COMET • Vol. 3, No. 25 – 14 September 2002


(1) “Education Goals from Preschool to College–Sweeping Plan Goes to State Lawmakers” by Nanette Asimov

Source: San Francisco Chronicle – 11 September 2002


URL (Direct link to the text of the Master Plan for Education): http://WWW.SEN.CA.GOV/masterplan/020909THEMASTERPLANLINKS.HTML

Imagine a California in which every toddler attends preschool, kindergarten lasts all day, each student has a qualified teacher, and college professors are lauded as much for teaching as for publishing.

That is the dream scenario outlined in the California Master Plan for Education–a bipartisan document, delivered to state lawmakers Tuesday, that sets forth a 20-year vision for the schooling of Californians young and old.

The new plan combines an overhaul of California’s 40-year-old Master Plan for Higher Education–a dog-eared document widely credited with restoring respect to the once-troubled college system–with fresh goals for preschool through high school.

“The master plan offers real hope and direction for how we can truly address the needs of students,” said state Sen. Dede Alpert, the San Diego Democrat who led the committee that spent three years developing the plan and listening to thousands of witnesses.

California is the first state to produce a seamless set of educational goals from preschool through university levels, the committee reported.

The goals are represented in more than 50 recommendations and sub- recommendations. Carrying them out will depend largely on passage of legislation to be drafted during the next two years…

In recent years, the state has established strong academic standards, bought textbooks to reflect them, trained teachers to understand them and rewarded students who meet them.

Now, included in that academic infrastructure is the new Master Plan for Education. Here are some key recommendations:

— Stop hiring teachers with “emergency” permits to teach.

— Provide two years of public preschool.

— Require full-day kindergarten.

— Increase the number of expert teachers on college faculties.

Some proposals–such as shifting the responsibilities of the elected state schools superintendent to an appointee of the governor–may never see the light of day even if legislation is drafted to support them, said some lawmakers, including state Sen. Jack O’Connell, a Democrat from San Luis Obispo.

O’Connell is running for the top schools job and served on the master plan committee. But his name is missing from the list of signatories.

“I chose not to sign,” O’Connell said. “The change would diminish the (superintendent’s) position to little more than an overseer, a cheerleader on the sidelines. The elected voice of public education should not be diminished.”

The California Master Plan for Education is on the Web at

(2) EdSource Online–Voter Guides (Propositions 47 and 49) and Other Resources


Independent and impartial, EdSource’s nonprofit mission is to develop and widely distribute trustworthy information that clarifies complex K-12 school policy and improvement issues.

The “Education Policy And School Improvement Issues” page ( provides objective information designed to help [readers] understand the most important issues facing public education today in California and in the United States as a whole. Each section includes an overview of the topic’s scope, and most also provide an update that describes how California is currently addressing the issue, a discussion of some difficult related questions, specific information about relevant laws and policies, important research, and additional resources. [Topics include the following: Accountability; Assessment; Models and Partnerships; School Finance; School Management; Standards; Students and Special Student Populations; Teacher Quality; and Class Size Reduction.]

EdSource also provides information about education-related legislation: — Proposition 47, on the November 2002 ballot, would provide $13.05 billion in general obligation bonds for the construction and modernization of elementary, secondary, and higher education facilities in California. A second measure, which will go on the ballot in 2004, would provide an additional $12.3 billion for public education facilities. — Proposition 49, on November’s ballot, seeks to greatly increase and make permanent California’s financial commitment to before- and after-school programs for students in elementary and middle schools.

EdSource’s voter guides provide an impartial analysis of these propositions and summarize the major arguments pro and con:

Proposition 47:

Proposition 49:


(1) “Moving Instruction to Center Stage” by David T. Gordon

Source: Harvard Education Letter (Research Online) – September/October 2002

URL: (will later move to

…The Consortium on Chicago School Research–a group of researchers from local universities, community groups, and the school system–has conducted a number of studies in an effort to identify why some Chicago schools are improving while most are not. Much of that work has focused on instruction. A survey of Consortium reports reveals some of the earmarks of improving schools:

1. Improving schools have a coherent instructional program.

This requires a common framework for learning…that gives shape to curriculum, instruction, and assessment. It also requires that principals organize personnel and resources only in ways that support and advance those core goals. In short, the school day revolves around instruction.

Researchers measured the coherence of school programs based on these characteristics through a variety of data, including surveys of more than 1,000 teachers throughout the system and field studies from 11 high-poverty elementary schools with a variety of instructional approaches… From 1993 to 1997, schools with coherent instruction had a 12 percent increase in scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills; schools without a coherent plan showed no improvement and in some cases saw their scores drop…

2. Improving schools offer challenging instruction.

In studying the impact of the $150 million Chicago Annenberg Challenge, the Consortium has produced a series of reports examining the intellectual demands of classroom assignments. The researchers favor the framework of high quality or “authentic intellectual work,” which they define as involving the “construction of knowledge” through “the use of disciplined inquiry” that leads to “discourse, products, or performances that have value beyond school.”

