COMET • Vol. 2, No. 32 – 13 November 2001


(1) “Study Your Math–With a Mouse” by Jen Sansbury

Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution – 10 November 2001


…Third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students at DeKalb County’s Clifton and Laurel Ridge elementary schools are about to become the first in the country with the freedom to leave their McGraw-Hill Mathematics books at school. As long as they have an Internet connection at home, they’ll be able to log on to the McGraw-Hill Learning Network to use the recently launched interactive “e-textbook” versions.

“This is brand new. We look into our crystal ball, and this is what we see,” said Joseph Berman, vice president of technology for the McGraw-Hill School Division…

McGraw-Hill and its sister company Glencoe, which produces middle and high school books, have recently begun putting some math and science texts on the Web. Berman expects a few districts in other states to try out the elementary math books soon, but none are as far along as DeKalb. DeKalb’s pilot program may begin as early as next week.

The Learning Network site gives access to an electronic version of entire math books, not just supplementary materials that have previously been available on the Web or CD-ROM. Even the page numbers correspond. But it goes beyond duplicating the books by also providing links to demonstrations, additional practice activities, games, short movies and other Web sites…

All major textbook publishers are digitizing their materials, but McGraw-Hill has been “leading the parade,” said Stephen Driesler, executive director for the school division of the Association of American Publishers in Washington.

“I don’t think it’s going to be the norm, but it will certainly be a much larger part of the delivery of content,” Driesler said. “Even at the college and high school level, it’s in its early developmental stage.”

One of the drawbacks is that many students — including some in Clifton’s technology magnet program — do not have Internet access at home. So teachers will have to make sure those students can use their regular books to complete assignments or have extra time on the computers at school…

Clifton teachers were positively giddy when they got their first peek at the McGraw-Hill Web book this week.  “Dig this! Manipulatives!” Patrick Edmondson, who teaches gifted students, said when he found an activity he can print out and incorporate into lessons. Carter likes the online book’s graphics. Instead of looking at a line graph and a description of how to make it, for example, students will be able to click through an animated pop-up box….

A significant benefit cited by both children and adults is that the books can stay put, reducing loss and alleviating the burden of carrying them home…

Industry representatives and educators alike say the online books should not take the place of either a regular textbook or good instruction from teachers and parents…

(2) “State Finds a Math Model” by Kevin Lynch

Source: Chicago Tribune – 9 November 2001


Naperville’s successful middle school mathematics program was showcased Thursday at a summit aimed at improving math education in Illinois.

Limiting the range of advanced math topics taught but exploring each one more fully was one secret for success, said administrators at Naperville Unit School District 203.

“We used to have 8th-grade teachers cover not only the basics of algebra, but more advanced concepts like quadratic equations and systems of equations,” said Tim Wierenga, a Naperville math instruction coordinator.

“When the high school teachers got those 8th graders, they said, `These kids didn’t learn it.’ … You actually end up covering fewer topics in the end because you’re re-teaching 30 to 40 percent of the time.”

Speakers from the district, along with representatives from Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire and Bloomington Elementary School, offered the crowd of about 140 teachers, administrators and state education officials their insights into how the schools have managed to do well in math education.

Naperville administrators began retooling the district’s math program in 1996, emphasizing more real-world applications of algebra fundamentals before advancing to the higher concepts, said Mary Ann Krueger, a district project manager.

“When you try to do every mathematical topic every year, you don’t have the time for in-depth teaching,” Krueger said. “Students need to work with concrete objects to construct meaning out of these abstract lessons. That takes time”…

(3) “World Class Tests for Bright Pupils” by Will Woodward

Source:  The Guardian (UK) – 8 November 2001


New world class tests for bright nine and 13-year-olds, launched yesterday, will allow comparisons between the performance of English children and those in other countries.

The tests in maths and problem solving are being taken by children in England, the US, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Australia. About half of the first 1,000 to take them this year will come from England.

“We want to judge children not just on the performance of the best in this country but on the performance of the best in the world,” Estelle Morris, the education secretary, said.

