COMET • Vol. 3, No. 10 – 12 March 2002


“Dark Horse for Schools Post Is a Maverick” by Jessica Garrison

Source: Los Angeles Times – 11 March 2002


A little-known school board member from Anaheim surprised the education establishment last week by placing second in the primary for California superintendent of public instruction.

Katherine H. Smith…now faces State Sen. Jack O’Connell in November in the nonpartisan race to replace Delaine Eastin, who must step down because of term limits. Smith forced a runoff because O’Connell did not receive more than 50% of the vote.

“It’s a novelty,” said Scott Plotkin, executive director of the California School Boards Assn. “She was the one who all the political experts were just writing off.” Now, they’re trying to figure out just who this underdog is, and they may be in for some surprises.

She’s a Goldwater Republican who says she knew and admired Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver. She has pushed for the nationwide adoption of school uniforms and a moment of silence for students each morning. She once proposed having children spring to their feet in respect whenever an adult entered the classroom. But she has also spent the last 20 years fighting for more liberal drug laws. If elected, she wants to improve education programs in California’s prisons.

Smith, a trustee in the Anaheim Union High School District, has the endorsements of both a conservative Christian group and a left-leaning Latino-rights organization.

“She’s the most conservative candidate on the ballot,” said Mark Bucher, founder of the Education Alliance, which received national attention in the 1990s for its campaign to put conservatives–often Christians–on school boards. “She’s a candidate that stands for back-to-basics values”…

“I’m an extremely different kettle of fish” from other education leaders, said Smith, a former fashion model who left college shortly before finishing and pulled her two children, now grown, out of public school in the 1980s to enroll them in Catholic school. “I’m a reader, a citizen-observer. I take things issue by issue and decide what is the right way to go…I am not a politician,” she said. “I never will be.”

She’s mainly interested in the job as a bully pulpit for her ideas.

Some experts point out that the job she seeks offers little power for her to institute those ideas. The superintendent manages the Department of Education’s $47-billion budget and its 1,600 employees, and works with the Legislature to pass programs, said Plotkin, of the school boards association.

These are areas where her opponent, a former high school teacher and state senator from San Luis Obispo, has much experience. O’Connell wrote the legislation that led to smaller class sizes in primary grades and backed the new high school exit exam.

“I think support for Jack O’Connell will grow tremendously once people in the state really understand who she is and what her objectives are,” said Wayne Johnson, president of the California Teachers’ Assn. O’Connell has received thousands of dollars from teachers unions and individual school administrators and teachers. “He obviously wants to support the public schools.” Eastin, the current superintendent, endorses O’Connell too…

Certainly, Smith’s interests are far removed from the test scores and carrot-and-stick accountability programs that have transformed public education in California in the last few years. She advocates giving all districts the same amount of money per student. She thinks there is too much testing.

Her real passion is in symbolic programs–such as moments of silence and changes of dress–designed to bring about deeper transformations within individuals. Her mission statement, posted on her Web site,, is “to change behavior by changing attitudes”…

Other ideas include bringing lockers back to secondary schools so children aren’t forced to lug book bags around and issuing report cards for parents. The cards would offer a checklist of questions, such as “Did you make your child breakfast?” and “Did you read to your child?”

“I would lead by the virtue of my ideas,” she said.


Editor’s note: The following article provides additional information:




(1) Scientifically Based Research–U.S. Department of Education


The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, calls for the use of “scientifically based research” as the foundation for many education programs and for classroom instruction.

On February 6, 2002, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education Susan Neuman hosted a seminar where leading experts in the fields of education and science discussed the meaning of scientifically based research and its status across various disciplines.

* Welcome and Introduction – Susan B. Neuman, OESE Assistant Secretary


[Excerpt]…We’re no longer debating whether scientifically based research and scientifically based evidence is important; we know it now is important and we know it is critical. As many of you know, we have counted one hundred and eleven times that the phrase “scientifically based research” is in our new law…

What we want to do is begin to explore the logic of scientifically based evidence or research and to really to begin to understand both its definition as well as its intent.

