COMET • Vol. 3, No. 07 – 19 February 2002


(1) “MAM2002:  Mathematics and the Genome”

Source:  MAA Online


April is Mathematics Awareness Month, and the theme will be “Mathematics and the Genome,” the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics announced this January. The idea is to focus on the contributions of mathematics to the understanding of the human genome. Recent work on the human genome, hoping to catalog and analyze all our genes, seems to have taken scientists quite close to significant breakthroughs, but there are still many difficult challenges to face. Both in the work on the genome so far and in the work still to be done, mathematics has a central role to play. The Mathematics Awareness Month poster and the accompanying essays emphasize the mathematical aspects of genome research and thus highlight the growing role of mathematics in the biological sciences.

Mathematics Awareness Month is sponsored by JPBM, a joint endeavor of the MAA, the American Mathematical Society and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. Started in 1986 as “Mathematics Awareness Week,” the yearly celebration of Mathematics is an opportunity for colleges and universities, schools, and other groups to organize events calling attention to the importance of Mathematics. The goal is to increase the visibility of mathematics as a field of study and to communicate the power and fascination of mathematics to as many people as possible.

Lots of material on Mathematics Awareness Month is already available. An online version of the poster, the theme essay and related resources, and further information on Mathematics Awareness Month, including resources on how to organize a MAM event and a sample press release, can all be found at the MAM 2002 web site at

(2) “A Message from Secretary Paige–Strategic Plan, 2002-2007, Draft February 7, 2002”

Source:   U.S. Department of Education – 7 February 2002


It is my pleasure to present a final draft of the Department’s new Strategic Plan. This plan communicates the President’s and my priorities for education for the next five years. It sets high expectations for the Department, as we provide leadership to the Nation’s educational system.

The plan is built upon six strategic goals:

1.  Create a culture of achievement.

2.  Improve student achievement.

3.  Develop safe schools and strong character.

4.  Transform education into an evidence-based field.

5.  Enhance the quality of and access to postsecondary and adult education.

6.  Establish management excellence.

The plan embraces the principles of No Child Left Behind, as well as the President’s Management Agenda. I ask you to read it carefully, for it will have an impact on everything the Department does. It will not be nor should it be a trophy to hang on the wall. Rather, this is a living document that will guide the course of the Department of Education through the historic years ahead.

This is a draft. Given the significance of this document, I ask that you e-mail any suggestions for improvements or technical changes to by February 21.

I look forward to working with you as we put this plan into action and work together to ensure that no child is left behind. Thank you for your important contributions to the nation’s children.

– Rod Paige

(3) “How Schools Matter: The Link Between Teacher Classroom Practices and Student Academic Performance” by Harold Wenglinsky

Source:  Education Policy Analysis Archives, 10(12) – 13 February 2002



Quantitative studies of school effects have generally supported the notion that the problems of U.S. education lie outside of the school. Yet such studies neglect the primary venue through which students learn, the classroom. The current study explores the link between classroom practices and student academic performance by applying multilevel modeling to the 1996 National Assessment of Educational Progress in mathematics. The study finds that the effects of classroom practices, when added to those of other teacher characteristics, are comparable in size to those of student background, suggesting that teachers can contribute as much to student learning as the students themselves.


… In sum, it appears that the various aspects of teacher quality are related to student achievement when class size and SES are taken into account. In particular, the following 5 variables are positively associated with achievement:

*  Teacher major

*  Professional development in higher-order thinking skills

*  Professional development in diversity

*  Hand-on learning

*  Higher-order thinking skills…

(4) “Testing for Results: Helping Families, Schools and Communities Understand and Improve Student Achievement”

Source:  U.S. Department of Education – 13 February 2002


On Jan. 8, 2002, President Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. This new law embodies his education reform plan and is the most sweeping reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) since it was enacted in 1965. The new law redefines the federal government’s role in kindergarten-through-grade-12 education. Designed to help close the achievement gap between disadvantaged and minority students and their peers, the new law will change the culture of America’s schools so that they define their success in terms of student achievement and invest in the achievement of every child. The act is based on four basic principles: stronger accountability for results, increased flexibility and local control, expanded options for parents, and an emphasis on teaching methods that have been proven to work.

The first principle of accountability for results involves the creation of standards in each state for what a child should know and learn in reading and math in grades three through eight. With those standards in place, student progress and achievement will be measured according to state tests designed to match those state standards and given to every child, every year.

The new law will empower parents, citizens, educators, administrators and policymakers with data from those annual assessments. The data will be available in annual report cards on school performance and on statewide progress. They will give parents information about the quality of their children’s schools, the qualifications of their teachers, and their children’s progress in key subjects. The tests will give teachers and principals information about how each child is performing and help them to diagnose and meet the needs of each student. They will also give policymakers and leaders at the state and local levels critical information about which schools and school districts are succeeding and why, so this success may be expanded and any failures addressed.

Still there are many misconceptions about these annual assessments. [This article, available at the above web site, explains] the role of these new state tests in improving student achievement and addresses some of the misunderstandings about the changes to come.

The U.S. Department of Education wants to be a partner with states and school districts and a resource for families and community members. If you have additional questions about testing or about other features of the new law, we encourage you to visit our Web site at or call us at 1-800-USA-LEARN…

As the use of standardized tests increases and parents are better able to understand the dimensions of school and student performance, there will be greater pressure on low-performing schools to improve. This worries those who might feel that pressure and so they have attempted to undermine the accountability movement by challenging the usefulness of testing. The once common-sense assumption that testing is part of learning is being challenged by myths created to undermine the effort to improve America’s schools.

