COMET • Vol. 3, No. 22 – 2 June 2002


This is the last regular issue of COMET for the 2001-2002 school year. COMET will resume publication following the summer recess. (A special issue may be produced during the summer months in the event of an urgent or especially timely news item.)

Please note: All 96 back issues of COMET (2000-2002) are available at /cmp/comet/   For your convenience, the COMET archives are searchable, as is the entire CSMP (California Subject Matter Projects) web site (/cmp/comet/search.html).

Appreciation is expressed to the CSMP web site coordinator, Lane Rankin (, for his work in maintaining the COMET web site and to the California Mathematics Project (Susie Hakansson, Executive Director– for supporting this venture.

Best wishes for a summer filled with many opportunities for reflection, relaxation, and renewal!

~ Carol Fry Bohlin


(1) “Thinking Big Thoughts About California Education” by Peter Schrag

Source: The Sacramento Bee – 29 May 2002


Nobody expected much when the Legislature (in 1999) created a joint committee to develop a master plan for education. The phrase itself is a snoozer, and chances are still high that not much will come of it.

But in the committee’s draft report, which will be subject to widespread public comment beginning Monday, there’s a set of ideas that may be as far-reaching and significant as anything that’s been proposed in California in a long time.

Inevitably, there’ll be controversy. The breadth of the list alone assures it. Among the major proposals:

* Changes in the K-12 governance system putting the Department of Education in the governor’s Cabinet, thereby streamlining the system, and making the elected superintendent an inspector general to measure educational performance.

* Latitude for local districts to raise property taxes for schools with a 55 percent vote — in effect a major change in Proposition 13.

* Accountability measures not only for schools and students, but also annual reports measuring how well the Legislature and governor provide the resources to enable schools and kids to meet the standards the state sets.

* A shift to an adequacy model of school funding based on the calculations of a commission. It would estimate how much it would cost to provide the teachers, books and facilities necessary to bring the majority of students up to state learning standards. The state would guarantee “suitable learning environments” in every school.

* Mandatory full-day kindergarten in all districts with low academic performance scores, and wide access to preschool programs aligned with kindergarten. Also, increased academic support and intervention for students in grades three, eight, 11, 12 and the first year of college, transition periods when there’s the greatest risk of failure.

* More staff help and higher pay for principals in schools serving high numbers of low-income and other at-risk students.

* State level negotiation and funding of school employee benefits.

* A universal internship program to replace the hiring of all teachers on waivers or emergency credentials with pre-interns who’d get strong state support in obtaining their credentials.

* Development of “classroom-based instruments” to diagnose individual students’ learning problems and to quickly provide appropriate intervention. “Measurement matters,” the report declares.

* Imposition of accountability standards in higher education, with required annual reports on how well colleges and universities are meeting them.

* Greater emphasis on joint planning and use of higher education facilities; use of subjective as well as objective criteria in admissions to the University of California and the California State University; and stabilizing student fees to eliminate the boom-and-bust cycles in which fees drop in good times and then rise sharply in bad.

It’s a long list — more a wish list of the committee’s task forces, staff and legislative leaders than a consensus of the full committee, which has yet to act on it. Committee staff director Stephan Blake says “it reflects pretty well” the feedback from members, but he acknowledges that in its scope, it’s an attempt to shoot the moon.

There’s a good chance, therefore, that a lot of these proposals won’t make it into the final report, let alone into law, even in the multiyear time span that this plan is supposed to cover. A state guarantee of things such as adequate facilities and teachers almost necessarily implies greater state control — and a lot more money.

Nor is the Legislature likely to ask voters to tinker with Proposition 13, even for schools. It’s also likely to be reluctant to give the governor greater authority over schools, no matter how much sense it makes, or to mess overtly with university admission criteria. (Political pressure under the table, which happens frequently, is something else.) Conservatives will bristle at the report’s call for “authentic assessment” — supplementing if not replacing standardized tests with student portfolios, projects and other “fuzzy” measures.

And yet most of the report’s ideas are hardly radical. Most states have far more rational and manageable state-level governance systems. In most, local districts can ask voters for tax overrides.

A number, moreover, are moving toward adequacy-based funding systems in which, to quote the draft, “essential components (personnel, materials, equipment and facilities) necessary for an exemplary education are identified and provided.” It’s precisely what the American Civil Liberties Union, suing the state on behalf of a group of poor California students stuck in rotten schools, is now demanding.

