COMET • Vol. 2, No. 09 – 12 March 2001


(1) “Q & A: Kerry Mazzoni – Governor’s Education Secretary”

Source: The San Diego Union-Tribune – 11 March 2001

Mazzoni, who represented Marin County for three terms in the Assembly, was named to the governor’s Cabinet in December. She formerly headed the Assembly Education Committee. Mazzoni is a graduate of UC Davis.

* Question: Begin with an update on education matters and where reform is and where it needs to go.

Answer: Education continues to be the governor’s highest priority. He’s proposing a very exciting plan for legislation this year with four major initiatives: The longer school year at middle school; training for all teachers in reading and English language arts and mathematics; training for all principals and vice principals; and a focus on algebra in grades 7 through 12. So what I think you see in the package is a staying of the course…

We’re doing some other things that are very positive in terms of being able to monitor student performance and putting a confidential identifier on all students in the state so we can really begin to monitor growth and to monitor children if they change school districts. That’s the next step in terms of looking at student performance. We need to look at individual students. So that’s one of the governor’s initiatives…

* Question: What is the status of high school exit exams? Is the exit exam as far as Davis is concerned still on track for 2004?

Answer: The governor essentially believes that it’s premature to make that decision and we need more information. The bill before the Legislature is basically back to its original form, with the 2004 date…

* Question: There has been some concern that the state might back off on the high school exit exam not only in terms of timing, but in terms of difficulty for fear of lawsuits. Can you address that for us?

Answer: One of the reasons we feel so strongly about this bill is number one we want the exit exam to be legally defensible because we don’t want to back off the exit exam. Part of that is making sure that it’s a valid test. And that means that the whole cohort of tenth graders has to take it next year for validity. And we believe that then makes the test defensible. The next question is have the children had access to the rigorous curriculum that we want to be testing? I think that becomes the greater question when you consider that there are schools that do not have algebra teachers and we’re going to be testing algebra.

* Question: How do you get around that?

Answer: We need to make sure that the curriculum is there for them. We believe that there is still time for that. If there is sufficient information to indicate that children have not had access, then the governor is willing to look at that. But we are not interesting in dumbing down the test, or throwing the test out…

* Question: What is the state’s role in trying to get the best teachers to the most challenged schools?

Answer: If you look at most of the initiatives that we’ve done, even though they are not titled low-performing initiatives, there is an element in them that supports low-performing schools. Many of our low-performing schools get more money than other schools because they get an array of categorical funds and federal funds that are not available to some of the other schools. But our greatest teacher incentives are focused our low-performing schools. The algebra initiative that we’re proposing this year is a $50 incentive for each student currently involved or taking algebra and $100 incentive for those students that are not taking it and enroll in algebra. So if you peel that away, we know that the least number of children enrolled in algebra are in our low-performing schools. So we’re giving them double the money to use however they want to as long as it’s focused on algebra.

* Question: You’re hoping that this carrot approach will cause local districts and associations to cycle some of the experienced teachers back to where they ought to be.

Answer: I hope so. It’s too early to tell if it’s going to work. But even the longer middle school year is something that can be looked at as very supportive of low-performing schools. The middle school proposal is optional. So a school district could say, ‘We’ve got a high-performing middle school over here. Their parents don’t want it.’ And not have the longer middle school there. But they could choose their low-performing middle school to do it. It’s a local option.

* Question: What is your view of UC President Richard Atkinson’s proposal to get away from the SAT I (aptitude test)?

Answer: This is a very interesting and wonderful challenge for all of us to think about. Of course, the governor sits on the Board of Regents so he or his designee will be participating in the ultimate decision.

* Question: Is there not a potential for it to result in the dumbing down of UC standards?

Answer: No, I don’t think so. What Atkinson’s proposal is, is over time to eliminate the SAT II (subject matter test) and use our (high school exit) subject matter test that will be aligned to our very rigorous standards. If we incorporate entrance into UC and CSU into our statewide (exit) test, then all children in California will be prepared based on the same standards.