Using work samples and assignments from the 3rd, 6th, and 8th grades, the initial report (“The Quality of Intellectual Work in Chicago Schools: A Baseline Report”), published in 1998, showed that most Chicago students got assignments that emphasized rote learning, work that can be valuable for developing a base of knowledge but does not necessarily give students the opportunity to develop and demonstrate interpretive abilities, organizational skills, a deeper understanding of concepts and how they connect, or other “higher thinking” skills–that is, the kind of intellectual work that may become essential as the so-called knowledge economy grows. The study found that when high-quality assignments were given–which was seldom–the quality of student work was also higher. The researchers note that this is not to say that students who receive low-quality assignments couldn’t do better, but rather that the opportunity to show what they know is limited by the assignments.

A subsequent report (“Authentic Intellectual Work and Standardized Tests: Conflict or Coexistence?”) found that students in the 3rd, 6th, and 8th grades who received such assignments scored higher on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills than those who didn’t. For example, in classrooms with high-quality assignments, scores topped the national average by about 1.2 percent. In contrast, students in classes with low-quality assignments fell below the national average by 0.6 to 0.8 percent. Similar results were reported on the Illinois Goals Assessment Program (IGAP).

The high achievers include those living in the most disadvantaged socioeconomic conditions–a rebuttal, say the authors, to those who say that a back-to-basics approach is the best way to get students in such circumstances to achieve at higher levels. In fact, say the authors, embedding basic skills in challenging, “authentic” assignments can accomplish a number of instructional goals at once.

[Related article: “The Pedagogy of Poverty Versus Good Teaching”:]

3. Improving schools keep pace in instruction.

Consortium research has shown that many Chicago schools do not offer grade-level instruction to their students… For example, researchers discovered that in different schools introductory lessons on the parallelogram were being taught in the 2nd, 5th, 8th, and 10th grades–essentially offering 2nd-grade lessons to students in all the classes…

A number of factors may slow the introduction of new material, according to the report. Teachers may rely too heavily on review and repetition, particularly in the weeks leading up to preparation for state-mandated achievement tests. The tests themselves and the stakes they carry may undermine teachers’ belief that it is crucial to go beyond “teaching to the test.” Weak homework assignments (or none at all), poor classroom management, and low expectations can also slow the pace.

4. Improving schools bolster instruction with social support.

While students in such schools are challenged to achieve at high levels, they also benefit from such supports as tutoring and good relationships with teachers. Social support and challenging instruction must go hand in hand… The phrase “know every child” has become a familiar mantra in discussions of school improvement and, indeed, personal relationships have proven to be a key part of better learning. But it’s not enough. Those relationships must also be geared toward instructional improvement. “Teachers who are friendly toward their students but do not demand serious academic effort are not helping students reach their full potential,” the researchers write. Likewise, assigning challenging work without giving students the necessary support will be counter productive.

5. Improving schools emphasize “interactive” instruction.

In a high-stakes testing environment, should teachers use so-called didactic methods–that is, lectures, drill and practice, and worksheets that encourage students to memorize facts and procedures–or an “interactive” approach that emphasizes inquiry-based, hands-on activities; knowledge-building discussions; and projects that connect students to their larger world?

Of course, it’s not an either/or question. Nearly all teachers use a mix of styles. But the Consortium report “Instruction and Achievement in Chicago Elementary Schools” shows that in a single school year, Chicago elementary school students in classes with high levels of interactive instruction scored higher on year-end tests than the city average–5.1 percent higher in math, 5.2 percent in reading. Students in mostly didactic classrooms scored below the city average in both–3.9 percent lower in math, 3.4 percent in reading. The researchers suggest that students who learn in interactive classrooms through the eight-year course of elementary school may end up a year ahead academically of those who receive didactic instruction.

Whether teachers use didactic or interactive means, all of them face the issue of how–and how much–to review previous lessons before moving forward in the curriculum. The Consortium study found that students scored better on year-end tests when instructional review was limited–4.2 percent better than the city average in math, and 4.1 percent better in reading. “Although reviewing familiar content may help build a solid knowledge base for new learning, this could also diminish learning by taking away from teaching new material,” the authors write.

Didactic instruction and review get used most after 5th grade; where behavioral problems and irregular attendance are usual; where students are low achievers; in large schools; and in schools with a predominately African American and/or low-income student body–all of which may suggest that those who might benefit most from interactive instruction aren’t getting it, according to the report.