The second goal is something that is very particular to our office, the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, and that is, how do we begin to put this into practice? How do we begin to suggest guidance?…

What we want to do eventually is move this debate throughout all of our programs so that we begin to really look at the scientific basis underlying what we say and what we do for schools in districts across the country…

* What Is Scientifically Based Evidence? What Is Its Logic? – Valerie Reyna, OERI


* The Logic and the Basic Principles of Scientific Based Research – Michael Feuer and Lisa Towne, National Research Council


* Research – Stephen Raudenbush, University of Michigan


During the second half of the morning, experts discussed the implications of scientifically based research on different areas in the field of elementary and secondary education.

* Math Education and Achievement – Russell Gersten, University of Oregon


[Excerpt] This is actually an easy topic to be brief on because there isn’t a lot of scientific research in math. There’s some. There’s some promising directions, but it is a somewhat depressing topic.

…The math community of math educators at least for forty-plus years has looked at their role as reform, as change, as re-conceptualizing. Therefore, there hasn’t been this steady tradition…

So, this is something that can change. There have always been little glimmerings of change. There’s a slight increase in the amount, but overall the math education community has been quite resistant to that, where let’s say in the reading field there have always been at least two schools of thought, one in the experimental group.

But rather than just dealing with how little we know and getting us all depressed, I am going to give some highlights of some work we recently did actually for the state of Texas who was beginning a big initiative in the area of math, getting kids ready for algebra… We tried to put together the scientific research, using the procedures we’ve heard about in terms of meta-analysis and all, in the area of math for low achieving kids…We looked for studies that used random assignment. We did include the quasi-experiments, the ones that are kind of close, but they only were included if they had measures showed that the groups were comparable at the beginning. So, if they just used the school down the road, they were thrown out. They had to have at least one math performance measure, which sounds weird. But there were articles published in journals that either had teachers grades or students attitudes or certain interviews that we had no idea were they valid or reliable…The one thing about the studies, and then we’ll go on with the finding, is that 60 percent of them used random assignment so they met the gold standard. Another third were this quasi-experimental group, so overall the small set we had were of good quality. And seven percent were partial–they randomly assigned teachers and gave us some evidence that the groups were equal at the beginning which in the scheme of things is very, very good…

There’s some very, very interesting work especially done by the late Robbie Case and Bob Siegler and others, in the beginnings of math. And, at least in math, unlike years ago, we do have some measures that can predict. In kindergarten, we’re doing some work in Eugene Research Institute in both Oregon and Texas at looking at predicting things by the end of kindergarten that will tell you which kids are likely to be at-risk. So you can start to screen and get a sense of stuff.

So, we do have at least a couple of measures that seem to validly predict and I know David [Geary] at NIH is doing some work along this lines. So, we’re maybe twenty years behind reading in this early intervention mode in terms of starting in kindergarten, starting in preschool, but we can move a lot faster now. We have the model of what succeeded in reading.

The other thing is we have this concept which is still elusive called “number sense.” You’ll see it around a lot. Nobody knows exactly what it is. It’s sort of a sense of numbers, the way some kids just sort of take to it. You ask them, well, you know, here are six things, we want nine, how many more do you need? They’ll just go “three.” And, others will just go, “Well, you need some more.”

But, it’s just basically, the idea of both performing and understanding and doing and strategizing. We have his general notion. It seems a fascinating one. It seems a wonderful spur for a generation of new researchers to do the kind of array of scientific methods. So, that’s one huge area…

One system that the late Ann Brown developed is a very good one… You need a while to do what she called “design experiments.” To really go in and see what happens and collect data and not do the control groups and the randomization. You need one or two of those to get the thing working.