* Question: What are your feelings about what you know of President Bush’s education plans?

Answer: I believe that what Bush is proposing we’re already doing. I think we’re doing it better and smarter and in more ways. So my concern then becomes one of what kind of micro-management is going to occur as a result of federal initiatives. I’m very concerned about that because California is unique. We have the greatest challenges of any state in the country. We also tend to not get our fair share (of federal money). For whatever reasons, our congressional delegation is not as powerful as it should be in terms of bringing the money back to California. And we saw this when President Clinton came out with his class size reduction initiative, saying we had to go down to 18-1. There’s no way we could go down to 18-1. Does that mean we’re not entitled to have education dollars from the federal government? So those are the kinds of concerns that I have.

I don’t support his voucher proposal. I think it’s largely pandering to the right of his party because $1,500 isn’t going to do anything for a child that’s severely at risk of not succeeding. I think that what we need to do is stay the course. We are improving. And our low income and our English learners and our children of color are improving. They certainly need to improve a lot more. But I think we have put in place a structure that supports that. And I think that we need to continue with that.

* Question: In saying that the $1,500 Bush voucher proposal isn’t enough, are you suggesting that if the amount were greater you would support it?

Answer: No. I don’t support vouchers, and for a variety of reasons. But I think accountability is extremely important. I don’t think it’s reasonable to think that private schools are going to want to pay for or use our statewide test. And I think that that is something that taxpayers are entitled to. We are giving the money. We should know what’s happening with it. There are other serious issues about vouchers and the purpose of public schools in our society.

* Question: What about a black family living in a poor area and their school is terrible and their kids are basically trapped there?

Answer: Except there’s no guarantee (with vouchers) that there’s going to be a place in a private school for that child, because we know that private schools do the choosing. Many of them are over-enrolled. There’s currently not the capacity as I understand it for a voucher program. I think that the state has provided myriad things and a lot of money to help these kids. I believe very strongly in local control and in grass-roots activism. And one of the important things about the API and what we see is now parents have some information. Now they know how their school is doing compared to schools across the state as well as like schools. Now, they can begin asking some very important questions.

(2) “Exit Exam Required After Senate Bill Dies” by Robert Salladay and Elizabeth Bell

SourceSan Francisco Chronicle – 6 March 2001

A bill designed to protect California from a lawsuit over its high school exit test died yesterday in the state Senate, only two days before an estimated 400,000 ninth-graders are set to start taking the exam.

California high school freshmen have been in limbo over whether the newly required test — to be given March 7 and March 13 — would be considered practice or count toward their graduation this year.

Now, with the Legislature’s failure to pass the bill, tomorrow’s test counts. Every student who passes will get credit toward graduation — unless future lawsuits or legislation get in the way…

The bill would have banned all ninth-graders from taking the test and required every 10th-grader to take the test next year. That way, the state would get a complete inaugural sample of students…

“The governor was seeking technical changes with this bill to keep the test on track for 2004,” said Ann Bancroft, a spokeswoman for Davis’ education secretary Kerry Mazzoni, “and unfortunately the action that Republicans took may have killed the only chance for a valid test.”

(3) “Put to a Test” by Angela Valdivia Rush

Source: The Fresno Bee – 8 March 2001,1724,246368,00.html

“One of the key objectives of having a high school exam is it’s a strategic tool to assure students receive a high-quality education based on rigorous state standards,” said Doug Stone, a spokesman for the California Department of Education.

Wednesday’s exam, which tested students in language arts, was the first portion of the test. The math portion of the exam will be given to California’s freshmen Tuesday.

