COMET • Vol. 2, No. 37 – 17 December 2001


“X + Y = Crisis: Many Kids Flailing in Mandatory Algebra Classes” by Elizabeth Bell

Source:  San Francisco Chronicle – 14 December 2001


…Algebra used to be a college prep class, but last year California made it a requirement of earning a high school diploma beginning with the class of 2004. So… students throughout the state are being pushed into Algebra I in the eighth or ninth grade regardless of their math skills.

While some hope that holding students and teachers to a higher standard will motivate them, others believe that students and teachers haven’t had time to prepare.

And California could wind up denying diplomas to students aiming for vocational careers rather than college…

Texas headed down this road in the mid-1990s, adding algebra as a graduation requirement and instituting a high school exit exam with algebra questions. Pass rates on the math section of the exit exam went from 57 percent in 1994 to 89 percent last year.

Yet critics say Texas’ pass rates do not reflect the students who have dropped out because they failed the exit exam. Researchers argue that the drop-out rate has dramatically risen in Texas, yet reliable data is hard to find. Texas’ official drop-out statistics don’t include those who leave school because they can’t pass the exit exam.

In California, today’s sophomores will make up the first class to have to pass Algebra I and the high school exit exam — with 24 of 60 math questions based on algebra — to graduate. However, the first round of testing last spring showed that most…have a way to go. Among ninth-graders, 56 percent failed the math portion of the test.

Math educators believe that pushing students into higher math without improving teaching techniques won’t work. Quality math instruction begins with quality math teachers, they say, but most districts report there aren’t enough to go around.

Because of the shortage, more than 2,000 middle and high school teachers are given emergency math credentials each year because they haven’t the background required to teach math.

The state has begun a variety of recruitment efforts for qualified math teachers in recent years, including offering to pay as much as $11,000 on student loans. California has begun a training push for current math teachers, setting up institutes through public and private colleges. The institutes have served 4,773 teachers so far…



(1) “NSTA Legislative Alert: Update on Funding for the Math and Science Partnerships”

Source: National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Legislative Affairs



…The Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations conference committee originally scheduled for Dec. 12 was postponed and is now scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 18There is still time to call and fax your Members of Congress about full funding for the Math and Science Partnerships. [Names, phone, and fax numbers are available at the Web site above.]

…As reported in the Dec. 12 NSTA Legislative Alert, appropriations for the new Math and Science Partnerships for FY 2002 are in trouble. [On] Tuesday, the Appropriations Committee will be meeting to finalize the funding levels for education programs (in H.R. 3061), including funding for the Math and Science Partnerships program. NSTA and others have been calling for appropriators to fully fund the Math and Science Partnerships at $450 million for FY 2002, the amount authorized in H.R. 1. These programs will be replacing the Eisenhower professional development state grants program, which last year received approximately $435 million in funding.

However, there is confusion about the appropriations for Title II, and many in Congress are dissuading appropriators from using funding in Title II Part A (teacher quality programs) for Title II Part B, the Math and Science partnerships. Title II Part A is targeted to receive over $3.1 billion in appropriations, and the math and science portion of that is supposed to be $450 million.

Therefore, it is quite possible that the math and science partnerships will receive less than $25 million FOR THE TOTAL PROGRAM in FY 2002, resulting in an unprecedented drop in funding for science and math education professional development and reform efforts.

Listed [on the Web site] are members of the HR 3061 Appropriations Conference Committee. There is still time today…Tuesday…to call or fax these members of Congress with the message below. Please call (ask to speak to the education aide or the legislative director) or fax a letter, urge your colleagues to do the same, and circulate this message to as many readers as possible. We need to keep the pressure on so that as many members of Congress hear our message.

The message:

I am deeply concerned about math and science education in our state. I understand that Congress is now considering education appropriations, and that funding for the new Math and Science Partnerships is in jeopardy. I ask that that you quickly act to fully fund the Math and Science Partnerships at $450 million. We urge you to use part of the funding provided to Title II Part A for the Math and Science Partnerships under Title II, Part B. We need these dedicated funds for ongoing professional development and to continue the reform efforts in science and math education. At the very least, science and math education should be provided with the same amount that was guaranteed for years under the Eisenhower professional development program; therefore we ask that the Partnerships receive $450 million in funding for FY 2002 appropriations.

