COMET • Vol. 3, No. 24 – 5 September 2002


(1) The California Master Plan for Education

Source: Joint Committee to Develop a Master Plan for Education–Kindergarten through University


The final draft of the California Master Plan for Education may be posted on the web site above as early as September 6. Links to earlier drafts of the document and information about committee members are also available on this web site.

(2)  “Public Schools Show Glimmers of Hope” by Nanette Asimov

Source: San Francisco Chronicle – 1 September 2002


California public schools have a bad reputation, and that’s no secret.

Reading and math scores are abysmal on national exams, while crowded schools with too few counselors, textbooks and expert teachers support the perception that the nation’s largest education system needs an overhaul.

But the public schools do harbor a secret, known mainly to the teachers, parents, principals and students who spend enough time in classrooms to discover it: The test scores don’t say it all. Millions of Californians are learning a lot in school.

The state graduates 27 percent more students than it did a decade ago. The eligibility rate for entering California universities has climbed. And high school graduation requirements have been strengthened…

Although test scores offer snapshots of progress, researchers caution against using them as the sole measure of quality. In California in particular, where 25 percent of test-takers speak little or no English, many schools struggle to raise those scores. But it is the rare parent or teacher who is blind to the richness that lies beyond the numbers…

During the past five years, the California Board of Education has established academic standards for every grade and subject. Publishers have upgraded their textbooks. Teachers are being taught the standards, and exams are being created to measure students’ knowledge of them…

“We adopted some of the best and most challenging standards in the country, ” said Kerry Mazzoni, education secretary to Gov. Gray Davis. By summer’s end, nearly one-third of the state’s 307,000 teachers will have been introduced to the standards, she said…

One of California’s main problems is ensuring stable, intelligent leadership and staff at high-poverty schools. That has been compounded by enrollment that has doubled to 6.2 million since 1960. Today, nearly half of California students are poor enough to qualify for subsidized lunches–up by 66 percent since 1990.

As the number of students facing poverty and family breakdown has spiraled upward, schools have been ill-equipped to become their surrogate parents. Records show there is just one psychologist for every 1,751 students, and one social worker for every 26,854…

Within the schools’ population explosion, two other high-need groups have also swelled in size: kids who speak little English, and students who need special services because of a physical, emotional or academic disability. The number of children requiring an expensive “individualized education plan” has risen by 71 percent since 1985.

And 1 in 4 students is learning English, up from 1 in 10 in 1982.

Though proud of improvements, politicians like Mazzoni acknowledge that with 90 percent of school-aged Californians enrolled in public school, the greatest challenge is how to deliver a quality education to everyone.

California has never had a comprehensive vision for schools. But the state’s leadership grew interested after realizing how a Master Plan had helped the public university system.

Four decades ago, the universities were fragmented and struggling. In 1959, the California Master Plan for Higher Education was developed. Today, it is widely credited with transforming the system into an international beacon of excellence. It remains the guiding reference for decision-making in the university system.

Now, a K-12 Master Plan is in draft form… State Sen. Dede Alpert, a San Diego Democrat chairing the plan’s development committee, knows that many public school students receive a superb education. But she knows it isn’t enough.

“This master plan will say: ‘We demand a high-quality education for every child,’ ” said Alpert, whose committee has consulted with civil rights attorneys representing low-income students who are suing the state in a class-action lawsuit. The students say it’s the state’s responsibility to ensure that all public schools meet minimum standards of quality.

Albert said the new plan supports that philosophy, envisioning a system in which dollars are allocated according to students’ needs, not automatic formulas.

“(The plan) asks: What is the basic, adequate amount to provide for the average kid? How much do you need for a special education kid? One who speaks little English?” Another philosophical shift will be to support early interventions, such as preschool for all.

“In the 1980s and early ’90s, California’s education was really at the bottom of the barrel, down with the Mississippis of the world,” Alpert said. “The good news is that I think we are on the upturn.”

(3) “State Takeover Looms for Some Schools” by Nanette Asimov

Source: San Francisco Chronicle – 1 September 2002


For the first time, the state could assume control of public schools that are involved in an improvement program and have failed to raise test scores two years in a row.

The sanctions mark a turning point in the state’s multiyear effort to bring public education back to good health: high standards, rising achievement, and either financial incentives or state intervention.

Overall, reading and math scores are up statewide on the Stanford 9 exam, which was taken last spring by nearly 5 million students in grades 2 through 11. Scores have risen each year since the test was introduced in 1998, and all test questions have remained the same.

Until this year, the Stanford 9 was the sole measure for determining whether schools were succeeding or failing. That test measures only how well students perform in relation to a national sample of students. But the California Board of Education wants to measure how well students learn specific skills that comprise the “academic content standards” it adopted in recent years.

So the board authorized a second, tougher exam called the California Standards Test to measure students’ knowledge of those skills. Half the questions on that exam will be replaced each year, said state schools chief Delaine Eastin…

The schools at risk for a takeover come from an original group of 430 that in 1999 joined the three-year underperforming schools program. They were evaluated, told how to improve and given money to make it happen.