For the most part, students from throughout the central San Joaquin Valley said they believe they performed well on the high-stakes exam…Redwood High teachers Bonnie Chan and Marianne Frazier have taught for about 35 years each. Both said they thought the test was fair and students were serious about taking it…

“I have seen a lot of tests come and go. I think it is probably a pretty fair test, and in talking to kids, they thought it was fair, too,” Frazier said…

Chan said the test included 27 reading passages with four questions each and two essays. She said the test didn’t appear to be difficult for “capable” students, but said second-language learners seemed to struggle…

Fresno High Vice Principal Michael Ota said the new state requirement appears to have grabbed students’ attention. He said Fresno High held a rally to motivate and ease students’ nerves before they were tested Wednesday morning. “At the freshman level, some kids don’t think about four years from now. Now, they are thinking,” Ota said. “We have some kids that never cared before, and now they are concerned. That is the positive part”…

(4) “Students Get Testy” by Lisa Shafer

Source: Contra Costa Times – 8 March 2001

Too long. Too boring. But sometimes “teamwork” helped.

Those were reactions of freshmen who volunteered to take the high school exit exam when it debuted Wednesday. They spent five hours answering English questions and writing essays; they will have a chance to take the four-hour math portion of the exam Tuesday.

The students, who offered mixed reviews on the test’s difficulty, will get their raw scores by mid-May, but they are unlikely to find out if they passed until the fall…

An essay all test-takers had to write about a hummingbird left many upset that the state would ask such a boring question…Another student suggested that he could have written five pages if the state chose a different topic — the merits of the exit exam…

By state law, freshmen can volunteer to take the tests this year and pass if they do well enough. Starting next spring, all sophomores must take the exam unless they pass as freshmen this year. No one will graduate without a passing score on the English and math sections of the exam…



(1) “Senate Committee OKs Education Bill”

Source: Contra Costa Times – 9 March 2001

Senate committee Thursday unanimously approved a crucial education bill embodying President Bush’s calls for school reform, but several committee Democrats threatened to withdraw their support if the administration did not back a substantial increase in spending for schools in poor areas.

Democrats complained that, without additional help, struggling schools would not have the tools to improve before they must begin giving children tests in reading and math, which would become an important factor in calculating federal aid under Bush’s plan…

The bill that was approved Thursday would require states to test students annually in grades three to eight for progress in reading and math, and would require states to use national tests on sample populations of students.

The bill also combines several federal programs into broad categories, giving states greater flexibility in how they use federal money.

The bill put off consideration of divisive issues such as student vouchers…

The committee stopped short of backing a 40 percent increase in spending for Title I, the 36-year-old, $8.6 billion program that helps the nation’s poorest and lowest-achieving students. The committee had approved the increase in a bipartisan vote last year but has now left it for negotiations in the full Senate…

Before voting for the bill, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota and Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, all Democrats, said they would withdraw their support unless the administration pledged more resources, particularly for Title I.

Clinton won approval of four amendments supporting recruitment of principals, professional development of teachers and principals and the timely reporting of test results.

(2) “Senate Committee Passes ESEA Legislation; New Program for Science and Math Educators Introduced”

Source: Jodi Peterson, Director of Legislation, National Science Teachers Association ( – March 9, 2001

Yesterday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee met and approved a bi-partisan bill to reauthorize federal education programs under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)….

Title II, Part B is a *new* ESEA program titled Mathematics and Science Partnerships, which allows states, higher education institutions, elementary schools, and secondary schools to participate in a variety of programs designed to improve the performance of students in math and science.

Under this program, 5-year competitive grants would be provided to eligible partnerships in the state for:

= developing or redesigning more rigorous mathematics and science curricula that are aligned with state and local standards and with the standards expected for postsecondary study in mathematics and science;

= creating opportunities for enhanced and ongoing professional development that improves the subject matter knowledge of mathematics and science teachers;

= recruiting mathematics and science majors to teaching;

= promoting strong teaching skills for mathematics and science teachers and teacher educators, including integrating reliable research-based teaching methods into the curriculum;

= establishing mathematics and science summer workshops or institutes (including follow up training) for teachers, using curricula that are experiment oriented, content based, and grounded in current research;

= establishing distance learning programs for mathematics and science teachers using curricula that are experiment oriented, content based, and grounded in current research;

= designing programs to prepare a teacher at a school to provide professional development to other teachers at the school and to assist novice teachers at such school; and

= designing programs to bring teachers into contact with working scientists.

