COMET • Vol. 2, No. 17 – 14 May 2001


(1) California Learning Resource Network


The mission of the California Learning Resource Network (CLRN) is to provide a one-stop information source that enables all California educators to identify supplemental electronic learning resources that both meet local instructional needs and embody the implementation of California curriculum frameworks and standards.

In December, the California State Board of Education approved the awarding of the SETS (Statewide Education Technology Services) Learning Resource contract to Stanislaus County Office of Education as LEA, with partner county offices of education in Humboldt, Kern, Kings, Sacramento, San Bernardino and San Diego…

Over the course of the coming year, many of the activities established by the California Instructional Technology Clearinghouse (CITC) and the Schools of California Online Resources for Education projects (SCORE) will be provided by CLRN…

CLRN will:

  • Identify and evaluate electronic learning resources such as software, video, and online resources.
  • Identify learning units or lessons aligned to resources and the state academic content standards.
  • Maintain an interactive web site to provide: information about electronic learning resources through an online searchable database, links to standards based online lessons and to state education technology projects and resources…

The new CLRN web site is scheduled to launch on 17 May 2001 at the Spring 2001 CUE Conference (

(2) “School Awards Effort Blasted: Teachers Say They Will Refuse the State’s Performance Bonuses” by Erika Chavez

Source: Sacramento Bee – 13 May 2001

George Sheridan, a teacher in the El Dorado County town of Cool, calls it “blood money.”

Nancy Waltz, president of the San Juan Teachers Association, says it’s creating “an educational civil war.”

Not exactly the reaction expected when Gov. Gray Davis first announced the Public Schools Accountability Act of 1999, which called for three awards programs, totaling $677 million, to honor teachers, schools and their staffs for raising their school scores on the state Academic Performance Index, or API.

But from San Diego to Riverside to the Sacramento region, teachers are stepping forward to declare they won’t accept the rewards, which are being distributed for the first time this year.

Some teachers call the bonuses unethical and unfair. Some say they are rejecting the awards–especially one called the School Site Employee Performance Bonus that gives $591 to every employee at more than 4,500 schools–to send a message against standardized testing.

“This is a bribe to keep us quiet,” said Sheridan, who teaches second grade at Northside School. “These tests amount to child abuse. My 7-year-olds had to sit still for 11 tests, which took eight hours to administer. They were physically wiped out.”

Schools’ API rankings are based on students’ scores on the annual Stanford 9 achievement test; to qualify for rewards, schools have to improve their rankings by a specified amount from year to year.

Some critics call the rewards system misguided, saying all schools should be recognized. Some have dubbed the API the “Affluent Parents Index,” saying it too easily rewards schools in upper- and middle-class areas that already perform well.

“Davis has pitted us against each other,” said Betty Hickock, president of the Folsom Cordova Education Association, which is urging its schools to pool reward money and distribute it equally among all campuses. “The haves will get more, and the have nots will lose again”…

The California Teachers Association says the awards threaten teacher collegiality and that state money should be used to help all students meet statewide standards….

State officials have said the API is intended to hold schools accountable for how well students are achieving and that the awards system was designed to be as fair as possible. One of the award programs sets aside $100 million for teachers at about 300 of the state’s lowest-performing schools that posted the biggest API gains. These teachers will get bonuses of $5,000 to $25,000 each…


Related article:

“Some To Reject Teacher Rewards” by Larry Slonaker

Source: The Mercury News–14 May 2001



(1) “Why We Must Have Testing” by Rod Paige, U.S. Secretary of Education

Source: The Washington Post – 13 May 2001

Anyone who opposes annual testing of children is an apologist for a broken system of education that dismisses certain children and classes of children as unteachable. The time has come for an end to the excuses, for the sake of the system and the children trapped inside.

Both the system and the children need reform. That is why President Bush’s plan is based on the premise that every child can learn, and why it sets as its goal that no child will be left behind. The president would eliminate the excuses and the exemptions that have kept us from measuring the progress of the “hard to teach”–education shorthand for economically disadvantaged, limited-English-proficiency and special education students.

