? There is plenty they can do to shore up their math skills with problem-solving and thinking skills, and to me that is more important.”

At Cherry Hill East, the goal of Enriched Algebra is to make sure the basic concepts are on solid ground…But the need for the new class in Cherry Hill also touches on the national debate about how algebra should be taught, which the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics argues has to change.

“If we don’t make it more relevant to student’s lives, it doesn’t matter how old the students are, we are not going to be successful,” said Lee V. Stiff, the council’s president. “What is clear is that what we were doing, which was drilling and drilling, was not working.”

Although East’s Enriched Algebra was created to address student weaknesses, it has ended up as a model for all the math courses, said Marsha Pecker, a vice principal who also was involved in developing the class.

“We should be trying to infuse all of our math classes with technology and problem solving,” she said.”

After Nicolazzo introduces a concept in her class, the students practice it, try word problems, reinforce the concept in a lab, and sometimes do projects and review it again before they take a test. “We are hitting all the different ways the students learn,” Nicolazzo said. “It gives all of them a chance to pick it up one way or another”…

This week, after the studying quadradic equations, the students were using wooden ramps, motion detectors and graphing calculators wired to a computer-based-lab system to reinforce their study.

After running the program in a graphing calculator connected to a motion detector, they rolled the basketball up the ramp, and then let it roll back down.

The motion detector measured the distance the ball traveled in relation to the time elapsed. The program on the graphing calculator generated a parabolic graph that represented the distance the ball was from a fixed line at a given point in time.

Then the students checked their work, using a quadratic equation.

“What we get in this course is visuals,” said Lisa Korostowski, 15. “It gives us a visual of why the equation works the way it does”…

(2) “Experts Preach Caution On Use of ‘Precious’ NAEP” by Lynn Olson

Source: Education Week – 14 March 2001

For more than 30 years, the National Assessment of Educational Progress has provided information on what American students know and can do in the core academic subjects. The congressionally mandated project is so widely respected that it’s nicknamed the nation’s “report card.”

Now, a proposal by President Bush could permanently change the nature of the testing program, by using NAEP results to confirm a state’s own testing data before determining federal rewards or penalties for states based on student achievement.

Although many assessment and policy experts support Mr. Bush’s proposal in concept, they caution that it must be executed carefully to preserve the credibility that has made NAEP so valuable. Others, meanwhile, worry that proposals to expand NAEP could inch the United States closer to a national curriculum and a national test.

“NAEP is a precious thing that we have,” said Lauren B. Resnick, the director of the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh, “and it works as a barometer of student achievement because there isn’t any motivation to teach to it in a direct way.”

The more incentives there are for states to care about NAEP results, to align their tests and curricula with the assessment, and to get their scores up, the more NAEP’s role as a neutral barometer will be lost, she warned. “It’s delicate. I basically think we should do it, but we should do it with great care,” Ms. Resnick said…

(3) “Science Fairs Don’t Always Educate Their Participants” by Valerie Strauss

Source: San Francisco Chronicle – 15 March 2001

…Despite books and Web sites devoted to creating successful science fairs and projects, educators and scientists say the events can be counterproductive when students have insufficient guidance on a project and when rules insist on an artificial scientific formulae. There are concerns, too, about the competitive nature of fairs and the pressure on already stressed kids.

“If done right, science fairs are grand opportunities,” said Jim Jarvis, science department chairman at Westfield High School in Fairfax County. “Projects offer a wonderful opportunity for creativity and imagination to roam…(But) many things can go wrong in this process.”

Today, students from prekindergarten through 12th grade labor over projects.

At their best, fairs can give students a chance to dig deep into a subject, practice inquiry skills, learn how to manage time and gain experience presenting their results to others, said Karen Kernan, who works at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore and directs the Tri-Valley Science and Engineering Fair.

“I didn’t realize science was fun until we started doing experiments like this,” said Thomson student Irene Wu, 10, as she and her partner, Lexuan Cao, 10, experimented with a “wind break” pencil-and-spool contraption to demonstrate how adding mass — paper clips, in this case — increases speed. The hypothesis was simple and clear: Mass affects speed.

But young people can turn off to science when, for example, fairs insist on the same formula for every project.

“One big problem with science fairs is that everybody tries to force-fit students into the mold of what they call ‘the scientific method,’ which students are taught is a step-by-step method — with a hypothesis and experimentation and conclusions — that all scientists use,” said Randy Bell, professor of science education at the University of Virginia. “Things are messy in a laboratory. That method really reflects how science is recorded in journal studies rather than how science is done.”

