COMET • Vol. 2, No. 04 – 5 February 2001


(1) California State Summer School for Mathematics & Science (COSMOS) 2001

Source: Irene Bronston, UCOP – (510) 987-9711

The California State Summer School for Mathematics and Science (COSMOS) is an academic four-week residential program for talented and motivated students who are completing grades 8-12. COSMOS courses address topics not traditionally taught in high schools (e.g., astronomy, computer science, wetlands ecology, ocean science, robotics, neuroscience, cognitive science, game theory, and volcanology).

The California State Legislature established COSMOS with a mission to motivate the most creative minds of the new generation of prospective scientists, engineers, and mathematicians who will become leaders for California, the nation and the world. The program is designed to create a community of scholars who participate in an intensive academic experience delivered by distinguished educators, scientists, and researchers. According to UC President Richard Atkinson, “The California State Summer School in Mathematics & Science is destined to set the pace for pre-college residential experiences … students will have unprecedented access to the laboratories of UC scientists and engineers.”

Financial aid covering part or all of the tuition is available to any student with documented need. All applications and the financial aid application are available on the web page. (Application deadline: 15 March 2001)

(2) “Awards Will Motivate Students in Future Tests, Principals Say” by Massie Ritsch

Source: Los Angeles Times – 1 February 2001

Area principals viewed a round of bonuses awarded to schools Wednesday as rewards for test-score improvement but also as motivators for students who will endure another battery of achievement tests in April. Because of that, principals said, schools need to receive their bonuses soon so students see what their hard work can deliver: new computers, textbooks, televisions and even trees to shade their campuses…

Schools have known since last fall whether they qualified for the first-ever Governor’s Performance Awards, but they did not learn their share of the $227-million pot until Wednesday. About two-thirds of California’s public schools, or 4,502, qualified for the bonuses, by improving to the state’s satisfaction on the 2000 Academic Performance Index. The API is derived from a school’s scores on the basic skills test known as the Stanford 9.

Beginning next week, elementary schools will receive, on average, $39,470, middle schools $56,297 and high schools $98,470. Each school’s award was determined not by the size of its test-score gains–provided it met its state-imposed goal–but on its enrollment. Schools were expecting to receive $150 per student, but because so many hit their targets, they will get $63 for every student…The taxpayer-funded bonuses carry virtually no restrictions…

Two more rounds of awards from Gov. Gray Davis’ school accountability program will be doled out this spring or early summer. Teachers, administrators and other school staff will divide $450 million, with some receiving paycheck bonuses of $25,000.

(3) “Lawsuit Seeks to Halt Test Bonuses” by Pamela Martineau

Source: Sacramento Bee – 2 February 2001

A Sacramento judge today will hear a case that threatens to stall California’s controversial awards program that gives some teachers bonuses as high as $25,000 for lifting their students’ test scores.

A group of educators from the Sacramento City Unified School District is asking a judge to temporarily block the distribution of $100 million in award money.

The educators claim the state Board of Education illegally changed the rules for administering the awards, making teachers and other certificated staff at Jedediah Smith Elementary School ineligible for bonuses.

The school posted the third-highest gain of any school in the state on the 2000 Academic Performance Index, lifting its ranking over its 1999 position by 147 points. The ranking is based on students’ scores on the state’s annual standardized achievement test…

Jedediah Smith teachers claim the board illegally changed the eligibility rules for the certificated awards program last fall, requiring schools to show improvement in students’ standardized test scores not just from 1999 to 2000 but also from 1998 to 1999.

The official listing of schools that will receive the incentive award has not yet been released by the Department of Education. But individual school districts have studied the new regulations and advised schools whether they are eligible for the awards…

Michael White, attorney for the group, said the state law authorizing the incentive program never required schools to show improvement from 1998 to 1999. White and the plaintiffs also claim that the award regulations don’t adequately define the level of improvement needed to have been made from 1998 to 1999. “It is ambiguous and therefore subject to both arbitrary and capricious interpretation and nonuniform application,” the suit reads.