The centerpiece of the president’s “No Child Left Behind” plan is a system of high standards, annual testing against those standards of every child in third through eighth grade, and a system of accountability that makes schools responsible for results.

Those who say this will result in a system in which teachers simply teach to the test don’t understand the plan. A good test–the kind the president and I support–is aligned with the curriculum so that schools know whether children are actually learning the material that their states have decided a child should know. In such an aligned system, testing is a part of teaching.

And when you test, you also give irrefutable and invaluable information on student progress to parents, teachers, administrators, community members and policymakers. By making the results visible, you give each of these stakeholders a powerful incentive for change where the results aren’t good enough, and for recognition and growth where the results meet and exceed our standards. Without those results, all those who care deeply about the success of our schools and our students would persist in the hopeful but misguided belief that everyone and every school is making progress…The opponents of testing would have us cling to the status quo, and I have yet to hear an argument in favor of that.

(2)“City School Succeeds in Doing the Math” by Robert A. Frahm

Source: The Hartford Courant – 17 February 2001

When Connecticut Mastery Test results were released earlier this week, math continued to be a trouble spot for many urban black and Hispanic children, but Simpson-Waverly defied the odds and produced surprisingly good scores.

“When I say we’re going to do math, the kids say, `Yes!'” teacher Kathleen Register said Friday afternoon, moments after finishing a lively lesson with fourth-graders on mathematical probability.

Poverty, crime, broken homes, unemployment–all of the problems that plague many urban neighborhoods–are familiar to the school in Hartford’s North End, but three out of four fourth-graders scored in the top two categories on the math test, and 42 percent reached the state goal…

“This is what is going to open doors… not just [knowing] basic facts but problem solving, using logical reasoning,” said Mari Muri, a math consultant with the state Department of Education…

In Room 11 Friday, Register’s fourth-graders spun the pointers on handmade, numbered dials in a game to learn about statistical probability–one of the objectives on the Connecticut Mastery Test…

By the end of the class, students examined dials with different numbers, colors and shapes, and most could calculate the chance that a spinner would land on a particular spot.

It is the kind of hands-on lesson Register learned through the Project to Increase the Mastery of Math and Science, or PIMMS, a long-running program at Wesleyan University. She is one of two Simpson-Waverly teachers who became PIMMS fellows after completing a two-year course. PIMMS assists many teachers throughout Connecticut, supplying materials and offering ideas on lessons.

Professional training, like the work with PIMMS, is a key to the school’s improved performance, Principal James Thompson said. “You really have to start with effective teaching,” said Thompson, who has been an educator for 32 years.

Aside from the partnership with PIMMS, Thompson has started a number of other reforms. Once a month, every teacher reviews the progress of each of their students with a team that includes Thompson, a PIMMS consultant and other curriculum experts. The school also was among the first to offer voluntary after-school tutoring, a practice that now occurs throughout the city…

(3) “How Math Is Taught Has Fairfax Squabbling” by Liz Seymour

Source: The Washington Post – 4 May 2001

…As Fairfax begins to select new math texts for every grade this month, it must negotiate the minefield between traditional math (also called fundamental math or back-to-basics math) and new math (sometimes called fuzzy math or constructivist math).

The politics of math instruction will be highlighted tomorrow at a community meeting sponsored by two Fairfax School Board members but bad-mouthed by others on the board.

The dispute is similar to the controversy over the best way to teach children to read–whether through phonics or literature. With math, the question is, should students memorize formulas and multiplication tables or learn them through illustrative problems?

Whatever the opinion, the stakes are enormous. Fairfax is the 14th-largest school district in the country, and one of the best. That makes it a client any textbook publisher would covet, especially with a contract estimated at more than $9 million.

The math wars, as some national educators refer to them, are being fought from California to New York City, especially in areas where students are doing poorly in math. The wrangling has not escaped Fairfax despite its wealth of high-achieving students, solid math scores on the state Standards of Learning tests and a supportive parent community.

They have also intensified political tensions on the Fairfax School Board. Its members run on nonpartisan ballots, but all 12 are endorsed by the Republican or Democratic parties. Some of the five GOP-backed members want more arithmetic drills; some, backed by Democrats, stand behind the district’s current emphasis on problem-solving skills.