6. Improving schools use effective professional development to upgrade instruction.

To teach their children well, schools must teach their teachers well. It is what ties together these other characteristics of improving schools. Instructional focus, appropriate pacing, effective teaching practice, challenging assignments, and supportive relationships are greatly enhanced by high-quality professional development…

What is effective professional development? According to a growing consensus among education professionals cited by the Consortium reports, such development gets teachers to reflect in an organized way on their practice, assess student work together, share resources and strategies, and build a sense of collective responsibility for improvement of the whole school. Such development emphasizes ongoing learning in terms of both subject matter and teaching practices. It is frequent, intensive, and includes follow-up exercises; centers around a school’s instructional goals; and includes perspectives from beyond the school’s walls–work with outside coaches, perhaps, or with education researchers–that can freshen the pool of ideas.

To achieve this requires certain organizational supports: strong instructional leadership from principals, sufficient time, and a school culture that encourages innovation and open discussion about what’s working and what’s not.

Much of the Consortium’s research suggests that professional development will make or break reform. For example, the study on pacing cited above demonstrated that teachers were more likely to teach at grade level in schools with strong professional communities where they had had common goals and frequent communication about instruction. Similar findings were reported in the study on interactive and didactic instruction…

For Additional Information

The reports cited are all published by the Consortium on Chicago School Research, 1313 E. 60th St., Chicago, IL 60637; 773-702-3364; fax: 773-702-2010. They can be downloaded at no charge from the website ( or obtained by contacting the Consortium.

(The Consortium on Chicago School Research “is committed to undertaking research of the highest technical quality to inform education reform both in Chicago and across the nation”–

(2) “What is Lesson Study?”

Source:  RBS Currents – Research for Better Schools – Spring/Summer 2002)


…While its practice in the United States is limited, lesson study has a long and well-documented history in Japan, where it is the most common form of teacher professional development…

Derived from the Japanese term “jugyokenkyu,” the term “lesson study” was coined by Makoto Yoshida, president of Global Education Resources…  It can also be translated in reverse as “research lesson,” which indicates the level of scrutiny applied to individual lessons. Far from shortsighted, the intended impact of lesson study is school-wide, and it requires persistence and patience to reap its full benefits.

“The main contribution that the Japanese form of lesson study offers that is not already in the United States is school-wide professional development that is implemented in a systematic way,” says Patsy Wang-Iverson, senior associate of RBS. She stresses that lesson study does not require additional funding to be implemented, but it should not be attempted frivolously or without a supportive network of administrators and content experts.

Yoshida cautions that lesson study is not one lesson, as is commonly misunderstood, but the study of an entire curriculum unit, and how through the unit teachers can foster better student understanding.

Culture of Collaboration

The “performance piece” aspect of lesson study is the teaching of a lesson with students that is observed by other teachers. Surrounding this lesson is an intensive, collaborative effort by the study group to extract the best ideas in planning, reviewing, and revising the lesson. The entire process moves toward a broad goal or vision of education developed by the school or study group to enhance their students’ lives.

Lesson study emerged in Japan as a grassroots movement to replace lecturing with the Western philosophy of child-centered teaching.

Before any lessons are planned, the school staff carefully analyzes its student population in order to select an appropriate, over-arching goal, such as facilitating students’ independent thinking. Writing teams collaborate to use this goal in designing and mapping out one original lesson. As that lesson is taught, the non-teaching members and other observers participate as researchers, recording student reactions in order to document student thinking. This live observation sets the stage for an insightful critique session, which takes place the same day. With their findings, the team begins the cycle again, either by refining that lesson or by selecting a new topic to develop for the next lesson. A typical team might team develop two lessons over the course of a school year.

Only two lessons? The real “lesson” of lesson study is not product, but process. It compels teachers to examine their own practice in depth, connects them with their students and their professional community, and inspires them to teach better every day.

Culture of Learning

In Japan, lesson study groups exist for all content areas. In the United States, lesson study has focused on mathematics and science, because interest in it was stimulated by data from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study. The TIMSS videotapes of Japanese mathematics classrooms were of particular inspiration to New Jersey’s Paterson School 2, which has been a pioneer of lesson study in the U.S. for the last three years.

Teachers in Japan frequently observe lessons in other content areas, according to Wang-Iverson, because they use the process to better understand their students. “When you are able to observe your own students being taught by someone else,” says Wang-Iverson, “you get a more concrete view of their learning and thinking.”