And they are not really just pilot studies. They are serious investigations of taking these phenomenal insights from cognitive psychology, from developmental psychology, but trying to put them into useable packages that there is some data to support. Math is a long way from this. But this combination of doing the design experiments, but then not stopping there, to then test with the kind of controlled studies we were talking about before…

The last thing is, as we look at what’s going on in the field. We could do as twenty years ago Thomas [Good] and Douglas [Grouws] did, which is look at what’s happening in schools and try to link them to outcomes. Because we’ve got a huge array of measures in math, but we don’t have a sense of which ones lead to better achievement or not…

* Implications for Scientific Based Evidence Approach in Reading – Eunice Greer, Reading Consultant


* Safe and Drug-Free Schools – Judy Thorne, Westat


* Comprehensive School Reform – Becki Herman, American Institutes of Research


(2) “Castle Introduces Legislation to Improve Quality of Education Research” –

Press Release

Source: The Committee on Education and the Workforce – John Boehner, Chairman;

Dave Schnittger or Heather Valentine (contacts) – 202-225-4527 – 27 February 2002


House Education Reform Subcommittee Chairman Michael Castle (R-DE) today introduced legislation, the Education Sciences Reform Act, to overhaul the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI). The office currently conducts research and demonstration projects funded through grants to help improve education; collects statistics on the status and progress of schools and education throughout the nation; and distributes information and provides technical assistance to those working to improve education.

“This bill will improve the quality of federal scientific research in education by requiring that research be based on valid, scientific findings. It is time to bring education science up to the standards of scientific inquiry that has given us the most advanced medical system in the world,” Castle said. “The same can be done with education. This research, whether in math, English, science, or history, is vital to the education of our nation’s youth.”

“We should not be throwing federal dollars into research that is simplistic and unreliable,” he continued. “We need verifiable tests of the latest education proposals such as smaller class sizes and the use of technology. If they truly work, let’s duplicate them. If they don’t, let’s prove it.”

The Education Sciences Reform Act modifies current law to streamline and strengthen education research. The bill:

* Replaces the current Office of Educational Research and Improvement [OERI} with a new, more autonomous Academy of Education Science which will provide the infrastructure to undertake coordinated, high quality education research and statistical and program evaluation activities within the Department of Education;

* Establishes high quality standards to put an end to education fads that masquerade as sound science. The bill requires all federally funded activities meet these new standards of quality (including scientifically based research);

* Makes technical assistance, including assistance in carrying out the requirements of No Child Left Behind, “customer-driven” and accountable to school districts, states and regions;

* Injects competition into the current system of labs, centers, and clearinghouses to provide for consumer choice and ensure high quality and relevant services and products; and

* Ensures that research priorities are informed by the needs of parents, teachers, and school administrators, not political pressure, and focus on solving key problems.

(3) “Education Leaders Testify on Importance of High Standards and Independence in Education Research” – Press Release

Source: The Committee on Education and the Workforce – John Boehner, Chairman;

Dave Schnittger or Heather Valentine (contacts) – 202-225-4527 – 28 February 2002


The House Education Reform Subcommittee today held a hearing on “The Reauthorization of the Office of Educational Research and Improvement.” Chaired by subcommittee chairman Michael Castle (R-DE), the hearing focused on the operation and effectiveness of the OERI program, which is up for reauthorization this year.

“I am seeking to insulate our federal research, evaluation and statistics activities from partisan influences, put the needs of our teachers and students first, insist on the use of rigorous scientific standards to identify and disseminate effective strategies and methods, and ensure that program evaluations are impartial,” Castle said.

“As we heard today, school administrators, educators and parents are already examining various strategies and methods to help their students meet and exceed new and more challenging standards and accountability,” he continued. “And I want quality education research, not fads or anecdotes, to inform their decisions on the best way to improve student learning and narrow achievement gaps”…

Chairman Castle ensured that new legislation introduced yesterday would address this and other concerns. “My new bill replaces OERI with a new Academy of Education Sciences, which would provide the infrastructure for the undertaking of coordinated and high quality education research, statistics gathering, program evaluation, and dissemination. The Academy would be located within the Department of Education, but it would function as a separate office under the direction of a National Board for Education Sciences. I believe this change will help ensure that the Academy’s activities are carried out with the greatest levels of independence and integrity,” said Castle.