“I would submit that this is political demagoguery,” Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech said. “It’s an attempt to politicize education that has nothing to do with students and learning.” He favors new math.

Those who want to go back to the basics say Fairfax students are not learning computation skills well enough to tackle algebra, geometry and other higher-level math courses. Those who favor the new math disagree, saying students will be unprepared for higher-level math without practice in word problems.

This doesn’t mean that Fairfax students never memorize a formula or that back-to-basics math never includes story problems. Both methods use both tools; the debate is about where to place the emphasis…

Tomorrow’s town meeting is sponsored by at-large board members Mychele B. Brickner and Rita Thompson, who favor back-to-basics instruction and are calling the session “Citizens for Better Math.”

“What Rita and I want to do is highlight the issues of math,” Brickner said. “Many people don’t know that there is a math war. We want to talk about these issues so that they can be aware that Fairfax County is adopting textbooks and that they can give input.”

Other board members have objected to the meeting, which will take place at a public school, saying it will influence the textbook selection process by promoting some books and criticizing others.

“I think it’s appropriate at any time to talk about math standards and instruction,” said Board Chairman Jane K. Strauss (Dranesville). “But whether or not School Board members are going to be publicly talking about favoring one publisher over another while we are in the process of evaluating vendors, that really is the issue.”

Board member Stuart D. Gibson (Hunter Mill) issued a memo condemning the meeting, which he said could “subvert” the awarding of the textbook contract.

“The timing and content of the town meeting suggest an organized effort by some board members (and possibly unknown others) to influence the outcome of the textbook selection process,” his April 26 memo to the School Board states. “In my view this is highly improper, and works to cast doubt on the integrity of the process.”

Thompson and Brickner fired back in a memo that says they just want to give parents information.

Both said they have not made up their minds about which texts would be best. But Brickner later said, “I very much am in favor of adopting a more traditional approach, and so I’m hoping that some of the books that are adopted for use in schools would have that.”

Educators said math instruction changed after years of research showing that American students were not understanding math, liking it or scoring well enough on standardized math tests. Fairfax and many other school districts began incorporating more word problems in the last 10 years.

“You also have to have the capacity to think at a higher level,” Domenech said. “It requires us to think, not just to regurgitate information that a parrot can be taught.”

But there are parents and School Board members who say that the change has moved too far from the basic math skills of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Domenech acknowledged that as schools have begun to incorporate more problem-solving skills into their lessons, some students may not have gotten enough arithmetic.

“It is possible, and it’s a mistake,” he said. “We have to make sure that every student knows their basic math.”

The National Research Council, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization in the District, has compiled a report [Adding it Up] that says the best way to teach math is to use both basic math facts and word problems.

“It really argues for a balanced approach,” said Thomas D. Carpenter, director of the National Center for Improving Student Learning and Achievement in Mathematics and Science at the University of Wisconsin. He is on the panel that drafted the Research Council report.

Math instruction hasn’t been as much of a lightning rod for other Washington area school boards.

Montgomery County is reviewing curriculum standards for core courses, including math, said Leah Quinn, the district’s math supervisor. A pilot program at four schools uses techniques borrowed from Singapore, which consistently scores at the top of the Third International Math and Science Study test. Singapore’s math approach has also generated interest in Fairfax.

In Loudoun County, teachers emphasize basic arithmetic as well as problem-solving skills, said Cheryl Wimer, the district’s math supervisor. “It has to be a mixture of things,” she said. “Kids learn differently.”

In Fairfax, the textbook committee of 26 math teachers, 13 administrators and 13 community members will begin reviewing books in June and will make recommendations in October. The board is to choose textbook lines in December, and principals will select from that list early next year. The texts now used were adopted six years ago.