All but 120 schools improved after one year of implementing the changes… The state will announce in October which of the 120 schools could face state intervention, said Bill Padia, director of Policy and Evaluation for the state’s Education Department.

State Sen. Dede Alpert, a San Diego Democrat, has introduced SB1310 to clarify the process for schools not meeting their goals. The bill would allow schools to exclude the scores of new students from the overall judgment, and would create the label “state-monitored school” for those that still failed.

“The state’s never taken over a school,” Padia said. “There are all sorts of potential problems there, so 1310 would allow a management team (instead of state officials) to work with the school.”

Gov. Gray Davis said Thursday that he continues to support financial rewards for schools that raise scores, even though the budget deficit of $24 billion is the worst in state history.

Last year, Davis gave out $748 million, including $25,000 bonuses to teachers at the most improved schools. This year, Davis is giving out $67.3 million–less than half of the expected $144.3 million — for schools that showed strong improvement on the 2001 test. He wants the remaining $77 million to be applied to rewards for the 2002 test…

(4) “More Than Money, Schools Need Community Support, Good Staffs ” by Tanya Schevitz

Source:  San Francisco Chronicle – 3 September 2002


It doesn’t take fancy facilities, a huge budget or a well-heeled PTA for a school to shine. A good school can exist anywhere.

Educators and parents know that community involvement, enthusiastic teachers and a vibrant atmosphere can turn around even the lowest-performing school.

“I strongly believe that great schools have super principals and wonderful teachers,” said Dennis Chaconas, superintendent for the Oakland Unified School District. “When you go into good schools, there’s a real energy in the air.”

To Carol Kennedy, a consultant with the state Department of Education, which has been measuring schools for its annual recognition program since 1985, the key to creating a good school is community.

“If the school is connected to the community as opposed to just sitting there with a wall around it, that means all the needs of the kids are being addressed,” she said. “They’re probably doing well academically, they’re safe, they’re healthy, and their parents are satisfied with the curriculum.”

Kennedy is not necessarily wowed by state-of-the-art labs and buildings.

“The focus is on not how much ‘stuff’ they get, what they can afford; it’s how well you use your community,” she said. “There are little tiny schools that are going like gangbusters.” …

Even though any school can aspire to become a desirable center of learning, it’s not an easy task. It involves a web of support, communication and commitment among the faculty, parents and students, educators said.

In measuring California’s schools for the recognition program, Kennedy said she looked for adequate counseling programs, to ensure that kids are safe from sexual harassment and other dangers and that they can cope academically. A good school addresses children’s health, she said, and accommodates those with special needs, or those who are poor or just learning English.

And no matter how energizing teachers might be, they’re lost if they have to double as social workers or contend with bulging classes, Kayton said.

Indeed, support for teachers is a deciding factor in whether they succeed, said Jacob Perea, dean of the College of Education at San Francisco State University, which prepares about 100 teachers a year to go into local school systems.

“Better than 80 percent of the new teachers who are involved in support systems remain after one year,” he said. “It’s not necessarily support with ‘What do I do tomorrow?’ but support in dealing with issues that have come up with kids.”

An increasingly important part of that equation is the school administrator, Perea said.

“There is so much external intrusion in schools today that you need to have someone to interpret that for the teachers,” he said.

Sandra Fewer, director of parent organizing for Coleman Advocates, said that principals also set the tone for parental involvement…


Related article:

“Parents, Teachers are Making a Difference–S.F.’S Jefferson Elementary School Defies Expectations With High-Performing Students, Discipline” by Tanya Schevitz

Source:  San Francisco Chronicle – 2 September 2002



(1) “Teachers Should Save Receipts For New Tax Deduction” Source: Internal Revenue Service Media Relations Office ( 202-622-4000)

URL:   Also see:,,i1%3D50%26genericId%3D83714,00.html

The Internal Revenue Service…advised teachers to save their receipts for purchases of books and classroom supplies. These out-of-pocket expenses may lower their taxes, thanks to a recent change in the law.

“Many teachers dip into their own pockets when funds for classroom supplies run out before the school year does,” said IRS Commissioner Charles O. Rossotti. “A new law gives them a tax break this year [2002] and next [2003], and we want them to have the records theyÍll need to claim it on their returns.”

The new deduction is available to eligible educators in both public and private elementary and secondary schools. They must work at least 900 hours during a school year as a teacher, instructor, counselor, principal or aide.

Taxpayers may subtract up to $250 of qualified expenses when figuring their adjusted gross income (AGI). They will not need to itemize deductions to get this benefit. Prior to the change in the law, educators could take such expenses only as miscellaneous itemized deductions, which must be reduced by two percent of AGI…

Details on this and other new tax law changes are in IRS Publication 3991, “Highlights of the Job Creation and Worker Assistance Act of 2002,” available on the IRS Web site at or by calling 1-800-TAX-FORM (1-800-829-3676).