Eligible partnerships would include a state education agency, a math or science department of an institution of higher education, and an LEA, and may include another math, science or teacher training department of a higher education institution; another LEA or an elementary school

or secondary school; a business; or a nonprofit organization of demonstrated effectiveness, including a museum.

Partnerships receiving a grant under Title II, Part B would have to include an evaluation and accountability plan, which would include objectives and measures for improved student performance on state math and science assessments; increased participation by students in advanced courses in math and science; increased percentages of secondary school classes in math and science taught by teachers with academic majors in math and science; and increased numbers of math and science teachers who participate in content based professional development activities. If determined that the partnership is not meeting performance objectives, the grant can be revoked after the third year.

The Senate bill requests that the Math and Science Partnerships be funded at $500,000,000 for FY 2002…

(3) “Math Push Adds Up for Chief of Science Foundation” by K.C. Cole

Source: Los Angeles Times – 8 March 2001

Rita Colwell, director of the National Science Foundation, has spent her life studying the cholera bacterium and its relationship to the environment. She has presided over an unprecedented explosion in the biological sciences–including, most recently, the sequencing and first glimmerings of understanding of the human genome. Yet Colwell has set a new priority for the NSF, and it’s not life sciences, but mathematics. Recently she spent an afternoon chatting with Times science writer K.C. Cole about a biologist’s love of math, passion for science, and the serious pursuit of joy.

Question: So why’s a biologist making such a big push for a mathematics initiative?

Answer: I think it’s caught the mathematicians by surprise. After all, it’s a wonderful time for biology. But the investment that has been made in math has been surprisingly small. Our grants in mathematics are smaller than those in other sciences. Since 1992, the number of students getting bachelor’s degrees in mathematics has dropped by about 23%. And mathematics is so fundamental to all of science. I have lived through the transformation of biology. It’s gone from a descriptive science to a highly quantitative one. Even the social and behavioral sciences are ready to explode with huge databases. We need to develop new mathematical thinking to make use of that wealth of information.

Q: For example?

A: Protocols in research have gotten enormously complicated. In my own research with cholera, we instituted a very simple water filtration technique to assist families where there is not water treatment to prevent spread of the disease. We see some successes already. The question is: At what point do you stop the experiment and implement it? That is a very complicated statistical question. If you stop too soon, you may not have the data you need. If you stop too late, people may die.

Q: So what is the role of mathematics?

A: Mathematics reduces complex problems to the fundamentals. It’s clean. It’s concise. It reduces the bulk of information that is very hard to load up in your arms. You can express complicated situations in a way that’s clearly understood, and allows you to make predictions. If we want to build a highway, and we have all the data of the weather patterns for the past 100 years, and we know the demographic patterns, vegetation and watershed data, and so forth, all that can go into a computer. Then we can build mathematical models and make predictions: If you build a highway there, you will have these kinds of possible effects, and if you put it in an alternative site you’ll have these other effects. Then you can make a rational, science-based decision.

What is really being said in an equation is simple. But it seems foreign because the letters are Greek and the symbols are squiggles. But if those squiggles were as familiar as your roller blades, you wouldn’t think about the foreignness of it; you could concentrate on analyzing what it was saying.

Q: But isn’t all the mathematics that you need to solve these kinds of problems already out there?

A: Not at all. It will require new mathematical research. Before mathematical concepts can be applied, they must be invented. This is not going to be achieved by simply linking together the computers we’ve got. We’re moving into entirely new approaches, computers for the future, like quantum computing and DNA-based computing.

But we haven’t talked about beauty. Mathematics is so soul-satisfying. There’s such enormous beauty in mathematics, and scientists have almost been embarrassed by the fact that the work they do is beautiful. At the end of a really good lecture–in math or molecular biology–your reaction often is: That was beautiful. And it really is.

