COMET • Vol. 4, No. 02 – 25 January 2003


(1) 2004 Budget to Include More Student Loan Forgiveness for Math, Science and Special Education Teachers (Press release)

Source:  U.S. Department of Education – 21 January 2003


U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige today announced that President Bush’s fiscal year 2004 budget proposal will include additional student loan forgiveness for math, science and special education teachers who work in schools that serve high-poverty populations…

The president’s proposal will provide up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness for teachers in these three fields who work for five consecutive years in schools that serve high poverty student populations. This is more than three times the $5,000 in loan forgiveness now allowed for other qualified elementary and secondary teachers serving low-income communities.

The president’s proposal will continue the current program, which is expected to provide the $5,000 loan forgiveness to 38,000 borrowers who will begin their postsecondary education next year and are expected to become qualifying teachers. Of these borrowers, some 7,000 are expected to become math, science or special education teachers and benefit from the expanded loan forgiveness of $17,500. Currently, the average student loan debt facing graduates in these three fields is about $15,000…

(2) Secretary Paige Accepts Susan Neuman’s Resignation (Press release)

Source:  U.S. Department of Education – 14 January 2003


U.S. Secretary Rod Paige today accepted the resignation of Susan B. Neuman as assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education.

“Susan Neuman has been part of a team that’s worked hard to make sure we have a swift and smooth implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act,” Paige said. “We have successfully finalized guidance and regulations to assist states with their implementation of the law and have approved the first state plans submitted to the department.

“It has been a very busy and intense two years, and I thank Susan for efforts and for her service to the American people. I wish her well in her future pursuits.”

“It is a pleasure and an honor to have been a part of the administration, and the implementation of No Child Left Behind,” Neuman said. “I believe we have had many accomplishments throughout the year, which were clearly documented in our year’s celebration. However, it is now time for me to return to the academy and resume my research in reading.”

Before joining the Education Department, Neuman was a professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and director of the Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement. For 10 years prior to joining the Michigan faculty, Neuman was a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia. She has also taught at Boston College, the University of Massachusetts and Yale University. Early in her career Neuman was an elementary school teacher and a reading specialist. She was a board member of the International Reading Association and has published widely, especially regarding literacy.

A graduate of American University, she received a master’s degree from California State University-Hayward and a doctorate from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif.

The assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education manages the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education and serves as a principal adviser to the secretary of education on all matters related to elementary and secondary education.

The office is responsible for directing, coordinating and recommending policy for programs designed: to assist state and local education agencies to improve the achievement of elementary and secondary school students; to help ensure equal access to services leading to such improvement for all children, particularly children who are educationally disadvantaged, Native American, children of migrant workers, or homeless; to foster educational improvement at the state and local levels; and to provide financial assistance to local education agencies whose local revenues are affected by federal activities.

Paige expects to name an acting assistant secretary in the coming days.

(3) “City is Converting its Reading and Math Courses” by Abby Goodnough

Source:  The New York Times – 22 January 2003


Less than a week after the Bloomberg administration announced an overhaul of the New York City school system, Chancellor Joel I. Klein introduced citywide mathematics and reading programs yesterday that he said would provide teachers with much-needed direction while giving them leeway to be creative.

It will be the first time in several decades that the vast majority of city schools will have the same textbooks, lesson plans and schedules and that all 80,000 teachers will be trained in the same way…

The teachers’ union embraced the new approach, which will not be required in the city’s 200 best-performing schools.

In recent years, officials have imposed a regimented curriculum on the lowest-performing schools in an effort to raise test scores by forcing teachers to use a literal script, but Mr. Klein said he was rejecting such a rigid method.

“The approach we are implementing here today is not scripted teaching, it’s not a cookie-cutter approach,” Mr. Klein said in a news conference at Public School 172 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, which is already using the new curriculums. “It is an effort guided by prudent strategies, to bring coherence and academic excellence to a school system that heretofore has offered a grab bag of curricula with only small pockets of success.”

He added: “Teachers who are cookie cutters are not what we need. We need teachers who are creative and empowered.”

Mr. Klein has chosen Everyday Mathematics, a curriculum developed at the University of Chicago and published by SRA/McGraw-Hill, for kindergarten through fifth grade. New York City also buys its standardized math tests from McGraw-Hill.

For sixth though eighth grades, an offshoot of Everyday Mathematics, called Impact Mathematics, will be used. High schools will adopt New York Math A: An Integrated Approach, a curriculum published by Prentice-Hall and tailored to the New York State Regents exams, which almost half of city students now fail.

The Everyday Mathematics curriculum, which is already in use in some New York City schools and in scores of districts across the nation, uses textbooks, but it also involves hands-on exercises using blocks and other materials. It encourages students to devise their own ways of solving a math problem first, so that they will think through the process instead of just memorizing. Next, it teaches several ways of solving the problem, including traditional methods and new, simplified ways. For example, students may learn an ancient Egyptian method of multiplication.