If teachers improve their content knowledge and practice through lesson study, then it follows that their students will have greater opportunities to increase their understanding and improve their performance. For teachers, lesson study provides a dynamic means of sharing new content and teaching approaches. Perhaps just as important, it honors the central role of teachers…


Editor’s Note:  A collection of links to articles, research reports, and projects related to lesson study is located at

The following are links to additional lesson study articles in the current issue of RBS Currents:

Lesson Study Brings Rewards and Challenges

From the Teacher: Facing the Challenges of Lesson Study

From the Principal: It’s A Matter of Time

Ridge High School Pilots Lesson Study [in Mathematics]

Delaware Supports Lesson Study

The Role of “Knowledgeable Others” in Lesson Study

Lesson Study Guidelines for Observations and Debriefing

Online Exclusives featuring Makoto Yoshida, Catherine Lewis, and Future Prospects for Lesson Study


Opening Ceremony Speech for the 2nd East Asia Regional Conference on Mathematics Education & the 9th South East Asian Conference on Mathematics Education by Teo Chee Hean, Singapore’s Minister for Education

Source: Singapore Government Press Release on 28 May 2002 – Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts – Tel: 6837-9666 (via – 12 September 2002)


… It is appropriate that these conferences are held in Asia, for many educators in America and other western countries have shown increasing interest in the mathematics programmes in East Asia. In Singapore, our students have done well in international and regional mathematics competitions as well as in international surveys. Of particular significance is that Singapore students were ranked first in mathematics in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study [TIMSS] in 1999. The study provided an objective measure of Singapore’s mathematics and science education against world benchmarks as it sampled a broad cross-section of students from a wide range of schools. Key factors that have contributed to our success are the well-thought out and rigorous curriculum in Singapore schools, the significant value which parents and our society places on education, and the excellent work of our teachers. The high access to IT resources has also contributed to our good performance.

One unique feature of Singapore’s education system is the high proportion of students who take mathematics at the secondary and high school level. For the last three years, almost every school candidate who sat for the O-level examination offered Mathematics and more than half took Additional Mathematics. For school candidates at A-level, close to 90% took A-level Mathematics and about 15% offered Further Mathematics. Proficiency in Mathematics provides a solid foundation for our school leavers when they enter tertiary institutions, where more than three-quarters of polytechnic students and more than half of university students take up engineering and science courses. They recognise that these disciplines provide the skills that employers look out for. Mathematics is also important as it equips students with skills for other courses such as business administration, finance, accountancy, and for arts and social sciences like sociology and geography.

To ensure that our curriculum and methods are appropriate to equip our students with the skills and knowledge that they need for the future, we conduct regular reviews of the curriculum for all subjects, including mathematics. The way pupils learn mathematics today is quite different from the way we were taught when we were in school. Today, there is greater emphasis on teaching students to think creatively, understand how mathematics is used in the real world and to be able to provide reasons to support their conclusions.

Our teachers are using innovative teaching techniques to interest pupils in maths and help them appreciate the subject better. Recently, a local newspaper, the Straits Times reported how a teacher in Geylang Methodist Primary School conducted maths lessons emphasising mathematical communication and cooperative learning. Pupils collaborated and worked out the answers to problems by discussing them and then presenting the answers to the class. Some enthusiastic pupils even bring kitchen scales, measuring tapes and clocks to class, to help them in their presentations. Through this collaboration, pupils learned from one another how to analyse problems, make connections and explain concepts and solutions.

Interestingly, this method of teaching reflects the way great mathematicians thought and worked. From ancient times, many mathematicians were inspired to make great discoveries and new areas of research by working on specific problems and discussing them with their contemporaries. One example would be the theory of probability which was developed through the correspondence between French mathematicians Pierre de Fermat and Blaise Pascal.

As we guide our pupils towards developing numeracy skills and mathematical habits of minds, we should also inspire them with outstanding examples of great mathematicians whose contributions extended to other fields. For example, Omar Al-Khayyam, the Persian mathematician and astronomer whose work on Algebra was highly valued throughout Europe in the Middle Ages, was also well-known as a poet, philosopher and physician. Sir Isaac Newton, who studied mathematics and later became a Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, made some of the most important discoveries in physics Æ the law of gravity and the three laws of motion known as Newton’s Laws.

Since mathematics embraces so many aspects of our daily lives, teachers have a wealth of resources to help our pupils apply and understand concepts. Many schools have ventured beyond the classroom to interest pupils and involve parents to help their children learn mathematics through activities such as Mathematics Festival and Mathematics Trail. Such activities help pupils appreciate mathematics and problem solving in the real world context.

These novel ways of teaching and learning are the result of experimentation and exploration by our teachers. I would like to commend teachers for their spirit of innovation and encourage teachers to continue to make learning fun and exciting. Local and international workshops, forums and conferences such as this, provide the opportunity for teachers from different countries to share their ideas and other innovations in teaching mathematics. In this respect, I am happy that there are more than 500 participants from 19 countries attending this conference. I hope that through the presentations and discussions, you will be able to generate and gather new ideas to stimulate the imagination and creativity of your pupils in learning mathematics…