The plaintiffs are asking that a judge block the distribution of the funds until the eligibility requirements are reviewed and upheld by the court…

The Certificated Staff Performance Award is aimed at schools that scored in the bottom half on the 1999 API ranking and will be distributed to staff at those schools that posted the highest gains on their 2000 API.

About 300 schools throughout the state are expected to receive the awards, which will range from $25,000 to $5,000 per staff member, probably in late March or April. Certificated staff in about 30 of those schools that posted the highest gains will receive the $25,000 awards…

“It wouldn’t surprise me if there would be more suits,” said Wayne Johnson, president of the California Teachers Association. “Trying to put in bonuses and create competition causes far more problems than it solves, and this is a good example”…

Jerry Hayward, director of the think tank Policy Analysis for California Education, said he understands the board’s logic in requiring two years of achievement to qualify for the awards. Sometimes, because of errors in testing or in calculating scores, a school can erroneously post a high level of growth for a particular year. Looking at two years’ data is a much more reliable measure of achievement, he said…

(4) “Parents are the Key to Education” by Marsha Sutton

North County Times – 31 January 2001

Academic performance follows income levels. Money matters. But prosperity is just one manifestation of beliefs that drive people to succeed. So the key to learning may have less to do with wealth than with intangible factors that foster curiosity, creativity, motivation and commitment. Many administrators from successful school districts identify a critical component that contributes immeasurably to achievement. It is not smart students, skilled teachers, vast resources or new facilities. All those elements are important, but none would matter a whit without the backing of a group seldom mentioned in the relentless drive for higher test scores. That group is parents.

It is the high regard for public instruction in the home that creates superior schools and develops motivated students who respect and value education. All else follows from this…

(5) “Teaching: Why Johnny Can’t Do The Math” by Anthony Ralston

Source: Sacramento Bee – 28 January 2001

Mathematics educators and mathematicians have generally applauded California’s intent to make algebra the standard mathematics course for eighth graders and to make passing Algebra 1 a requirement for high school graduation. But across the state, school principals and teachers worry about whether eighth graders are ready for algebra and whether even all ninth graders can possibly pass Algebra 1…

No one argues that American kids are intrinsically less able than their counterparts in other countries. But it is true that large numbers of American kids arrive in eighth and even ninth grade unprepared to study algebra.

Why is this? One reason is sixth and seventh grades have become mathematical wastelands in which little new material is introduced and almost all the time is spent reviewing what was supposed to have been learned earlier…Many, many children emerge from fifth grade knowing, at best, only the rote procedures of arithmetic. This is very poor preparation for continuing study of mathematics, particularly algebra…

There is, in fact, only one solution to this problem: to have specialist teachers teach all the mathematics in elementary school. If schools would embrace this solution, colleges and universities that educate teachers could implement programs for mathematical specialists almost immediately, and in a few years a cohort of specialist mathematics teachers could be entering schools in California and throughout the U.S…the bottom line is that until specialist mathematics teachers are integrated into U.S. education, not only will the U.S. continue to lag behind other countries in international comparisons but also the California algebra initiative is doomed to general failure.


Anthony Ralston is professor emeritus of computer science and mathematics at the State University of New York at Buffalo. [He is also the author of “Let’s Abolish Pencil-and-Paper Arithmetic”:



“Better Math Teaching Needed, Report Says” by Martha Groves

Sources: Los Angeles Times – 24 January 2001; Houston Chronicle – 5 February 2001

A massive overhaul of math instruction in U.S. schools will be necessary if students are to achieve the skills and understanding required in today’s high-tech world, according to a long-awaited report from the National Research Council.

The chief goal should be to integrate the teaching of basic computational skills with instruction in the underlying concepts of mathematics, the report says.

“Both of these directions are incomplete without the other,” said Jeremy Kilpatrick, a professor of math education at the University of Georgia and chairman of the panel that wrote the report.