This insistence limits the scope of projects, said Michael Peshkin, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Northwestern University who has judged science fairs…

George D. “Pinky” Nelson, a former astronaut, is director of Project 2061, the long-term initiative of the American Association for the Advancement of Science to reform K-12 science, mathematics and technology education. He said he has a split view of science fairs.

Nelson supports top-notch fairs that give motivated students a chance to work with professional mentors in laboratories. That’s what Thomas Jefferson’s Madduri did: He worked in the geophysical laboratory of the Carnegie Institution of Washington while discovering the existence of a quartzlike phase of nitrous oxide never reported, which may have significant implications for chemistry, high-pressure physics and planetary science.

But, Nelson said, “that’s very different from your typical grade school or middle-school science fair.” “If you really want to get kids involved in an experience with a science fair that is going to result in real digging in and learning some ideas in science,” he said, “it takes a lot of upfront effort on the part of the teachers in the school. And they generally don’t have the resources to do that”…

(4) “Making Another Big Score” by Andrew Goldstein

SourceTime Magazine – 12 March 2001,8599,101324,00.html

…The near monopoly [on college entrance exams] … millions of … anxious high school students face has been solidifying for more than half a century. At first blush, one would guess the companies that create and sell all these tests — the College Board and its spin-off, the ETS — would be shaken to their square roots by the latest rebellion against SATs. In truth, they should hardly notice. Both companies rely less and less on the SAT for income each year, and while the industry is becoming more competitive, the testing business as a whole is in the midst of a boom. The standards-and-accountability movement has led states and schools to test American students more often than at any other time in history. And if President Bush has his way, states will be required to test all students in third through eighth grades — 22 million kids — every year in math and reading. That’s big money for K-12 testmakers, a market currently dominated by textbook publishers — but one that ETS is poised to join.

After a rough decade of losses caused by a heavy investment in computer-based exams, ETS last year — for the first time in its history — hired a businessman, not an educator, to run the company. And looking to seize a large chunk of the pre-college testing market, it launched a for-profit subsidiary, ETS K-12 Works. ETS president Kurt Landgraf, former CEO of DuPont Pharmaceuticals, hopes to double ETS’s overall revenues within five years, to more than $1 billion a year. “The future for testing is in K-12,” says Landgraf. “It’s the biggest initiative we have.” His golden ticket may be ETS’s new “e-rater,” a nifty tool that can grade essay questions in under a second, using advanced artificial-intelligence technology. ETS claims the scores the e-rater spits out match those given by human graders 97% of the time. That’s as accurate as a second human reader.

The company has a ready market in states looking for high-quality test designers. Today just three companies (conveniently, the three biggest school-textbook publishers) develop nearly all K-12 tests, and there is a severe shortage of psychometricians — specialists trained in educational measurement and test design…

Not to be left out of the testing boom, the $400 million test-prep industry is also expanding. One might have expected John Katzman, founder and CEO of The Princeton Review, one of the two leading SAT-prep companies, to be at least a little concerned by University of California president Richard Atkinson’s push to abolish the SAT. In fact, Katzman is ecstatic, calling the SAT “a vestige from another era” that “should be discarded at the first possible moment.” It’s a position he can afford to take, as his company, which is in the process of going public, recently launched, a potentially profitable interactive tool meant to help kids prepare for their state exams…

(5) “Companies Cash In on Testing Trend” by Jessica L. Sandham

Source: Education Week – March 14, 2001

…Companies like Kaplan Inc. and The Princeton Review–veteran purveyors of preparation courses for the SAT and ACT college-entrance exams–are selling everything from professional-development seminars for educators to diagnostic tests tied to state exams for students in various grades. Newer Internet companies like TestU and have created online tools that schools can buy to give students interactive test practice at home or in class. And big and small educational publishers alike are selling textbooks and software designed to help teachers and families prepare students for state tests…

At New Bedford High School, Ms. Bizzarro said, students are under tremendous pressure to perform well on the English and mathematics portions of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment Systems test, which they will take in April and May…The school turned to the New York City-based TestU, which is offered in Massachusetts and a handful of other states, because the program identifies and adapts to the particular academic strengths and weaknesses of each student, Ms. Bizzarro said.

Another selling point was that it allows students to log on and work from home. Students were given access to the program for the first time last month, and preliminary data show that they are using it: Roughly 200 students logged on during the school’s February break alone.

In New York City, Community School District 15 also recently sought outside help with test preparation, hiring Kaplan Inc. to give a professional-development seminar for teachers and administrators. The seminar centered on strategies the educators could use to help students on the state’s 4th grade English assessment.

Such sessions, which the New York City-based company conducts in New York, Florida, Texas, and other states, cost between $2,000 and $3,000 for two to three hours of training.