Like so much about education in Virginia, the issue may be decided by the Standards of Learning and the state’s battery of high-stakes SOL tests, which will determine whether high school students in Virginia will receive their diplomas and whether schools will be accredited. The textbooks, everyone agrees, must correlate with the SOLs…

(4) “Program Divides District” by Corissa Jansen

Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel – 9 May 2001

The Muskego-Norway School Board remains divided over a math program that critics contend is more about games than arithmetic, but officials say they are working to bridge the gap with a compromise…

“We have in our community two diverse points of view on instruction,” said Superintendent Richard Drury, recalling the 1999 rift over phonics. “One is a more traditional approach and one is a more reform-minded approach, and those two methods are often very strongly debated here.”

At the center of the current debate is a non-traditional math program for kindergarten through fourth grade that does not use a textbook and encourages students to learn through “self-discovery,” officials said.

Take a simple math problem, like 19 + 19. In traditional methods, students would be taught to line up the two parts of the equation vertically and begin adding from the right side. First adding 9 + 9, they’d carry the one and come up with an answer of 38.

But with the “Investigations in Number, Data and Space” approach, teachers encourage students to devise several strategies to solve the problem. For example, students could round each part of the equation up to 20, and subtract two from the result.

“I’ve seen the potential it has with students, making them become deep thinkers with mathematics, and not just regurgitators,” said Carol Apuli, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction…

Investigations, developed by the Educational Research Collaborative in Cambridge, Mass., and supported in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation, is one of three pilot programs that have been incorporated into district classrooms over the past two years. The pilot programs were recommended by the district’s curriculum assessment team and consultants from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the state Department of Public Instruction.

Apuli says she supports the program because she thinks students gain a deeper understanding and enjoyment of math.

“Oh my God, yes!” Apuli said when asked whether students exhibit more enthusiasm for math under the program.

“They’re just hopping out of their seats because they want to talk with the teacher about their own solution,” Apuli added. “There are multiple solutions to any problem in life, and that’s really driven home with Investigations. There’s more than one way to solve a problem.”

Apuli said she worries that traditional math programs largely teach children to memorize math tables, leaving them less able to put math problems into real world contexts…

While supporters say the program encourages students’ creativity, critics say the non-traditional approach does not provide students with mathematical fundamentals.

“You’ve got to walk before you can run,” said Jeff Mayer, a Muskego parent who opposes the Investigations program. “Once you get the mechanics down, then you can get creative”…

(5) “MCAS Critic is Silenced” by Adrian Walker

Source: Boston Globe–14 May 2001

…Alfie Kohn is the author of four well-received books on education–the most recent an attack on over-reliance on standardized testing–and a sought-after lecturer. So there was nothing out of the ordinary about his invitation to appear last Wednesday as the keynote speaker at a locally sponsored conference in Northampton for administrators of charter schools and traditional public schools.

Kohn was booked months ago. But after being contracted to appear, he was later unceremoniously disinvited with no plausible explanation…

What happened? Kohn is an outspoken and persuasive critic of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System. When officials at the Department of Education, which had paid $28,000 to fund the conference, saw his name on a list of speakers, the department threatened to pull its funding if the anti-MCAS authority was going to talk. He could be paid, but could not appear…

The Department of Education, for its part, makes no bones about ordering Kohn off the conference. Spokesman Jonathan Palumbo said Kohn’s subject matter was not in keeping with the theme of the conference, which department officials had understood to be sharing “best practices” about managing schools…

Not everyone bought that explanation. For one thing, Kohn says the topic was requested by the organizers of the conference, who would presumably have some idea about their mandate.

“I was going to address broader issues having to do with standards and quality education at the conference,” Kohn said. “I wasn’t going to just talk about MCAS. It appears that it was not about the topic. It was about me and my views.”…

It’s no secret that MCAS is becoming a major political problem. That’s not just because many students fail. A growing number of parents, teachers, and administrators do not accept the simplistic political equation of “higher standards” with more and more testing, or buy that this exam is going to fix what’s wrong with the education of their children. Palumbo is right when he says MCAS supporters are now in the minority. But turning off the mike on its critics–which the education department did–isn’t going to fix that.