Although the need for both types of knowledge might seem self-evident, bitter battles have been waged over which to emphasize more in classrooms. The fight has pitted traditionalists–advocates of rote and repetition–against those who favor hands-on activities to help students make sense of abstract concepts.

Nowhere has the pendulum swung more fiercely than in California. After several years of favoring a more conceptual approach, the State Board of Education three years ago adopted standards that are more geared to basics. They discourage, for example, the use of calculators by young children, preferring that elementary pupils memorize such basic computational skills as multiplication tables. The board recently approved new math textbooks that tend to emphasize such skills.

Many districts and schools are grappling with how to put together curricula that meet the standards without sacrificing more abstract thinking. The new study offers little specific help there.

“We still don’t have a lot of research pinpointing programs that work versus those that don’t,” said Richard E. Mayer, a psychology professor at UC Santa Barbara who helped write the report.

Kilpatrick, who years ago taught math at a Berkeley middle school, said teachers must look to the real world for help in making math seem more relevant. “If I were a math teacher in California right now,” he said, “I’d be using the energy crisis to help kids look at big numbers like megawatts and kilowatts and ask questions about how you would price electricity.”

The report emphasized that training for teachers will be key to bringing students along. One problem is that many teachers themselves do not like math and are anxious about it.

“We have large numbers of math-phobic teachers,” said Janet Nicholas, a former member of the State Board of Education. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”

Recognizing that many of the state’s teachers are not yet up to the task, Gov. Gray Davis has plowed millions of dollars into professional development. His proposed budget calls for spending $830 million over the next three years to put more than 250,000 teachers of reading and math through intensive training and follow-up.

The math report, called “Adding It Up: Helping Children Learn Mathematics,” was written by a 16-member committee at the request of the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education. The panel’s charge was to review the diverse research on math learning in preschool through eighth grade and to recommend steps for policymakers.

The influential National Research Council is a nonprofit institution that provides scientific advice under a congressional charter. Three years ago, the council helped settle the emotional battle over how best to teach reading, coming down in favor of a balanced mix of early phonics training and lots of reading.

The math report’s release is timely. After years of emphasis on reading, math has been moving toward center stage of the national education-policy debate.

The report recommends that the nation groom all students to be “mathematically proficient,” mastering much more than disconnected facts and procedures. That goal, the report says, “is an extremely ambitious one” that can be achieved only with systematic modifications to math instruction and new kinds of support for teachers and students.

Among other recommendations in the report: Beginning in preschool, educators should offer students the chance to extend their rudimentary comprehension of numbers. In subsequent years, the curriculum should link calculations to everyday situations to help students make connections. Numbers and operations should be illustrated in different ways. For example, one-half could be shown as a fraction, a decimal or a percentage. Educators should teach important concepts in depth, rather than covering a multitude of topics superficially. Significant time should be devoted to daily math instruction in every grade of elementary and middle school. Exams should be carefully designed to test students’ progress. To help prepare teachers, colleges should create programs that emphasize thorough knowledge of math and the different ways that children learn the subject. On the job, schools should give teachers more time and resources to maintain or acquire understanding of math and improve teaching techniques. More scientific research should be conducted on the many new math programs to see which ones are most effective.



(1) “Classy Tips” Sought

Source: Bill Blaskopf <>

Bill Blaskopf is the Editor of the Classy Tips column for NCTM’s monthly magazine for secondary-level math teachers, the Mathematics Teacher. If you would like to offer tips on the below topics, please send your ideas to Bill at or fax them to him at (973) 691-0279 (New Jersey).

Also, if you are a member of NCTM and wish to pose a question for a future Classy Tips column, these can also be sent to Bill.


* September 2001 (due 15 February 2001)

What tips do you have for the start of the school year? What do you do to your classroom? How do you establish seating plans? How do you establish your rules and guidelines? How do you set the tone for the year?