“It’s a very good tool to use right before a test to pull everything together,” said Liliana A. Reichert, an assistant principal at Public School 1, who attended the Kaplan session in District 15, a Brooklyn subdistrict of the citywide system. “It gave us tips and shortcuts and other methods we could use to train the students.”

In general, it’s too soon to say whether the various products designed to prepare students for state assessments are yielding higher scores. But critics contend that any academic gains made as a result of intense test preparation are shallow and short-lived.

The test- prep companies selling such services are like leeches, they say, feeding off what those critics see as states’ increasingly unhealthy emphasis on test results. To make matters worse, they argue, the schools that can least afford to pay for such programs-without shifting money from other much-needed expenditures-are often the ones that feel most compelled to buy them.

“These are the same schools who have a gun to their heads: Raise your scores or else,” said Alfie Kohn, the author of The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools, a book published last year. “To do that, they have to waste money on this type of crap instead of buying books.”

But test-prep executives say that such criticisms are way off base, and that opponents show a lack of understanding of the nature of the services the companies provide. If anything, one Princeton Review official said, the company is working to help teachers integrate test preparation as seamlessly as possible throughout the school year, so that they don’t need to deviate as much from their day-to-day lesson plans and curriculum materials.

“The idea is not to feed into the hysteria,” said Stephen Kutno, the vice president of educational policy and strategy for, an Internet test-preparation program offered by The Princeton Review, which is based in New York City. “This is a solution that will help you make meaning of the assessment and implement something into the classroom without distracting from what teachers do best.”

Mark F. Bernstein, the president of K-12 learning services at Kaplan, echoes that sentiment. Ultimately, he says, there’s nothing wrong with helping teachers and students prepare for a test that has important consequences.

“In life itself, none of us would take a road trip without looking at a map first,” he said. “We try to bridge the gap between a student’s knowledge and his or her performance on the test.”

Still, even many state education officials maintain that test-specific preparation materials and programs are at best unnecessary, and at worst, educationally unsound. Some officials argue that if teachers are following a standards-based curriculum day in and day out, they shouldn’t need extra materials to help students prepare for tests based on state academic standards. Others say that the test-preparation materials and old tests released to schools in some states already provide teachers with ample materials to get their students ready.

California legislators considered test-specific preparation to be so detrimental, in fact, that in 1997 they passed a law prohibiting it. The state board of education revisited the policy last fall in response to district inquiries.

Under the board’s updated guidelines-distributed to districts at the start of this school year-it is considered “appropriate” for teachers to instruct students to identify key words in writing-test “prompts,” for example, but “inappropriate” for them to focus on one type of writing “in the expectation that it will be tested during a specific year.”

California schools taking part in test preparation that is deemed inappropriate could become ineligible for state rewards tied to higher test scores, or face other sanctions. “The best way for students to do really well on these tests is by thoroughly learning the subject matter,” said Doug Stone, a spokesman for the state education department. “That’s why we’re making sure that teachers are teaching to content standards and not to specific tests”…

But Dalea D. Tatum, a 5th grade teacher at the 235-student Woodlands Elementary School in Amarillo, Texas, said that is a tool that helps her teach the state-mandated curriculum. The Internet-based program gives her feedback on the state academic objectives that individual students may be struggling with, so that she can better tailor instruction to meet students’ needs before they’re tested. If they are weak in a particular area, she said, they work on it until they are up to par…

Even as many state education officials discount money spent on test-preparation products as unnecessary, some are working to create their own materials.

In California, Gov. Gray Davis’ proposed budget includes $27.5 million to produce test-prep materials for all students. Mr. Stone said the materials would be booklets designed to help students prepare for the new high school exit exam as well as Stanford Achievement Test-9th Edition, the test the state currently uses.

“This is to keep the playing field even so that all schools have a clear understanding as to how they can assist their students, but not cross that fine line,” Mr. Stone said.

(6) “People in the News” by Marianne Hurst

Source: Education Week – 14 March 2001

Achieve, an independent, nonprofit group that focuses on standards-based education reform, has elected Michigan Gov. John Engler and California Gov. Gray Davis as its new co-chairman and vice co-chairman, respectively. The group’s board of directors made the selection at a meeting in Washington on Feb. 26. Mr. Engler, 52, a Republican, will replace founding co-chairman Tommy G. Thompson, the former governor of Wisconsin.

Mr. Davis, 57, a Democrat, succeeds former North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. Both men will be responsible for overseeing the Cambridge, Mass.-based organization and directing its efforts to help states raise academic standards.

[Achieve Web site: ]