In time up to 10% of all children in this country are expected to take them. Results will be monitored and compared internationally.

Ms Morris said the exams were pitched at those age groups but could be taken by children whenever they were ready. The government was moving away from “the old arguments about selective and comprehensive schools to a modern education system that has a tailored programme for every single child”…

The tests have two exams each, one written paper and one taken online. The exams are 60 minutes each for nine-year- olds and 75 minutes each for 13-year-olds. Those who pass will achieve pass, merit or distinction, the latter mark at the top 1-2% of the age group.

The qualifications and curriculum authority is looking at producing new tests for other areas such as literacy.

Parents can obtain more information from …

(4) “Trouble With Numbers”

Source:  BBC News (UK) -27 October 2001


…It is estimated that dyscalculia–difficulty with numbers–afflicts between 3% and 6% of the population, based on the proportion of children who have special difficulty with maths despite good performance in other subjects.

Often it is associated with dyslexia–word difficulty–but experts say the practical effects are even worse: Inability to work out change in a shop, tell the time, or even find your way around.

Dyslexia is a difference in the parts of the brain that process language. As well as problems with reading, spelling and numeracy, dyslexic people may also have organisational and short-term memory difficulties.

The chief executive of the Dyslexia Institute, Shirley Cramer, said: “For many dyslexic people the difficulties which affect their reading and spelling also cause problems with mathematics.”  The two overlap because maths involves symbols as well as numbers. For someone who has trouble distinguishing letters, a + sign might be confused with x, for example…

And the memory shortcoming associated with dyslexia obviously caused problems with mental arithmetic…

“Even if children learn their times tables they cannot sequence backwards and forwards…so if you ask them what six times four is, then ask them what five times four is they will have to start again counting through…

Research being done at University College, London, suggests there is a genetic basis for the problem. In other words, “I wouldn’t expect my daughter to be any good at maths because I wasn’t any good” might not be just a matter of poor parental attitude.

The work, by Professor Brian Butterworth, has shown that dyscalculic children are troubled by even the simplest numerical tasks such as selecting the larger of two numbers or counting the number of objects in a display. These findings are being used to devise a new test for diagnosing dyscalculia at an early age.

This coming week, members of the British Dyslexia Association are campaigning for greater awareness of the issues involved. One thing they want is for the colleges that train teachers to teach them more about identifying learners’ difficulties and knowing how to help them. “We want teachers going into the classroom, meeting these children for the first time, to be able to identify typical signs. That’s not as good as it should be,” Bernadette McLean said.

(5) “Quantitative Literacy” by Lynn Arthur Steen

Source:  Education Week – 9 September 2001


Our world is awash in numbers. Headlines report the latest interest-rate cuts by the Federal Reserve, hikes or drops in gasoline prices, trends in student test scores, results of local and national elections, risks of dying from colon cancer, this season’s baseball statistics, and numbers of refugees from the latest ethnic war.

Quantitative thinking abounds, not only in the news but also in the workplace, in education, and in nearly every field of human endeavor. Anyone who wishes can obtain data about the risks of medications, per-student expenditures in local school districts, projections for the federal budget surplus, and an almost endless array of other concerns.

If put to good use, this unprecedented access to numerical information will place more power in the hands of individuals and serve as a stimulus to democratic discourse and civic decision-making. Without understanding, however, access to this information can mystify rather than enlighten the public. If individuals lack the ability to think numerically, they cannot participate fully in civic life, thereby bringing into question the very basis of government “of, by, and for the people.”

Considering the deluge of numbers and their importance in so many aspects of life, one would think that schools would focus as much on numeracy as on literacy, on equipping students to deal intelligently with quantitative as well as verbal information.

Yet, despite years of study and life experience in an environment immersed in quantitative data, many educated adults remain functionally innumerate. Businesses lament the lack of technical and quantitative skills among prospective employees, and virtually every college finds that many of its students need remedial help in mathematics. Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show that the average mathematics performance of 17- year-old students is in the lower half of the “basic” range and well below “proficient.” Moreover, despite slight growth in recent years, average scores of Hispanic students and African-American students are near the bottom of the “basic” range.