So instead of having a fight over pornography and art, why aren’t we focusing on the beauty of how the world works? The formations of geese flying overhead in the sky, the patterns in the tiniest nanostructures. Have you ever noticed when you add liquid detergent to the washing machine how it goes into the water in a big swirl . . . following the laws of physics?

When I was a graduate student, I don’t think it’s overly dramatic to say that we worshiped at the altar of science. Science was a way to understand ourselves and why we’re here, to provide some kind of control in our lives and an understanding of our universe. Now, somehow something has gone askew. It really has. Some of the joy of being seems to have vaporized.

Q: Why do you think that is?

A: I get a sense it’s because people are job driven rather than life driven. Students come to me and ask, should I go into this or that area of science because the jobs are plentiful there now? My answer is: Do what you love. Do what you have a passion for. Because it doesn’t matter whether there are jobs now or whenever, because if you’re good at it, if you love what you are doing, then there will be a job for you.

But the pressures are enormous. NSF is the only agency with the mission of basic research and science and math education. We receive 30,000 proposals every year. And 16% of the proposals that are judged excellent or very good can’t be funded because of the lack of funds. And it often takes a young investigator three tries to get funded. It is costly in time and money and a loss in potential advances in science and engineering.

The result is that a young scientist is like women a hundred years ago in China, hobbling along with bound feet, instead of making grand strides.

If we could increase the award size of proposals we fund and extend the length of time of each proposal it would allow students to spend their early years in the laboratory instead of being chained to a PC, writing proposals. It would also be more efficient. If it takes 120 hours to write a proposal, at say, $50 an hour, you add it up. It’s costing people a lot.

Q: But doesn’t the problem with mathematics start much earlier–in grade school?

A: We do know that the “valley of death” is between fourth and eighth grade, for both math and science. For both boys and girls, but especially for girls. NSF is currently able to spend only $270 million a year on K-12 science and mathematics education, and clearly that is not enough.

We’ve been hoping, dreaming, of a plan to start centers for the science of learning, that would focus on education in science and math with as much intensity as we now put into other areas of research in science and engineering.

I strike the analogy, which I don’t think is farfetched, as follows: Transportation in 1900 was by horse and buggy. In 2000, we have spacecraft. In medicine, if you had diabetes at the turn of the century, you were treated palliatively, and you probably died at an early age. Now we’re able to extract cells from the pancreas, grow them in culture, correct the genetic error, and return the cells to the diabetic individual, with the possibility of cure for the diabetes.

Now look at education. In 1900, we had books, teachers, classroom, blackboard, desks. In 2000, we have books, teachers, classrooms, blackboards, desks. A lot has happened in understanding how humans think, in the cognitive and behavioral sciences. . . . Why hasn’t all this new knowledge infused education the same as it has for transportation and medicine?

Q: We seem to be moving in the opposite direction. The Wall Street Journal reported that science funding will be reduced drastically to pay for a tax cut. Yet, last year the number of PhDs awarded in the U.S. declined for the first time since 1985–most dramatically in engineering and science.

A: A bipartisan commission–the United States Commission on National Security/ 21st Century–recently concluded…that a greater threat to U.S. national security, more than any potential conventional war…would be the decline and loss of vitality and strength in science and engineering research and education in the U.S. And I agree.



Annual Conference: School Science and Mathematics Association

The 100th Anniversary and Annual Conference of the School Science and Mathematics Association will be held at the DoubleTree Guest Suites and Esplanade Conference Center in the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove, IL on November 1-3, 2001. Plans for this historic meeting have been in the works for some time now. These plans offer a number of unique and informative opportunities for professional sharing and growth with sessions dealing with topics of interest to both researchers and practitioners… Everyone registered for the conference will receive anniversary gifts from the Association–most notably, a searchable CD pack containing all 100 years of the SSMA journal.

Proposals to present at the conference will be accepted through March 31. Send a request for an electronic speaker proposal form to the Program Co-Chair, Virginia Usnick (