“By holding education research, evaluations and statistics to new standards of quality, improving the focus of these activities so they address the needs of educators and policymakers, and laying the framework for the dissemination of high quality, scientifically valid information, I believe we can build the foundation to improve the education of our children and all of our nation’s students. And I believe my bill, H.R. 3801, is a good start,” he continued.

(4) Hearing on “The Reauthorization of the Office of Educational Research and Improvement”

Source: Subcommittee on Education Reform – February 28, 2002


*  Opening Statement of Chairman Castle

*  Witness List – Panel One:

Dr. Grover “Russ” Whitehurst, Assistant Secretary, Office of Educational Research and Improvement – U.S. Department of Education – Washington, D.C.

*  Witness List – Panel Two

Witnesses testifying before the Subcommittee:

Mr. Jim Horne, Secretary -Florida Board of Education – Tallahassee, Florida

Ms. Lisa Towne, Senior Program Officer and Study Director, Center for Education – National Research Council – Washington, D.C.

Dr. Douglas Christensen, Commissioner, Nebraska Department of Education – Lincoln, Nebraska

Dr. Anne Bryant, Executive Director, National School Boards Association – Alexandria, Virginia

(5) “Bill Would Remake OERI Into ‘Education Sciences’ Academy” by Debra Wiadero

Source:  Education Week – 6 March 2002


A key lawmaker introduced a bill last week outlining his vision for transforming the Department of Education’s oft-criticized research arm into a streamlined, more independent “academy of education sciences.”

If the bill as written were to be approved by Congress, it would dramatically overhaul the department’s Office of Educational Research and Improvement [OERI], the $954 million agency that oversees most federally financed education studies. The academy, while still housed in the Education Department, would be more autonomous than the current research office, according to the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Michael N. Castle, R-Del.

He chairs the education reform subcommittee of the House Education and the Workforce Committee…

Under his proposal, the new academy would be headed by a director and a board of directors, rather than an assistant secretary, as is now the case with the OERI. While still a political appointee, the director would serve a fixed, six-year term–a change intended to put some distance between the research chief and the political party in power.

The president would appoint the board’s 15 voting members. Heads of other agencies, such as the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the Census Bureau, would serve as nonvoting members.

The academy’s director would also oversee three centers–one each on statistics, evaluation, and research. Those centers would be headed by commissioners also appointed by the president for six-year terms.

Mr. Castle’s bill seeks to phase out most of the smaller research centers the department now sponsors. Numbering as many as 11 at one time, the centers have specialized in areas such as improving education for disadvantaged students and student testing.

Currently, the Education Department contracts with regional educational laboratories to provide local educators with research expertise, to develop user-friendly products, and to serve as pipelines for educational research findings.

Under the new plan, regional governing boards made up of practitioners, policymakers, and parents would be given the authority to contract with whatever groups they chose to supply those kinds of services. The boards, appointed by the governors and the state schools superintendents, would be overseen by the federal secretary of education.

The changes come as federal lawmakers are pushing educators to rely on “scientifically based research” in choosing the programs they pay for with federal money, said Jim Kohlmoos, the president of NEKIA, or the National Education Knowledge Industry Association, a Washington-based group that represents many of the labs and centers. That phrase crops up 110 times, by one count, in the revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act signed into law earlier this year.

The emphasis continues in Mr. Castle’s bill, which calls for financing “scientifically valid” research.

“The research knowledge base has taken on a level of importance not seen in a long time, and we do not believe this is the time to blow up the knowledge infrastructure out in the field,” Mr. Kohlmoos said. “This is the time to refine and enhance it.”

Introduced the evening of Feb. 27, Mr. Castle’s bill came too late to generate much discussion at a hearing on federal education research held the following day by its sponsor’s subcommittee.

But some of the education officials who testified said the need to improve federal education research was clear.