Testing Myth[s]

–  Testing suppresses teaching and learning…

–  Testing narrows the curriculum by rewarding test-taking skills…

–  Testing promotes “teaching to the test…

–  Testing does not measure what a student should know…

–  Annual testing places too much emphasis on a single exam…

–  Testing discriminates against different styles of test takers…

–  Testing provides little helpful information and accomplishes nothing…

–  Testing hurts the poor and people of color…

–  Testing will increase dropout rates and create physical and emotional illness in children…

Testing is a part of life, and young people need to be equipped to deal with it.

(5) “The Circumference of a Circle” by Arnold Packer

Source:  Education Week – 13 February 2002


…Math phobia and the resulting deficiencies have always had deleterious effects; but these soon will become even more serious. The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act signed by President Bush early this year mandates annual tests in grades 3-8. Business and other organizations that have fought to bring about these high-standard tests will now apply pressure to extend testing to the 12th grade. Students in a number of states will be facing high school exit exams in the next few years…

Students who fail will be denied their high school diplomas. Many, if not most, of the denied will have failed their math exam… Even today, many interested in college programs leading to degrees in a technology field are denied entrance because of their weakness in mathematics. Current practices serve half our students poorly, and the National Adult Literacy Survey, or NALS, documents the difficulty beyond adolescence. By some estimates, less than a fourth of American adults are at the upper-end, literate levels of 4 and 5.

The evidence suggests that students will not be able to graduate from high school if the high math standards are part of the exit exams and the current prevalent math pedagogy and assessments persist. If that is so, then the policy-relevant hypothesis is: Can changes in pedagogy and assessment make it possible to have both high graduation rates and rigorous exit exams in high school mathematics?

We have been trying to test this hypothesis in Baltimore’s high schools. Can students be led to find that math is not boring?… The technique we are testing in Baltimore is project-based learning.

Students in these high schools must use mathematics to complete a project. They also make use of technology and tools such as spreadsheets to develop, for example, a business plan. The math is rigorous: Probability determines inventory, lines intersect at the break-even point, charts and graphs must be made and explained…

About 90 percent of the students in our project-based group (a total of 84 in two graduating classes) graduated. About 90 percent of these students took and passed Algebra 2. Their average GPA, although only 2.12, was 45 percent better than the comparison sample…

These students have not been tested in any standardized way, because there is no standard assessment that tests what is often called “quantitative literacy” (a term coined by Lynn Arthur Steen in Mathematics and Democracy). What would the high school exit assessment look like if this pedagogy were adopted? Certainly, the assessment would not look like those current exams containing x and equations, factoring, and the old algebra problems of canoes going upstream and trains crossing in the night. On the contrary, pedagogy andassessment should be directed to making students quantitatively literate–that is, able to use math in their likely adult roles.

What sort of assessments would test their capacity to successfully fill their likely adult roles as producer (worker), consumer, and citizen?…

Students should be able to use statistics in each of these three roles. For example, as a worker, can they use techniques of statistical process control to monitor a manufacturing process, or patient or customer complaints? As a consumer, can they understand statements about the quality of the products or services purchased? As a citizen, can they understand debates about environmental safeguards or AIDS?

Students should also know how to use mathematical models of systems. Can they, in their worker role, develop an information (or traffic, or other) system flowchart and build a mathematical model to simulate its operation? They should be able to think on their feet, including manipulating numbers mentally to negotiate about quantitative matters…

Teachers, test developers, and administrators will have to invest in a substantial effort to make the suggested changes in pedagogy and assessment. Some members of each group will undoubtedly complain loudly about “losing” the power and beauty of mathematics. Unfortunately, most American students never find mathematics powerful, interesting, or useful under current practices.


Arnold Packer chairs the SCANS [Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills] 2000 Center…[see]…

(6) Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Source:  Joni Falk (


[Outstanding teachers are encouraged to submit] applications for the prestigious Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. The application deadline [has been extended to May] 1, 2002.

The Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) Program was established in 1983 by The White House and is sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The program identifies outstanding science and mathematics teachers, kindergarten through 12th grade, in each state and the four U.S. jurisdictions.

Recognition is given to K-12 teachers in four award groups: (l) elementary mathematics, (2) elementary science, (3) secondary mathematics, and (4) secondary science. The secondary groups can include middle, junior, and senior high school teachers. Up to four Presidential Awards may be given in 2002 in each state and the four U.S. jurisdictions.

The Presidential Award includes: a $7,500 National Science Foundation grant to the awardee’s school, to be spent under the awardee’s direction over a five-year period, to improve school mathematics and science programs; generous gifts to the awardees and their schools from private sector donors; and an expense-paid trip for the awardee and a guest to Washington, D.C. for a series of events which will include (a) an awards ceremony and presidential citation; (b) meetings with leaders in government and education; (c) sessions to share ideas and teaching experiences; and (d) honorary receptions and banquets.

Applications may be downloaded directly by clicking on the “Application Packets” link on the Presidential Awards Web site. To access this site,…use the link below:

(7) “Presidential Awardee Report”

Source:  Sean Smith ( in a post to on 8 February 2002

URL (for report):

Horizon Research, Inc. (HRI) has just released the newest report in a series based on the 2000 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education.  This report summarizes characteristics of and impacts on recipients of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).  All awardees (dating to 1983 when the award was initiated) were surveyed as part of the 2000 National Survey.  The report describes how awardees compare to a national sample of science and mathematics teachers in terms of preparation (coursetaking background and degrees earned) and teaching practices (objectives for instruction and instructional strategies used).  It also describes impacts of the award in several areas; for example, how awardees’ professional involvement changed following the award and how they used the monetary component of the award.

The report is available at (click on the Reports section).