Also listed below…is the NSTA/NCTM/Triangle letter sent to appropriators, and an article that ran in [last week’s] issue of Congress Daily, which further explains this situation. Our friends in the business community, through the Business Coalition for Excellence in Education, the Business Roundtable, and the National Alliance for Business, have become vocal supporters of full funding for these math and science partnerships, and they are working very hard to ensure that this happens. Please lend your voice to this debate and call your Member of Congress today.

Congress Daily article:

“Techies Perplexed by Planned Cuts in Math, Science Training” by Bara Vaida

As the House passed a sweeping education reform bill Thursday by a 381-41 vote, several high-tech and business lobbyists expressed disappointment that lawmakers were moving toward a compromise on a companion spending bill that would cut funding in math and science teacher-training programs, National Journal‘s Technology Daily reported.

Despite the fact that the compromise version of the education reauthorization bill calls for an increase in such funding, negotiators for the bill to fund the Education Department and other departments in FY02 have proposed less funding for math and science programs. The spending measure would provide only $12.5 million, compared to the $450 million authorized in H.R. 1, according to business industry sources…

According to sources, appropriators working on a final bill have ignored the House and Senate versions of H.R. 3061, which allocate a portion of teacher-quality money to math and science training.

In the House version, teacher training and class-size reduction programs would be consolidated under a nearly $3.2 billion state grant, of which 15-20 percent would have to be allocated for teacher training in math and science. The Senate version also would consolidate those programs into a $3.04 billion grant, and it recommends that $25 million target teacher training in math and science.

According to sources, negotiators have agreed to a teacher-training grant of $3.1 billion but would provide only $12.5 million toward math and science.

“The real tragedy is that this reflects a lack of commitment to math and science achievement,” said Thom Stohler, vice president of AeA, an electronics trade association. “Our students are scoring poorly on international and national tests in math and science. Yet, in the biggest overhaul of education reform in 30 years, Congress can’t find the resources to devote to math and science. This hurts American students and our future economic growth. It makes no sense.” —


Letter to appropriators from NSTA, NCTM, Triangle Coalition

Dear Senator xxxx:

As you work to finish H.R. 3061, we urge you to provide $450 million for the Math and Science Partnerships program under Title II, Part B of H.R. 1, The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Both the House and Senate LHHS bills based on H.R 1 that were adopted include almost $3.2 billion for Title II teacher quality programs. In the Senate version, $25 million was also appropriated for the Math and Science Partnerships under Title II, Part B (since the partnership program is authorized as a separate program in the Senate H. R. 1). The partnership program in the House H. R. 1 is based on formula, with a percentage going to Math/Science Partnership competitive grants. The LHHS bill adopted by the House includes language that says “States must also award between 15 and 20 percent of [Title II] funds on a competitive basis to eligible partnerships for math and science programs.”

Reports indicate, however, that H.R. 3061 appropriators may be funding these new partnerships only at $12.5 million, the mark between $25 million (S) and zero (H). Instead, we urge you to earmark funds from Title II, Part A, for Title II, Part B, and fully fund the Math and Science Partnerships at $450 million.

The need for a sustained commitment to math and science education has never been greater. A report issued last winter by the Commission on National Security for the 21st Century says “the inadequacies of our systems of research and [science and mathematics] education pose a greater threat to U.S. national security over the next quarter century than any potential conventional war that we might imagine. American national leadership must understand these deficiencies as threats to national security. If we do not invest heavily and wisely in rebuilding these two core strengths, America will be incapable of maintaining its global position long into the 21st century.”

Student scores from TIMSS and the NAEP clearly demonstrate that science and math education need help. Today practically every district is facing a teacher shortage in mathematics and the sciences. And the recent debate in Congress over raising the cap on H-1B visas points to the great need for increased proficiency in science and math.

Providing only $12.5 million for dedicated funding for science and math education is not the answer. We need to fully fund the Math and Science Partnerships at $450 million so we can work together for the reforms needed in science and math education.


Gerald Wheeler, Executive Director

National Science Teachers Association

James M. Rubillo, Executive Director

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

J. Patrick White, Executive Director

Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education

(2) “Will No Child be Left Behind?  Education Act Update Aims to Put in Tough New Standards”

Source:  USA Today – 17 December 2001


Sponsors say it represents the most far-reaching reform of the nation’s public education system in three decades. It took nearly a year of hard negotiation and painful compromise to craft. But even the chief architects of the ”No Child Left Behind Act” that President Bush will sign into law this week say it’s just a first step.