“The key question I asked myself in preparing this testimony was this: In all my years involved in education reform, what role has federal education research or the federal research infrastructure played in my role as an education reformer?” said Jim Horne, Florida’s education secretary. “The answer is: Not much. Not much at all.”

The Bush administration’s emphasis on “scientifically based research,” as reflected in both Mr. Castle’s bill and in the revised ESEA, also worried some educators, however.

“This emphasis on a medical model for education research is abhorrent,” said Douglas D. Christenson, Nebraska’s commissioner of education. ” … Our children are not sick or diseased. Education and instruction are not treatments.”

Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, the Education Department’s assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, noted that his office’s core research and dissemination budget for the current fiscal year, leaving out its statistics center, is only $122 million. Much of the rest goes to technical assistance, demonstration programs, and other functions. President Bush, in his proposed budget for fiscal 2003, seeks to raise the agency’s research budget by 44 percent.

The bill introduced last week marked Mr. Castle’s second attempt to reorganize the research agency, which has not been formally reauthorized by Congress since 1994. The last bill, introduced two years ago, never made it to the House floor. But lawmakers in both the House and the Senate have said they plan to pass legislation reauthorizing the research office this year.

Mr. Whitehurst, in his testimony before the subcommittee, said taking steps to improve federal education research operations now could have far-reaching consequences.

“We are close to a point where the right investment in the right structure could get us close to a tipping point, where education becomes an evidence-based field,” he said. “Medicine only got to that point in the last 75 years.”


Editor’s Note: Also see the article, “Research and Policy” by David H. Monk and Herbert J. Walberg at

Can policy in education be based on research, as it is in medicine, finance, and other fields? How can policymakers best understand research findings? The reauthorization proposals for the federal office of educational research and improvement, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education, have prompted renewed debate on these and similar questions. We think that recent positive experiences using models designed to bridge the long-standing divide between policy and research are worth considering…

(6) “Legislation Which Could Eliminate the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Science and Math Education (ENC) To Be Considered Later This Week” – NSTA Legislative Alert

Source: National Science Teachers Association ( – 11 March 2002

…A House subcommittee is tentatively scheduled later this week to mark-up legislation that could effectively eliminate the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse [] and the ten Eisenhower math and science regional consortia.

The Education Sciences Reform Act (H.R. 3801), the authorizing bill for the Office Of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), does not specifically include language that would continue the ENC or the ten regional consortia [].

…Teachers, administrators, and others who have used the valuable information and services provided by both the ENC and the regional consortia are urged to contact their Representatives with this message: Include full authorization language for the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education and the ten regional Eisenhower math and science consortia in H.R. 3801, the bill to reauthorize the Office of Educational Research and Improvement.

We suggest you call, or e-mail or fax your letter to your Representative.

For phone calls: Call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121. Ask to be connected to your Representative. (You can request the fax number this way as well.)


Listed below is a short letter you can use when e-mailing or faxing your member of Congress…

Dear Representative _____________:

As the House Education Subcommittee on Education Reform begins its work on H.R. 3801, the bill to reauthorize the Department of Education’s Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), we respectfully request that you include full authorization language for the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education (ENC) and the ten regional Eisenhower math and science consortia in that legislation.

ENC has become a catalyst in improving the quality of math and science teaching and learning.  We believe it is crucial that the Committee fully reauthorize ENC this year.

With the passage of No Child Left Behind, the President’s education reform bill, new demands and expectations have been placed on our nation’s schools.  ENC is well positioned to help math and science educators effectively implement these changes by delivering the most current and effective learning materials and practices directly into the hands of K-12 math and science teachers in every state.

ENC produces a wide variety of print and electronic publications that are available to all teachers free of charge without burdensome forms to fill out or enrollment fees to pay.

We are excited about the accomplishments of ENC to date and its potential to make an even larger contribution to math and science education.  Thank you for your support and consideration of this request.


Jodi Peterson, Director of Legislative Affairs


Editor’s Note: Pi Day (3/14) activities can be found on the ENC website at,1819,34,00.shtm