* November 2001 (due 1 April 01)

How do you promote that the mathematics you teach is carried across the hall to science class? Or other classes? Do you integrate (connect) math with other courses in your school? If so, how do you do it? Do you have any kind of communication between the math department and the other departments in your school?

* February 2002 (Due 1 June 2001)

How do you successfully move both students and teachers from a layered curriculum to an integrated curriculum? Did you start with inservice for teachers or mandated curriculum? How has it been successful? What pitfalls did you encounter?


(2) Mathematics Case Methods Seminar (WestEd)

Source: Norma Sakamoto – (510) 302-4206;

* What this seminar offers:

These cases depict real classroom situations and include dialogues and student work. Participants will begin by discussing cases involving fractions and decimals, and then apply the same techniques and skills (observing the math, student thinking, instruction, and language) to a primary grade case. Read what teachers say about this project in the January 2000 issue of Intersection (

* Dates/Location:

  • 2-day option: May 1 -19, 2001 ($350): Learn about cases and how cases are facilitated
  • 3-day option: May 18-20, 2001 ($450): Learn about cases and how cases are facilitated on days 1 & 2. Learn how to introduce cases to a new group on day 3.
  • Location for both options: WestEd office in Oakland, CA (across the Bay from San Francisco)
  • * Registration deadline: 16 April 2001

    Send your name, address, phone number, fax number, and a check (payable to WestEd) to: Carne Barnett; WestEd; 300 Lakeside Dr., 18th Floor; Oakland, CA 94612. (Contact Norma Sakamoto for a brochure or with questions.)

    (3) Annual Conference: American Educational Research Association

    At the web site above, you can search the conference program, make reservations, obtain information about Seattle, and more.

    (4) Annual Conference: Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

    Source: Art Sussman <>

    This is a reminder that the AAAS Annual Meeting will be held in San Francisco on February 15-20. The Associated Forum for School Science is on Monday Feb 19th from 9:30 a.m. through 6:30 p.m. Information is available at On Monday, February 19, there is a 3-hour symposium from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. entitled “Bringing Space Science Down to Earth: Developments in Education and Outreach.” A flyer for this symposium, including an abstract and the speaker list, has been prepared in PDF and can be downloaded at


    (5) Annual Conferences: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

    Information on NCTM’s 2001 Annual Conference can be found at

    To submit a proposal to speak at the 2002 Annual Conference in Las Vegas, go to

    (6) Show-Me Middle Grade Math Conference

    Source: Barbara Reys <>

    The Show-Me Center will host the Fourth Annual Show-Me Conference showcasing middle-grades standards-based mathematics curricula in St. Louis, May 10-12, 2001. The curricula featured will be the Connected Mathematics Project (CMP), MATH Thematics, Mathematics in Context (MiC), Pathways to Algebra and Geometry, and MathScape. The Conference is targeted toward teachers, teacher leaders and teacher educators considering or in the initial years of implementing middle grades standards-based mathematics curricula.

    The conference will include:

  • Workshops on each of the 5 curricula (some focused on initial awareness of the curricula and other sessions focused on ongoing implementation of the curricula)
  • Workshops on general issues related to standards-based curricula (e.g., preparing parents and the community; supporting teachers; and organizing professional development opportunities)
  • Keynote sessions by Glenda Lappan, Diane Briars, and others.
  • Breakout sessions on topics such as NCTM’s Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, standards-based assessments for monitoring student growth and achievement; and reports of evidence of the impact of standards-based curricula.
  • Participants are responsible for travel and lodging (reduced rates have been secured at the conference hotel). Registration is $100 (covers cost of all conference meals and materials).

    Details of the conference, including a tentative program are available at
    Registrations are due February 15:



    History of Mathematics Web Site

    This interesting, useful site has a list of “mathematicians who were born [or who died] on this day,” along with a quotation from one of these individuals, plus biographies, information about mathematics in various cultures, and a variety of mathematical topics.