Common responses to this well-known problem are either to demand more years of high school mathematics or more rigorous standards for graduation. But even individuals who have studied calculus often remain largely ignorant of common abuses of data, and all too often find themselves unable to comprehend (much less to articulate) the nuances of quantitative inferences. As it turns out, it is not calculus but numeracy that is the key to understanding our data-drenched society.

The expectation that ordinary citizens be quantitatively literate is primarily a phenomenon of the late 20th century. Its absence from the schools is a symptom of rapid changes in the quantification of society. As the printing press made literacy a societal imperative, the computer has made numeracy an essential goal of education. Yet practice in our nation’s schools and colleges does not reflect that goal. We need, therefore, to broaden our national conversation about education to include careful attention to numeracy.

This conversation must be carried forward first and foremost in school and college settings. If asked, faculty members and administrators at most schools and colleges today probably would say that they intend to produce quantitatively capable graduates. But the typical response, a more intense focus on a traditional mathematics curriculum, will not necessarily lead to increased competency with quantitative data.

This conclusion follows from the simple recognition that numeracy is not the same as mathematics, nor is it an alternative to mathematics. Today’s students need both mathematics and numeracy. Whereas mathematics asks students to rise above context, quantitative literacy is anchored in real data that reflect engagement with life’s diverse contexts and situations.

The case for numeracy in schools is not a call for more mathematics, nor even for more applied (or applicable) mathematics. It is a call for a different and more meaningful pedagogy across the entire curriculum. In life, numbers are everywhere, and the responsibility for fostering quantitative literacy should be spread broadly across the curriculum. Quantitative thought must be regarded as much more than an affair of the mathematics classroom alone.

Quantitatively literate citizens need to know more than formulas and equations. They need to understand the meaning of numbers, to see the benefits (and risks) of thinking quantitatively about commonplace issues, and to approach complex problems with confidence in the value of careful reasoning. Quantitative literacy empowers people by giving them tools to think for themselves, to ask intelligent questions of experts, and to confront authority confidently. These are the skills required to thrive in the modern world.

[Lynn Arthur Steen is a professor of mathematics at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., and led the team of scholars and educators that produced the book Mathematics and Democracy: The Case for Quantitative Literacy. The book was the work of the National Council on Education and the Disciplines, an education reform initiative centered at the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation in Princeton, N.J.]

(6) “Team Profiles: A Look at the Top Officials Charged With Carrying Out Bush Ed. Plan”

Source:  Education Week – 19 September 2001


= [Reported by Erik W. Robelen] …Susan B. Neuman, 54, the new assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, is nationally known as a researcher on early-childhood and literacy education.

She may well have the toughest job at the Department of Education, assuming Congress completes work this fall on legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Her office will take the lead in implementing the retooled ESEA, which is expected to impose a whole new set of requirements on states and districts to increase testing and improve student achievement.

To join the department, Ms. Neuman left her post as an education professor and director of the Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor…Her recent research includes a study showing that children in poor neighborhoods have much less access to books, magazines, and newspapers than do middle-class children…

Asked what she sees as her mission, Ms. Neuman replied: “It’s very focused. I want to close the achievement gap.” She says she wants her office to be viewed as a place to help states and districts reach that goal. “We need to provide in this office a spirit of help,” she said, “where we are not seen as the compliance monitors, but as the technical assistants.”

= [Reported by Debra Viadero] Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, the new assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, …[is] a national expert on how young children–especially poor children–learn to read…

“Having somebody who is there presumably with a mandate to do good research and a taste for good research symbolizes to the field that things will change,” said Thomas K. Glennan Jr., who headed a previous incarnation of Mr. Whitehurst’s office and is now a senior adviser for education policy in the Washington office of the RAND Corp.