From June 3 to 14, the Master Plan Committee will conduct an online “dialogue” on the draft report — ( In addition, there’ll be a monthlong set of public hearings at the Capitol, plus town meetings run by Sen. Dede Alpert, the committee chair, and other committee members in various parts of the state.

Public input is being solicited for all these forums. In its scope, that process is itself unusual. Some of the draft’s proposals are dubious and more will probably not even get into the final report. But there’ll rarely be a more accessible supermarket of interesting ideas in California education.

(2) State Board of Education (SBE):  Actions Taken at 29 May 2002 Meeting

Source: California State Board of Education (Questions: Greg Geeting, 916-657-5478)

URL (for agenda items only):

ITEM 13 Implementation of the Mathematics and Reading Professional Development Program (AB 466, Strom-Martin), including, but not limited to, Approval of Training Providers and Training Curriculum.

Actions: The State Board of Education approved payments to districts that had provided training in past years. Calabash Professional Learning Systems was approved as a provider of training for specified mathematics instructional materials approved by the SBE (e.g., Houghton Mifflin’s K-6 mathematics series). The SBE also established a process for conditional approval of training providers. Potential providers who are conditionally approved at the June SBE meeting do not have to wait for full approval at the September SBE meeting but can be approved by a Subcommittee of the Review Committee when specified conditions have been met.

Current regulations require that teachers attending full-day AB 466 professional development workshops sign an attendance sheet three times. The SBE proposed an amendment to the regulations that would require that teachers only sign in twice, once at the beginning of the training and once at the end. This amendment is now out for a 15-day public review.

(3) New Reports from EdSource about California’s K-12 Students


* Who are California’s Students?”

This EdFact presents a snapshot of the state’s 6 million-plus public school students and looks at future trends. While population growth may be slowing, the diversity of the student body is increasing–at a faster pace than in the adult population.

To download free, go to:

* “California Student Achievement: Multiple Views of K-12 Progress”

This new EdSource report takes a look at how well policy reforms are reaching students and incorporates research work from the National Center for Research and Evaluation Standards and Student Testing (CRESST).

The most positive news is a narrowing of the achievement gap, particularly with Latino students. Although Latino and African American students are still performing well below state averages, their test scores show notable improvement.

Also significant is the improvement in elementary schools and, to a lesser extent, middle schools. However, the performance of high school students continues to raise concern.  For an abstract and ordering information, go to



(1) Eisenhower National Clearinghouse (ENC) Classroom Calendar

Source: Math Forum Internet News – 3 June 2002

URL (for calendar):

Within this feature of ENC you’ll find topic overviews, ready-to-go activities, and suggested math and science curriculum materials. Use them to supplement and enrich your lessons on any date that suits your needs. Correlated to national science and mathematics standards, all entries contain direct links to Internet sources. Watch the calendar throughout the year, as new material is continually added.

(2) “Statistical Model Tackles World Cup Predictions

Source: News Service – 31 May 2002


A new statistical model of the World Cup football tournament could provide a more accurate set of predictions than either bookmakers and television pundits, according to Henry Stott, a mathematician at the University of Warwick, UK.

Stott has used a modeling technique more commonly applied to financial risk assessment to predict the outcome of every game in the 2002 competition, as well as the ultimate winners. The approach combines human intuition, in the form of bookmakers’ odds, statistical analysis and brute force computer simulation…

Peter Haigh, a statistician at the University of Sussex, says the approach is much more comprehensive than regular punditry. “I strongly believe in simulations as a reliable way to generate estimations,” he told New Scientist. “It’s based on the sound idea that, if you want to come up with an estimate you have to take into account the path to the final.”

Although many bookmakers’ favorites Argentina was still given the greatest chance of winning the tournament (13.2%), the model provides a number of surprising results. Brazil (9.3%) was given better odds than France (8.7%), whereas bookmakers rate France’s chances almost twice as high. England (6.9%) was also given a better chance of triumphing than many people’s hot tip Italy (6.7%)…

The biggest surprise came in individual matches. Stott’s system gave a much higher chance that underdogs would upset strong teams than bookmakers. For example, South Africa was given only a 10% chance of defeating Spain by most bookmakers, while Stott calculated this probability to be 28%… Portugal (7.9%) turned out to be the fourth most likely team to become world champions, after Argentina, Brazil and France. The team with the lowest probability of ultimate victory chance is China with a tiny 0.3 % chance…


Related article: “Maths Picks Moment For Soccer Super Subs”

Source: News Service – 6 March 2002


(3) “High-Stakes Testing, Uncertainty, and Student Learning” by Audrey L. Amrein and David C. Berliner