”This is the beginning of the process of reforming American education,” says Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House education committee.

The bill that the House passed last week, 381-44, is expected to win similar Senate passage on Tuesday. It is the latest rewrite of the 1965 federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. And it reflects bipartisan frustration.

Despite more than three decades of efforts to narrow the so-called ”achievement gap,” disadvantaged students — the poor, minorities and those for whom English is a second language — continue to lag behind their peers. Studies have shown that America’s schools are not preparing students to work in a high-tech, global economy. Since 1983, more than 10 million students have graduated high school without basic reading skills.

In an effort to change that, the education legislation will require states to establish tough new academic standards and test students to make sure they are meeting them. States also must set standards for teaching and provide professional development programs for teachers and their aides. The goal: to have a ”highly qualified” teacher in every classroom within four years.

Schools that don’t make the grade will face the loss of federal funds — and a loss of students. Though the bill does not include the private-school vouchers that many Republicans wanted, parents of low-income children in poor-performing schools will be able to send them to other public schools and get federal funds for private tutoring…


[For more information, go to   For updates and a link to the Conference Report to accompany H.R. 1, go to]

(3) “Long Road to Reform” by David S. Broder

Source:  Washington Post – 17 December 2001


…Called the “No Child Left Behind Act,” paying homage to Bush’s campaign slogan, the measure, along with its accompanying appropriation, would significantly boost federal school dollars. It would also target money to poor students and to struggling schools more directly than ever before. It would require them to track performance by giving students annual tests from third through eighth grade. To hold educators accountable, test results would be tracked from year to year and reported to parents. The results would also be broken down by race, gender and other criteria to let authorities know if any small group of students was failing.

States would set their own performance standards, but they would also be assessed in biennial national exams. By 2005, they would be required to show that every classroom teacher was fully qualified. They would have to show within 12 years that every student either meets state standards or is receiving extra help. The bill would also create a program aimed at ensuring that every third-grader in America can read well.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act, for 35 years the giant of federal school programs, was due for renewal in 1999 but fell victim to pre-election posturing and bitter partisanship in the last Congress. Bush, who had made school reform a signal cause as governor of Texas, breathed new life into the effort by putting more emphasis on education in his campaign than any previous Republican presidential candidate had done….

[This article goes into great detail about the history of Bush’s education bill, including the efforts of a number of legislators.] The bill that had begun as a 20-page White House staff outline…had become a 1,200-page piece of legislation.

It took four months more for conferees to finally reach agreement, but ultimate success came because, as one White House official said: “[Massachusetts’ Edward] Kennedy and [California’s George] Miller changed the direction of the Democratic Party, and Bush changed the direction of the Republican Party. That it all happened in one year is remarkable.”

(4)  “The Bush Education Plan: A Test of Will” by Andrew Goldstein

SourceTime – 14 December 2001


…There is little doubt that the new law will force thousands of schools and hundreds of thousands of teachers to change what they do. But will such changes actually help more children learn? The answer depends largely on what happens next.

The heart of the bill is Bush’s testing and accountability regime, which will force the 35 states that don’t currently test students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 to do so, and will sanction schools whose students repeatedly fail to improve their scores. Schools will respond by re-designing their curricula to prepare for these tests. The key to the success of the “revolution” is how they go about doing so.

Will failing schools, in search of a quick fix, rely on outside test-prep companies or repetitive drilling sessions? Will they de-emphasize (or even eliminate) subjects that aren’t tested like history and art? Or will the tests inspire genuine institutional change? The answers depend in large part on two factors that are not covered by the legislation: the quality of the tests themselves and what, precisely, it means for a student to pass.

Good tests–ones that probe true learning and not last-minute cramming–are expensive. Michigan, Maryland and a few other states are using such well-regarded tests now, but these can cost upwards of $25 a pupil. Full implementation of the Bush plan, with high-quality tests in all 50 states, could cost up to $7 billion. The current legislation earmarks $370 million for this purpose next year.

And unlike some earlier versions, the compromise bill does not punish states if their tests do not meet national standards, so states have little incentive to foot any of the bill on their own. Says Andrew Rotherham, whose policy paper for the Progressive Policy Institute provided the basis for much of the bill, “It’s crucial for states to do testing the right way, but it’s up to Congress and the Bush administration to pay for it.”

