COMET • Vol. 2, No. 28 – 15 October 2001


(1) “Davis Signs Bills to Boost Education” by Steve Lawrence

Source: Contra Costa Times – 13 October 2001


Legislation to give California’s worst public schools an extra $200 million to try to boost student test scores was signed into law Friday by Gov. Gray Davis.

Davis also approved another education bill that will allocate $80 million a year for four years to train teachers and instructional aides how to meet new state math and reading standards. “We intend on training every teacher so our children can be successful,” said Kerry Mazzoni, Davis’ education secretary…

The school improvement measure, by Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, will allow approximately 500 schools with the worst test scores to qualify for $400 per pupil for three years. The money will be in addition to other state support… Schools in the program will have to develop plans to boost student achievement, attract and retain good teachers and principals, and increase parental involvement…

The teacher training bill, by Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin, D-Duncans Mills, will provide 120 hours of training for 176,000 teachers and 22,000 classroom aides in reading and math instruction.

Davis vetoed a bill by Assembly Speaker Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, that would have extended the instructional materials program another four years, from 2002-03 through the 2005-06 fiscal year. He said providing students with appropriate textbooks and other instructional materials was one of his highest priorities, but that the state couldn’t afford the additional expense.

(2) “Top-gaining Teachers Get Big Payday” by Meredith May

Source: San Francisco Chronicle – 7 October 2991


A select group of California teachers who work in some of the state’s most troubled schools were rewarded yesterday with onetime bonuses of $5,000, $10,000 and $25,000.

One of the flashier and more controversial ideas in Gov. Gray Davis’ education reform plan, the big-time bucks go to every teacher, principal, nurse, counselor, librarian and computer specialist in the struggling schools that posted the best test-score jumps two years in a row on the state’s Stanford 9 test.

In February, the state announced 1,346 schools that were eligible for the cash, then narrowed the list down to the 304 schools…that were posted on the Internet yesterday at

About 7,500 teachers and administrators will receive $5,000 each and 3,750 will receive $10,000. At the schools with the biggest gains, 1,056 employees will receive the maximum bonus of $25,000…

“The program is designed to attract and retain our best teachers and staff where the need is greatest,” said state Education Secretary Kerry Mazzoni…

The Certificated Staff Performance rewards were delayed about six months because the California Department of Education was sued by a group of Sacramento teachers who thought they were unjustly denied the bonuses. The teachers are still appealing a ruling against them.

(3) “Ineligible Schools Got Rewards” by Martha Groves and Doug Smith

Source: Los Angeles Times – 28 September 2001

A scoring error by the publisher of the Stanford 9 achievement test has caused California to send about $750,000 in rewards to six public schools and their teachers, principals and others not eligible for them, state education officials said Thursday.

In addition, 16 schools whose staff members had expected to receive rewards of up to $25,000 each under a separate program have been knocked off the winners list or will receive less than anticipated. All the schools and employees involved are from the Central Valley and were participants in the test administered in 2000…

The scoring mix-up came to light after a Central Valley district contacted Harcourt to report concerns about scores. After reviewing the statewide data, Harcourt realized that it had measured the results of about 19,000 students against the wrong national sample of students. It reported the scores as if the Central Valley students had taken the test in December, rather than the following spring, by which time they had had several additional months of instruction. That error inflated their results…

Besides the money that erroneously went to employees at the six Central Valley schools, the schools themselves mistakenly received funds. Five of the six schools that received cash erroneously are in the Kings Canyon Joint Unified School District, which is based in Reedley, a Fresno County town. The sixth is in Kerman Joint Unified, in the same county. Critics of the accountability program see the foul-up as further evidence that cash rewards for improving test scores are a bad idea…

“Frankly, I’m just as glad that we’re not getting that money,” said Jean Fetterhoff, superintendent of Kings Canyon Joint Unified. “We were seeing some divisiveness as a result [of that program]. If I’m working really hard in a classroom for the right reasons and my kids don’t happen to test very well, but I see a neighbor across the district that is receiving big bucks for what I’m doing, there is a sense of unfairness about that.”

Paul Warren, the state’s deputy superintendent for accountability, said the situation has been “a heartache for all of us.” “We know that teachers have cashed these checks; we know schools are using this money,” he said. “It would be difficult to ask for it back. We’re trying to find a solution that creates as little upset as possible.”


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(1) “Math Educators Tell Publishers What’s Needed” by David J. Hoff

Source: Education Week – 10 October 2001


The next generation of math textbooks should cover fewer topics in more depth, offer teachers the tools to customize lesson plans, and try to reach students of varying ability levels.

Those suggestions came from educators, policymakers, and mathematicians attending a one-day mathematics “summit” here last week, sponsored by the nation’s textbook publishers.

“Please give us greater depth of instruction on fewer topics,” Barbara Montalto, the assistant director of mathematics for the Texas Education Agency, told the publishers. “Give us longer lessons linked together.”

The American Association of Publishers organized the meeting because math education has been one of the most controversial curriculum areas in recent years, noted Stephen D. Driesler, the executive director of the Washington-based association’s school division.