Some critics have dismissed curriculums like Everyday Mathematics as “fuzzy math,” saying they do not emphasize the old-fashioned rules enough. Parents have rebelled against a similar program in Manhattan’s District 2.

Mr. Klein insisted that the new curriculum would give equal time to the basics and to more conceptual problem-solving. “We strongly believe it is essential to teach our children both,” he said…

Mr. Klein said the uniform curriculums would be of particular help to the many students and teachers who move often from school to school. Fewer than half of the city’s middle school teachers have been at the same school for more than two years, he said. “It really does matter if people get on a single page,” he added.

Mr. Klein said it would cost $35 million to buy the math and phonics materials and provide every classroom through the ninth grade with a library…

Although the teachers’ union praised the choice of curriculums, it questioned whether its members could be trained to use them quickly enough. All 1,200 schools will have a math and a literacy coach under Mr. Klein’s plan, to help teachers learn the new programs.

Teachers will have the option of attending summer training in the new curriculums, said Diana Lam, the deputy chancellor for teaching and learning. They will also be trained throughout the 2003-2004 school year, after school or during the 100 extra minutes a week that teachers agreed to work under their new contract…

The city’s 200 top-performing schools will not have to use the new curriculums, since it is assumed that they can flourish without direction from the top. Mr. Klein said that schools not in the top 200 could petition to be exempt from the requirement, but that most would have to hew to his choices.

Most of the new curriculums will be in use by September, although Mr. Klein said elementary schools could delay introducing the new math program until 2004. He said training would be in the charge of the system’s 10 new regional superintendents, who are to replace the 40 district superintendents as part of the restructuring. That plan also calls for 100 new instructional supervisors who will work closely with principals to get the programs under way…


Related article: ” Mayor Outlines Major Overhaul Of N.Y.C. System” by Karla Scoon Reid in Education Week (22 January 2003):

(4) “Math Divisions Have Chance of Lessening” by David J. Hoff

Source:  Education Week – 22 January 2003


After almost a decade of conflicts, the new year may provide a turning point in the debate over how to teach mathematics.

Prospects that the Bush administration will put the topic in the spotlight, along with forthcoming research, may shed light on the controversy over how to teach the discipline’s basic skills and concepts. And that combination could push adversaries toward a consensus leading to a unified approach to instruction, some educators say.

“There are a large number of areas where people could in fact sign on together,” said Uri Treisman, the director of the Dana Center and a professor of mathematics at the University of Texas at Austin. He points to a recent successful attempt by a group made up of members with differing philosophies to agree on the content of middle school math.

But the long-running and often emotional debate could continue over issues both big and small. The U.S. Department of Education’s choice of those who favor the traditional approach in math instruction to head a $400,000 math education enterprise, some say, is a signal that common ground may be hard to find.

The grant is addressing some of the issues centering on math teachers’ knowledge of the field–one of the key points the Bush administration plans to speak to in a math initiative it plans to kick off this year.

“My real worry is that what’s going to happen is the Bush administration is going to control the dialogue,” said W. Gary Martin, an associate professor of mathematics at Auburn University in Alabama and a supporter of new curricula influenced by the NCTM. “I wish we could get down to the real issues, but there’s so much posturing going on, you don’t know what people’s real agendas are.”

In 1989, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics helped launch a movement to define what students should know in basic subjects when it published its first set of content standards. Following, in part, the NCTM’s lead, groups representing history, English, science, and other subjects began to set standards for their respective fields.

While the math standards were hailed as a model for other disciplines, by the mid-1990s some mathematicians began to criticize them and to lead drives to discredit them. The critics–often described as traditionalists because of their emphasis on the basics–say the NCTM’s approach doesn’t give students the proficiency they need in performing mathematical functions and fails to prepare them for high-level math.

The battle over math instruction has been waged in recent years as states such as California and Massachusetts have set standards. It also flared in 1999 when mathematicians and scientists urged then-Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley to overrule a Department of Education panel’s endorsement of curriculum influenced by the NCTM.

…The Washington-based group Achieve recently published a draft of what math knowledge and skills students should have by the end of 8th grade. The set of so-called expectations was the product of a panel that had diverse views on how math should be taught, said Mr. Treisman, a member of the Achieve panel.

The drafting process was often difficult, he said, but the outcome is proof that differing sides can come to agreement.

“We came up with a document that everyone around the table was comfortable with,” said Matthew D. Gandal, the vice president of Achieve, a partnership of governors and business leaders that pushes for state policies to improve student achievement. “It shows that it’s possible.”

The process succeeded, Mr. Gandal added, because the participants spent hours arguing about what to put into the document and hashing out their differences.

While the Achieve project represents an example of how compromise is possible, research is starting to emerge that demonstrates the effect of curricula influenced by NCTM standards.

Late last year, a federally subsidized research project released preliminary findings suggesting that curricula based on the NCTM’s conceptual framework had resulted in increased student test scores.