Source:  The Education Policy Analysis Archives 10(18) – 28 March 2002



A brief history of high-stakes testing is followed by an analysis of eighteen states with severe consequences attached to their testing programs. These 18 states were examined to see if their high-stakes testing programs were affecting student learning, the intended outcome of high-stakes testing policies promoted throughout the nation.  Scores on the individual tests that states use were not analyzed for evidence of learning.  Such scores are easily manipulated through test-preparation programs, narrow curricula focus, exclusion of certain students, and so forth.  Student learning was measured by means of additional tests covering some of the same domains as each state’s own high-stakes test. The question asked was whether transfer to these domains occurs as a function of a state’s high-stakes testing program.

Four separate standardized and commonly used tests that overlap the same domain as state tests were examined: the ACT, SAT, NAEP and AP tests.  Archival time series were used to examine the effects of each state’s high-stakes testing program on each of these different measures of transfer.  If scores on the transfer measures went up as a function of a state’s imposition of a high-stakes test, we considered that evidence of student learning in the domain and support for the belief that the state’s high-stakes testing policy was promoting transfer, as intended.

The uncertainty principle is used to interpret these data. That principle states “The more important that any quantitative social indicator becomes in social decision-making, the more likely it will be to distort and corrupt the social process it is intended to monitor.” Analyses of these data reveal that if the intended goal of high-stakes testing policy is to increase student learning, then that policy is not working.  While a state’s high-stakes test may show increased scores, there is little support in these data that such increases are anything but the result of test preparation and/or the exclusion of students from the testing process. These distortions, we argue, are predicted by the uncertainty principle.  The success of a high-stakes testing policy is whether it affects student learning, not whether it can increase student scores on a particular test.  If student learning is not affected, the validity of a state’s test is in question.

Evidence from this study of 18 states with high-stakes tests is that in all but one analysis, student learning is indeterminate, remains at the same level it was before the policy was implemented, or actually goes down when high-stakes testing policies are instituted…

(4) “Try Something Different for Weak Students” by John Merrow

Source: USA TODAY – 14 April 2002


New York City’s school board is deeply divided over whether to make drastic cuts in its summer school program. Last year, 269,620 students in grades 3 through 12 attended summer school at a cost of $176 million. If any cuts are made, however, it will be to save money, not because of a loss of faith in the idea of summer school.

“If you can provide kids with extra time,” said school board member Terri Thomson of summer school, “they improve.”

Actually, I don’t think the kind of “extra time” now offered matters a bit.

Summer school, in New York and elsewhere, is little more than mindless repetition of failed practices. Yet summer school is being mandated in a growing number of public systems around the country.

Chicago started the trend in the late 1990s, but the roster of cities mandating summer school for students who haven’t met the new education standards now includes Miami-Dade; Oakland; Long Beach; Greenville, S.C.; Baton Rouge; Richmond, Va.; Dallas; Davenport, Iowa; Oxnard, Calif., and Orange City, Fla., among others.

The growth in summer schooling is a response to the demand for an end to what is called “social promotion,” the practice of keeping students with their age peers regardless of their academic performance. Social promotion is based on the belief that making a struggling child repeat a grade does more harm than good. But it conjures up powerful images of students being passed along even though they can’t pass tests, write coherent sentences or read.

Most Americans believe that social promotion is wrong. It’s also something politicians of varied persuasions are against. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and New York mayor Michael Bloomberg have opposed it and campaigned to end it.

Now many school districts have replaced social promotion with “retention” — what most of us call “staying back.” Unfortunately, ending social promotion has not solved the underlying problem of school failure — and summer school in its current form doesn’t help, either.

What happens to students who are retained? What opportunities does the system provide to enable students to catch up? Normally, it’s summer school and more of the same. That is, most remediation programs are echoes of what already has failed.

Think of it this way: Imagine you are driving into town, looking for the Wal-Mart. You get lost and ask me for directions. I tell you how many blocks to go, when to turn left, and so on, but you do not understand. (If you are with me on this, you are the student, and I’m the teacher.)

When I realize that you are confused, I simply repeat the directions, only this time I SHOUT. It won’t take you long to realize that you never will get where you want to go with me as your guide, so you step on the gas and seek help elsewhere.

That’s a pretty fair description of how schools treat failure. First of all, just as I blamed you for not grasping my directions, it’s the student’s fault for not understanding. Summer school is the equivalent of my shouting the same words. So just as you would give up on me and drive away, many students who are retained drop out of school.