For instance, recent research from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, the most comprehensive international comparison of math education, suggests that American students spend too much time reviewing math topics they’ve already covered in previous grades, leaving little time to explore more sophisticated concepts.

That’s why Ms. Montalto told the textbook publishers that a book shouldn’t review what was taught to students the previous year. “Put it in an appendix or a separate book, only for the students who need it,” she said.

TIMSS researchers also concluded that American schools don’t do a good job teaching students the underlying concepts of mathematics, emphasizing instead repetition of math skills.

Several people at the meeting suggested that math textbooks need to do a better job addressing that situation.

In recent years, advocates of traditional ways of teaching math that emphasize repetitive practice of skills and the mastering of algorithms have succeeded in revising standards in California, Massachusetts, and other states.

Some speakers at last week’s gathering suggested that publishers could walk a fine line between the two approaches.

One idea is that a publisher could produce a series of books outlining central mathematical concepts and principles that could be used for all students. Then a supplemental set of materials could “go beyond the standards” and include “all the fancy algebraic, algorithmic stuff that geeks like me enjoy,” said Joseph G. Rosenstein, a professor of mathematics at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., and the director of the New Jersey Mathematics Coalition.

Publishers also should search for better ways to give teachers the materials they need to design their own curricula, added Mitchell Chester, the assistant superintendent for assessment at the Ohio Department of Education.

Speakers at the meeting said, for instance, that teachers would benefit more from a package of resources produced by the publishers than from just one textbook. Based on test scores and other information they have about their students, teachers should be able to make “decisions of where to go next in the curricula, rather than moving to the next chapter in the textbook,” Mr. Chester said.

Textbook publishers are gathering ideas for how to meet the recommendations offered last week. Most publishers will be revising their math texts over the next two years.

In 2003, California will add titles to its list of textbooks that it allows districts to buy with state money. With the largest market for schoolbooks, the Golden State drives what’s available in the rest of the country…

(2) “National Education Talks Languish in Shadow of War” by Jacques Steinberg

Source: New York Times – 10 October 2001


The governors of 25 states and the chief executives of three dozen Fortune 500 companies were committed to attend the fourth national education summit conference here today. Organizers also received strong and repeated signals from the White House that President Bush would be here, too, just as his predecessors had addressed the education conferences in 1989, 1996, 1999. But ultimately the conference could not compete with the major distractions produced by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the war in Afghanistan. Attendance was sparse, with nine governors sending regrets.

That illustrates how suddenly and dramatically education has been dislodged, however temporarily, as a top priority of the nation’s business and political leadership in the aftermath of the attacks.

By the time the conference began this afternoon, the no-shows included the president, who never officially accepted the invitation; the president’s brother Jeb, the governor of Florida; Gov. Gray Davis of California; and Gov. George Ryan of Illinois. Ten of the corporate leaders canceled as well, including Stephen M. Case, the chairman of AOL Time Warner; C. Michael Armstrong, the chairman of AT&T; and William Harrison Jr., the president and chief executive of J. P. Morgan Chase.

Indeed, at the request of those leaders who did show up, the conference will conclude earlier than scheduled on Wednesday so the participants can board a ferry and travel 30 miles south to tour the remains of the World Trade Center.

“Will this agenda, in the short term, have a harder time fighting for room in the country’s psyche?” Louis V. Gerstner Jr., the chairman and chief executive of I.B.M., asked in an interview. “Of course. So will every other agenda.”

But Mr. Gerstner, who had insisted that the show go on here at an I.B.M. corporate training center, said he was optimistic that efforts to overhaul the nation’s education system would soon return to the front burner.

“There’s an obvious and understandable preoccupation right now with winning the war,” said Mr. Gerstner, who with Gov. John Engler of Michigan is chairman of the nonprofit organization that formally convened the meeting. “Yet most of us still have to go to work every day. And children are still going to school.”

To that end, much of the discussion here centered on setting the next goals for a movement that, in recent years, succeeded in pressing nearly every state to write new standards for what students should know and new tests to assess whether they were learning that material.

Of critical importance, the participants agreed, was seeking to narrow the gap between the performances of white and minority students — a disparity that has not only persisted for decades, but, by some measures, has also widened in recent years.

Gov. Gary Locke of Washington — who was joined here by Governors George E. Pataki of New York and Roy Barnes of Georgia, among others — said that the improvements he and other political officials had helped engineer risked being lost if minority students continued to be left behind.

“We’re not helping certain groups attain the standards we think are important,” Mr. Locke told the gathering, which included Phil Condit, the chairman of Boeing; Rod Paige, the secretary of education; and the presidents of the two national teachers unions.

While divisive issues like vouchers were left off the conference’s agenda, the governors and state education superintendents expressed unease about another matter: the impact of the president’s education bill, which is being discussed this month by House and Senate conferees and is expected to be taken up by the full Congress before its November break.

One provision of the bill on which Republicans and Democrats agree is that all students should be tested in grades three through eight in reading and mathematics. But because few states test students in even half those grades, the new requirement is expected to impose an enormous financial burden on the states, one that they will have to bear almost entirely on their own.