(2)  “Students Getting a Wrong Number–Researcher Says Children’s Computational Skills Are Slipping”by Jay Mathews

Source: Washington Post – 3 September 2002


…In a report released today, Tom Loveless, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings, said the federally funded National Assessment of Educational Progress has presented a cheery picture of rising math scores in the last decade, even while arithmetic scores have languished. NAEP often is called the nation’s report card.

Loveless has a high-profile supporter in Vice President Cheney’s wife, Lynne Cheney, who invited him to present his research at an education forum this year…

He said the taxpayers who fund the NAEP tests deserve to have computation scores reported as a separate category and not buried in the “Number Properties and Operations” section, where they are only 40 percent of the test.

“Number Properties and Operations? What parent is worried about that?” Loveless said. “Why is it that the NAEP, the federal government’s primary tool for evaluating American education, cannot tell whether fourth-graders know how to compute accurately?” Officials say there are plans for a federal initiative, backed by Lynne Cheney, to reemphasize basic math.

In his report, Loveless contrasted a strong climb in fourth-grade math scores on the main NAEP test from 1990 to 1999 with little change in computation scores over the same period. Computation scores for eighth-graders in Iowa, one of the few states that allow separate scrutiny of paper-and-pencil math skills, dropped sharply after 1992. “Iowa may be the canary in the coal mine, warning the nation that there are consequences to deemphasizing computation skills in the elementary grades,” he said.

Loveless said he blames math reformers, including the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, for turning away from basic skills in the 1990s.

The new thinking, he said, was that “calculators would free students from the drudgery of memorizing multiplication tables and practicing long division. Rather than learning standard algorithms through direct instruction, arithmetic could be learned while solving real-world problems that piqued children’s interest. The federal government . . . enthusiastically embraced this position. Unfortunately, official support preceded any practical experience with the [National Council of Teachers of Mathematics] standards or independent research on their effects.”

Johnny W. Lott, a mathematics professor at the University of Montana and president of the math teachers group, said there is widespread evidence, including the recent NAEP results, of the positive effect of the changes in instruction. Computational fluency is essential, he said, but students also “have to understand the meaning of these operations.” He said that “to try to concentrate only on computation would be comparable to trying to concentrate only on the alphabet while learning to read”…

(3) State Indicators; K-5 Math Videotapes; and Fulbright Teacher Exchange Program

Source: “NCTM News Briefs” – July/August 2002


* The Council of Chief State School Officers announces the release of State Indicators of Science and Mathematics Education 2001.< This latest edition of CCSSO’s biennial report offers statistical data, listed by state, on 10-year trends in students’ achievement, content and instruction, teacher preparation and supply, and conditions for learning. An electronic version is available at the CCSSO Web site,, under Publications. For more information, contact Rolf K. Blank, CCSSO Director of Education Indicators, phone (202) 336-7044; e-mail

* The Western Virginia Public Education Consortium is offering a set of six videotapes that contain 46 minilessons for use in KÆ5 classrooms. Each 3Æ10 minute lesson on fractions, telling time, money, simple and advanced measurement, or decimals comes with a reproducible follow-up activity. The videos are of high quality but not broadcast quality. The entire set is available for $40 (includes postage for orders sent to U.S. addresses). To order, contact Bob Underhill at or 707 Crestwood Dr., Blacksburg, VA 24060.

* The Fulbright Teacher Exchange Program offers direct exchanges educators of all levels–giving educators the opportunity to teach their subjects and learn new practices in a foreign country. The application deadline for the 2003-04 school year is October 15, 2002. For more information, contact Fulbright Teacher and Administrator Exchange, Graduate School, USDA, 600 Maryland Ave., SW, Suite 320, Washington, DC 20024-2520; phone (202) 314-3520; fax (202) 479-6806; e-mail;

(4) “Increasing Your Mathematics and Science Content Knowledge”

Source: Eisenhower National Clearinghouse (ENC)–ENC Focus, Vol. 9(3), 2002


One of teachers’ primary concerns is how to become better teachers for their students. ENC’s teacher advisory group supported this view when they overwhelmingly selected “Increasing Your Mathematics and Science Content Knowledge” as a topic for ENC Focus. Renowned mathematics educator Liping Ma urges teachers “do not forget yourself as a teacher of yourself,” and that is the message of every article in this issue.

[Selected Topics/Links:]

“Teachers Need A Special Type of Content Knowledge” by Zalman Usiskin

“An Interview with Liping Ma” by Terese Herrera

“A Deeper Look at Elementary Mathematics [and Liping Ma]” by Melanie Shreffler

“Basic Skills and Conceptual Understanding: It’s Not Either/Or” by Joan M. Kenney

“A Steep Learning Curve” by Tina L. Coplan

“More Content Courses? Maybe Not!” by Paul Baker

“Formulating Formulas: The Making-a-Mess Method” by Anne C. Patterson

“Aspiring to Be a [Mathematics] Teacher” by Judy Spicer and Michael Khoury, Jr.