The bill also gives states the crucial task of defining “proficiency”: what score do students need to pass the tests? If the bar is set too low, the legislation will be meaningless. But there’s also a risk in demanding too much. Warns Dan Koretz, a Harvard education professor who specializes in high-stakes assessments: “If the bar is set too high, it becomes impossible to meet by legitimate ends. There will be enormous pressure to take short cuts. You’ll see a dangerous over-emphasis on test preparation and cheating.”

Koretz also points out that states with high-stakes tests often tout huge improvement in scores that in truth are illusory — more often the product of test-specific preparation than genuine learning. Regarding the massive expansion of testing mandated by the education bill, Koretz says, “The evidence to date suggests this is not going to work as advertised.”

The politicians who worked so hard to pass this bill argue otherwise. But if they truly are serious about revolutionizing public education in America, they must realize that the real work — figuring how to use testing as a successful educational catalyst — is just beginning.

 (5) “Panel Defines ‘Science’ of Education Research” by Debra Viadero

Source:  Education Week – 12 December 2001


When it comes to guiding principles, research in education is not all that different from research in the natural or social sciences, a panel of prominent researchers concludes in a new report.

Produced by a committee of the National Research Council, the report was put together partly in response to debates taking place among researchers and policymakers on the meaning of “scientifically based” research in education, a field often criticized for the uneven quality of its studies.

Some experts argue that the “gold standard” for education research should be strictly controlled, random-assignment studies. Others suggest that the methods of inquiry in the field can rightly be considerably broader, encompassing everything from classical experiments to well-written novels.

In its report, which was released last week, the 16-member panel favors neither the strictest nor the broadest position. Rather, it argues that studies in education, like studies in biology, physics, anthropology, and other areas, should pose significant questions, link to relevant theory, and use research tools that are appropriate for answering those questions.

Researchers should also systematically rule out counter-explanations, replicate their findings, and put their work and their data out to be scrutinized by their colleagues and the public, the report says.

“It’s not overly shocking, but it certainly sends the signal that anything doesn’t go,” Richard J. Shavelson, the Stanford University education professor who chaired the panel, said of the stance the group takes.

While education researchers should do more randomized experiments, Mr. Shavelson said, the methodology might not be appropriate, for example, for studying the impact of teacher salaries on student achievement or for tracing young children’s language development. At the same time, the report notes, some popular forms of education studies, such as “portraiture,” a method in which the researcher and subject collaborate in writing literary-style portraits, are not science…

Convened a year ago, the panel met monthly in order to finish before Congress took up legislation to reauthorize the primary federal research office for education, the Department of Education’s Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI). As part of that process, some federal lawmakers last year took at stab at writing into law a definition of scientific education research–an attempt that many education researchers criticized as being too restrictive.

“We certainly hope that our report makes it unnecessary for federal legislators to say what they think science research is,” Mr. Shavelson said.

The report is also timely because President Bush and members of his administration have expressed a keen interest in promoting “scientifically based research” in education.

To encourage the kind of “scientific culture” in the OERI that might foster rigorous research, the report recommends insulating the agency’s research from political interference…”You can’t do good research if people in Congress or in the executive branch are constantly coming and telling you what to do,” said panel member Ellen Condliffe Lagemann. She is president of the Chicago-based Spencer Foundation, which promotes education research, including coverage of the subject in Education Week

(6) “Learning Math: Patterns, Functions, and Algebra”

Source:   Annenberg/CPB Channel – 800-228-8030 (via Alexander Ulloa,


Beginning January 22, the Annenberg/CPB Channel will broadcast the first of five video and Web-based mathematics courses for elementary and middle school teachers. This new ten-part professional development course in mathematics will explore the “big ideas” in algebraic thinking, such as finding, describing, and using patterns; using functions to make predictions; understanding linearity and proportional reasoning; understanding non-linear functions; and understanding and exploring algebraic structure. The concluding case studies show you how to apply what you have learned in your own classroom. The course consists of 10 two-and-a-half hour sessions, each with a half-hour of video programming, problem-solving activities available in print and on the Web, and class discussions…

To confirm access to the Annenberg/CPB Channel, contact a media specialist, local cable or PBS station; call 1-800-228-8030; or visit  Videotapes can be purchased from Annenberg/CPB at 1-800-LEARNER or on the Web site.

Free registration is available at

The deadline for Spring registration is December 31, 2001.