In Rhode Island, implementing the president’s plan would cost an additional $4 million in the first two years, just to develop the new tests, said Peter McWalters, the state commissioner of education.

“I’m not against testing every kid every year,” Mr. McWalters said. “But this is tragic. It’s going to divert money from early childhood reading programs.”

The participants also raised concerns about a proposal that Mr. Gerstner, in particular, was pushing to increase teachers’ salaries sharply. While no one disputed the nobility of the suggestion, many of the participants wondered where the money could be found at a time when the economy was shrinking, as were their budgets. Mr. Gerstner had little advice he could offer, other than the time-worn suggestion that administrators pare their bureaucracies.

Indeed, for all the constructive conversation, much of it seemed far- removed from the complex realities of principals and teachers, few of whom were invited to participate in the conversations here.

“Everything that’s being said is right on target,” said Troy Simmons, a school board member in Longview, Tex., who was part of the Texas delegation. “But no matter what they say at this summit, the responsibility for doing it falls on the local people.”

(3) “Education Summit Tests Reform” by Michael A. Fletcher

Source: Washington Post – 11 October 2001


A national education summit ended today with governors and education and business leaders promising to use standardized testing results not just to rank students or embarrass under-achieving schools, but to diagnose problems in order to allocate resources to improve achievement. The statement ending the two-day summit also urged governors to create more incentives to attract the best teachers to the worst schools.

Summit participants credit their work with helping to create a national consensus around education reform through setting high standards and testing. Now, participants hope to take the next step by tackling the more difficult question of raising achievement in schools that perform poorly.

Many of the principles in the agreement forged by the 15 governors and dozens of education and business leaders here parallel President Bush’s education reform plan. After passing the House and Senate by wide margins last spring, the plan is now moving slowly through a conference committee.

Both the House and Senate bills call for annual testing of all students in grades 3 through 8, and for both students and teachers to be held accountable for the results. Students at schools found to be making poor progress would be allowed to use federal money to purchase private tutoring services. If the poor performance persisted, schools would be shut down and reopened with new staff or as charter schools.

Progress of the bills in Congress has slowed in part because of concerns over the cost of developing and administering new tests and the method of defining a failing school. Governors here said they share those concerns and also want to have significant flexibility in implementing the plan. There is also little consensus on exactly what can be done on a systematic basis to improve failing schools once they are identified.

“We are the ones who are going to have to administer this law,” said Washington Gov. Gary Locke (D). “What might work for a few states might not work in many others.”

In recent years, the practice of setting educational standards, implementing widespread testing and holding students accountable for the results has moved from the fringe of the national educational debate to one now accepted as a central tenet of reform.

“In 1996, only about a dozen states had developed standards in core subjects,” said Michigan Gov. John Engler (R), co-chairman of the summit. “Today, 49 states have. What’s more, the standards are higher today than they were back in 1996.”

But teachers themselves seem to be losing confidence in the way the nation’s latest education reform effort is being carried out. A poll by the American Federation of Teachers found that just 55 percent of its members support “standards-based reform” — a decrease from 73 percent in 1999.

Sandra Feldman, president of the AFT, said the eroding support has a lot to do with teachers’ sense that they are not getting the resources they need to play their part in school reform. In addition, Feldman said, they believe that students are being tested too frequently and that the test results are being used not to inform educators, but to punish them. “If the teachers become disillusioned, we’ll never be able to carry out this agenda,” she said.

(4) “Bush Lobbies For Education Bill’s Passage” by Michael A. Fletcher

Source: Washington Post – 13 October 2001


President Bush yesterday personally urged leaders of a congressional conference committee to complete work on his education reform plan, saying the legislation is vital not only to the nation’s schools but also to demonstrate that his domestic agenda will not be halted by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Bush summoned Sens. Judd Gregg (R-N.H) and Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), and Reps. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and George Miller (D-Calif.), to the Oval Office for a 25-minute meeting where he implored them to pass the education reform measure, his top domestic priority.

“The president reiterated his desire that we complete this bill this year and we reaffirmed our commitment to getting it done,” said Boehner, who heads the conference committee. “He said it is important to do this to show the country is still dealing with issues that matter in everyday life”…

In their meeting with Bush, leaders of the conference committee–the chairman and ranking members of the education committees in both chambers–said they have been making progress on small issues and expect the other matters to be settled in the coming weeks…

The education conferees have met only once as a group since Congress returned after Labor Day and another meeting is scheduled for next week. But rather than deal with the most divisive issues, Boehner said lawmakers will use the meeting to clear other issues in the bill, including teacher training, school safety and technology provisions.

House and Senate negotiators have already agreed to a Bush initiative to boost spending on early childhood literacy. Also, the House this week passed appropriations for next year that would boost education spending by $4 billion–far less than the Senate was looking for, but more than was included in Bush’s original plan.

“Everybody would like to have a bill,” Boehner said. “This is a major overhaul of federal education policy. It is very important that we do it right. We are not going to rush into it.”


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