At a time when President Bush talks about leaving no child behind, teachers need to find more creative ways to remediate these students.

The Bush administration believes that testing students every year will end the problem, because failure will be spotted early. In that sense, it is right, but if schools don’t provide thoughtful — and different — remediation programs, nothing important will change, and kids will continue to pay the price of our failure.

So how do we fix it?

Get back in your car for a minute and I will tell you. First of all, I wouldn’t shout at you, because I would want you to get to your destination. I would try new approaches, find different ways to explain my directions, until you felt ready to go on down the road. That is, I would feel that I had failed (as your teacher) if I couldn’t help you get where you were going.

So, to be successful, summer school teachers should begin by abandoning what has not worked and adopt instead a new motto: “If students don’t learn, then we have not taught.”

Change the location, schedule field trips and overnight excursions, put kids in groups, teach in teams, and experiment with technology. I recall a summer-reading program that took advantage of the students’ obsession with basketball. They had one rule: Only those who had done the reading could suit up. Then, about a dozen times during the games, the ref would blow his whistle for vocabulary words. If you could define the word, your team got one point, but if you could not, someone from the other team got the opportunity to score. “Vocabulary points” decided most games, and, believe me, that worked.

Of course, students and teachers and schools must be held accountable for falling short, but the goal of schooling ought to be learning, not simply doing a better job of placing the blame.

That means discarding what isn’t working.

No more shouting!


John Merrow, who produces education documentaries for PBS and won the Peabody Award this year for School Sleuth, is also author of the book, Choosing Excellence.


Links which may interest COMET readers

Below are links to a number of articles that may be of interest to COMET readers but for which there was not enough space in past editions to excerpt:

(5) “Concepts vs. Computation: Which Equals Success?” by Tess Nacelewicz
  Portland Press Herald – 14 April 2002

(6)  “Math the Saxon Way is Catching On” by David J. Hoff
Education Week – 1 May 2002
URL (article):
URL (letters to the editor):

(7) “Studies Cite Learning Gains in Direct Instruction Schools” by Debra Viadero
 Education Week– 17 April 2002

(8) (a) “Scripted Learning: A Slap in the Face?”
(b) “Or a Blessing from Above?”
Source: California Educator – April 2002
URL (Slap):
URL (Blessing):

(9) “Schools, Accountability and a Sheaf of Fuzzy Mathî by Richard Rothstein
  New York Times -10 April 2002

(10) “States Teeter When Balancing Standards With Tests” by Richard Rothstein
 The New York Times – 1 May 2002

(11) “Md. to Phase Out Innovative Testing Program” by David J. Hoff
  Education Week – 3 April 2002

(12) Once-Lauded MSPAP Undermined by Format” by Nurith C. Aizenman
 The Washington Post – 11 March 2002

(13) “Testing Tests by Vaishali Honawar
 The Washington Times – 10 March 2002

(14) “Boycotts and a Bill Protest Mandatory State Tests” by Anemona Hartocollis
 The New York Times – 6 March 2002

(15) “After Students Spend Time in Supermath Class…Things Just Click” by Cicero A. Estrella
 San Francisco Chronicle – April 26, 2002

(16) “Math, Science Not Just For Men” by Alejandra Navarro
 The Modesto Bee – 8 April 2002

(17) “Girls Plugged Into Science, Math, Computers” by Donald Bradley
The Kansas City Star – 11 April 2002

(18) “Gender Differences in Achievement” [TIMSS]

(19) “6th-Grade Class Split By Gender in Paducah: Students and Teachers Say Pilot Program Improves Performance” by Molly Harper
Source: The Courier-Journal – 4 March 2002

(20) “Math Class Benefits from Gender Gap” by Kate Kompas
The Des Moines Register – 9 March 2002

(21) “Lecturer Makes History in Maths” by Karen Gold
 The Guardian [UK] – 4 March 2002.

(22) “Mind Mapping Can Help Dyslexics” by Georgina Kenyo
BBC News – 14 April 2002

(23) “Put That Light Out – Study Finds Too Much Reading May Well Ruin Children’s Eyes” by Sarah Boseley
Guardian Unlimited – 17 May 2002

(24) “Study Ties Mental Abilities To Interaction of Emotion and Cognitive Skills Source: Washington University in St. Louis – 18 March 2002

(25) “Nash: Film No Whitewash”
Source:  CBS – 17 March 2002

(26) “Reflections of an Outreach Mathematician” by Jerry Dwyer 
 Notices of the American Mathematical Society – November 2001