“The same undemocratic sensibility that imposes high-stakes testing also acts to suppress dissenting views,” Kohn said…

(6) “Judge Gives State OK to Test Some Teachers” by Anand Vaishnav

SourceBoston Globe – 8 May 2001

Rejecting a legal challenge filed by the state’s two teacher unions, Judge Patrick J. King ruled that the regulations governing the tests are “constitutionally sound.”

Last May, the Board of Education voted unanimously to give the first-in-the-nation tests to some teachers in middle and high schools where at least 30 percent of students failed the math portion of the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System exam. The Massachusetts Teachers Association and the Massachusetts Federation of Teachers filed suit, saying that the board exceeded its authority and that the testing applied only to some of the state’s schools.

State Education Commissioner David P. Driscoll hopes that testing will begin this fall. “If teacher testing can result in improved skills on the part of teachers and therefore improvement for students, then that’s a good thing,” he said.

The two unions will decide whether to appeal. Catherine A. Boudreau, vice president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, said that the union is disappointed with the ruling and that classroom evaluations are the best way to gauge teachers’ performance. “Posing a test makes it harder to attract and retain qualified teachers when there’s a teacher shortage looming,” Boudreau said.


Related article:

“Judge Clears Way for Math Teacher Tests” by Ed Hayward

Source: Boston Herald – 8 May 2001

(7) “Maths Test Forces New Teachers To Quit” by John Clare

Source: Electronic Telegraph (UK) – 11 May 2001

Newly trained teachers are quitting the profession because they cannot pass a Government-imposed computerised test that has no relevance to their ability to teach.

One of the victims is Donna Hicks, 43, who gave up her job as a Civil Service wages clerk eight years ago to fulfill her ambition of becoming a primary school teacher. While bringing up two small children, she studied for GCSEs in subjects she had failed at school, including maths, passed her A-levels and then took a four-year degree course in English with Qualified Teacher Status.

She graduated last summer with an upper second and immediately found a job as a probationary teacher at a primary school in Chorley, Lancs. Then David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, introduced a requirement that all newly-qualified teachers had to pass a “numeracy skills” test.

It consists of 28 questions to be answered on a computer in 48 minutes. The first 12 are mental arithmetic questions each to be completed in 10 seconds, after which the screen shifts to the next question. Most of the remaining questions are tests not of numeracy but of statistics of the kind teachers have to compile to comply with the Government’s target-setting agenda.

They involve ratios, means, standardised scores, bar and pie charts and whisker and scatter diagrams. Only an on-screen calculator may be used. To pass, teachers must answer 17 of the questions correctly in the time allowed. Mrs. Hicks, whose teaching of maths to children aged four to eight has been praised by inspectors, has failed four times. She is allowed only one more chance to pass the test before her probationary year ends in July.

“Due to the panic and pressure of losing my job and entire career, I know I will not be able to pass my final attempt,” she said yesterday. “I’ve worked long and hard over the past eight years to gain the appropriate qualifications for what I have always wanted to do. My teaching practice reports were excellent and I’ve been awarded Qualified Teacher Status.

“The inspector reported that my teaching of maths was a ‘particular strength, as demonstrated by the enthusiasm of the pupils’…”It’s not that I’m innumerate–I used to work in a bank and for Customs and Excise–but I find doing the test under time pressure extremely stressful. Knowing that my career is at stake, I become panic-stricken as soon as the questions come up on the screen.

“And why must the test be taken under such conditions? In school, the management and recording of statistical data isn’t done against the clock. I don’t think the test shows anything about one’s ability to teach. It’s just a piece of bureaucratic nonsense”…


(8) Search for New Executive Director for NCTM


The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), located in Reston, Virginia, is conducting a search for an Executive Director. The Executive Director serves as the chief staff officer and reports to the President and Board of Directors. He or she is responsible for executing the policies and strategic plans of the association.

A candidate should be a strong, inspiring leader, with demonstrated administrative knowledge and skills, including but not limited to successful experience with finance and budget, personnel matters, public relations, marketing, computer infrastructure, conferences, publications, organizational change, strategic planning, and the role of volunteers in a professional organization.

For more information, please contact Charles Ingersoll, of Korn/Ferry International, by phone at (202) 955-0947 or e-mail