Mr. Whitehurst, 56, earned his doctorate in child psychology at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. He was the lead professor and the chairman of the psychology department at the State University of New York at Stony Brook when the Bush administration tapped him for the research post. Now, Mr. Whitehurst’s wife, Janet E. Fischel, an associate professor of pediatrics at SUNY, will have to carry on the studies the couple once undertook together…

= [Reported by Lisa Fine] Robert Pasternack, 53, confirmed by the Senate in July as the Department of Education’s assistant secretary for special education and rehabilitative services, says that…he wants to give students with disabilities the best tool possible to amount to something: a good education…

In his Education Department job, Mr. Pasternack will direct the enforcement of federal special education laws and regulations. He will also help shape the Bush administration’s priorities for the coming reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the main federal special education law…

While he was New Mexico’s special education chief, a job he assumed in 1998, the state crafted an alternative assessment for students with disabilities and helped improve early-intervention services for young children.

One of his goals is to make sure that no student with a disability is left behind in President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” plan, which calls for annual testing of students in grades 3-8. “Testing is critically important to measure the impact of the instruction,” Mr. Pasternack said. “For too long, we’ve left those kids out. The time has come to make sure we have good assessments.”

= [ Written by Mark Walsh]  …Gerald A. Reynolds, President Bush’s choice to be the Department of Education’s assistant secretary for civil rights,…left Washington three years ago to become a lawyer for Kansas City Power & Light. He is now on leave from that job as he awaits formal nomination to the politically sensitive OCR position and then a confirmation hearing, expected sometime this fall before the Senate education committee.

He has already drawn fire from liberal groups for his views against racial preferences. Mr. Reynolds, who has worked for two Washington policy organizations that have questioned affirmative action, has written that government racial preferences discourage rather than promote minority achievement….

= [Written by Erik W. Robelen] …Becky Campoverde…left Congress in 1986 to work in the office she now runs. From then until 1993, she served in a variety of capacities at the department, ultimately becoming deputy chief of staff to Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander during the first Bush administration.

After moving into consulting work, she returned to Congress in 1998 to work for the Education and the Workforce Committee.

She describes the assistant secretary’s job as involving “anything and everything that has to do with Congress,” from lobbying for the department’s legislative agenda to dealing with requests from members of Congress. She also is the principal adviser to Secretary Rod Paige on legislative matters.

= [Written by Lisa Fine] …Laurie Rich, 47, has been tapped by President Bush to help the Department of Education coordinate its work with regional, state, and local education agencies in drawing up and rolling out policies for schools. She was confirmed by the Senate on July 19 to be the department’s assistant secretary for intergovernmental and interagency affairs.

As the revised Elementary and Secondary Education Act is finally adopted and begins to take effect sometime in the coming months–two varying forms of the measure are pending before a House-Senate conference committee–Ms. Rich will be on the front lines for the department. Her job will be to respond to what undoubtedly will be myriad state and local concerns about the law, including how to implement an expected mandate for annual testing that is the linchpin of Mr. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” plan…

Her former colleagues say she’s the perfect woman for the job because of her knack for building coalitions and reaching consensus on issues.

“She has the ability to move quickly and push the staff to accomplish goals,” said Ed Perez, the acting executive director of the Texas state office in Washington. “She’s one of those ‘Let’s make it happen’ kinds of people”…

Ms. Rich says she’ll try to help teachers and local educators see how federal policy can directly affect their lives for the better.

“As a teacher, my strongest recollection was the fear of ‘Will I know what I am doing?'” Ms. Rich said. ” ‘No Child Left Behind’ gives a lot of structure for teachers. The accountability piece is not just for students, it’s for teachers.”

= [Written by John Gehring]  For Carol D’Amico, the recently confirmed assistant secretary for vocational and adult education, one of the challenges of managing federal vocational programs will be spreading the message about why they matter at all.

“There is not a good understanding of what career and technical education is and how it fits into creating higher standards,” Ms. D’Amico said….

Sworn into her new job July 31, Ms. D’Amico, 49, will oversee a wide array of vocational and adult education programs, including school-to-work efforts, tech-prep initiatives, and adult literacy…

“She will bring a genuine sort of yen for reform,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., a former assistant secretary of education under President Reagan who worked with Ms. D’Amico at the Hudson Institute and now heads the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation in Washington…