Researchers examined scores in three states where large proportions of schools used three elementary curricula developed under a National Science Foundation program to put the NCTM’s standards into a curriculum format. The study compared the scores of students who learned under the NSF curricula with children of similar demographic backgrounds who learned under other curricula. It found that the students using the new curricula scored better across the board.

“Students using the programs we studied consistently outperformed other students,” said Sheila Sconiers, the director of the Alternatives for Rebuilding Curricula, the NSF-financed project that conducted the study. The difference “may not be huge in absolute terms, but it’s [statistically significant]. We’re sure it’s not by chance.”

According to the NCTM’s leader, the report verifies that the organization’s standards can be successfully turned into classroom materials that improve students’ achievement, debunking critics’ claims that the standards aren’t demanding enough to produce high achievement levels.

“This is research that should not be ignored,” said Johnny Lott, the president of the 100,000-member group and a professor of mathematics education at the University of Montana-Missoula. “What this suggests is that what was proposed in the NCTM standards…has possibly been incorporated into a successful set of curricular materials that work in practice to produce higher achievement in students.”

Still, some NCTM opponents say that the research may have too many holes to show definitively that the curricula were successful. The study doesn’t specify which curriculum students in the control group learned under, according to Wayne W. Bishop, a mathematics professor at California State University-Los Angeles and one of the most vocal critics of the NCTM and the curricula based on its standards.

What’s more, he said, the study doesn’t specify that students from the control group had had at least two years in the same school, as students in the group using the NSF-backed program did. Students who are transient are less likely to receive tutoring and other help that may improve their test scores, Mr. Bishop noted.

Ms. Sconiers, however, said that the study’s statisticians were able to control for factors such as students’ longevity in a school, and the NSF-backed programs still yielded higher-performance than others.

But Mr. Treisman, who calls himself a centrist in the debate, said the study is persuasive enough that some NCTM critics recognize that the math teachers’ approach might work in certain situations.

Because the new style of curriculum requires teachers to practice new ways of teaching, the study recommends that such courses of study might work well in districts with experienced teachers who stay in their jobs for a long time. In schools with high teacher turnover, however, a more structured curriculum that new teachers can learn quickly would probably be a better fit, Mr. Treisman said.

“The question is, in which district, with what configurations, is one curriculum more likely to lead to positive impact,” he said.

Those are the questions many people hope will define the debate this year, instead of the polarization that has characterized it. Over the past several years, test data have indicated that math achievement is improving in the United States, although it still lags behind that in other countries, according to Linda P. Rosen, a consultant to math and technology education projects. She was an aide to Mr. Riley when he was secretary of education.

For example, Ms. Rosen said, a 1999 study found that 8th graders in several U.S. school districts serving wealthy areas scored as high as those in the best countries of the world on the Third International Mathematics and Science Study-Repeat [TIMSS-R]. In the same study, inner-city U.S. districts ranked at the lowest international levels.

Other data suggest, Ms. Rosen said, that girls’ SAT scores are higher than ever, and that gaps between minority and white students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress are shrinking.

“There are lots of little bubbles out there that deserve scaling up,” Ms. Rosen said. “What we have to figure out is what are the circumstances [leading to math achievement], and what do we have to do to get those circumstances.”

On the Web


* View a collection of resources on math education reform from Drexel University’s Math Forum:

* Read a brief overview of the ‘math wars’ from the Education World:

Achieve provides information on its Math Achievement Partnership, an “initiative designed to help states work together to raise expectations and measure results”:

The National Council of Teacher of Mathematics provides resources on its math standards:


Related article:

“A Brief History of the ‘Math Wars'” in Education Week (22 January 2003) –

(5) “First Speed of Gravity Measurement Revealed” by Hazel Muir

Source:  – 7 January 2003


The speed of gravity has been measured for the first time. The landmark experiment shows that it travels at the speed of light, meaning that Einstein’s general theory of relativity has passed another test with flying colors.

Ed Fomalont of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Sergei Kopeikin of the University of Missouri in Columbia made the measurement, with the help of the planet Jupiter.

“We became the first two people to know the speed of gravity, one of the fundamental constants of nature,” the scientists say, in an article in New Scientist print edition. One important consequence of the result is that it places constraints on theories of “brane worlds,” which suggest the Universe has more spatial dimensions than the familiar three…

Isaac Newton thought the influence of gravity was instantaneous, but Einstein assumed it traveled at the speed of light and built this into his 1915 general theory of relativity.

Light-speed gravity means that if the Sun suddenly disappeared from the center of the Solar System, the Earth would remain in orbit for about 8.3 minutes–the time it takes light to travel from the Sun to the Earth. Then, suddenly feeling no gravity, Earth would shoot off into space in a straight line.

But the assumption of light-speed gravity has come under pressure from brane world theories, which suggest there are extra spatial dimensions rolled up very small. Gravity could take a short cut through these extra dimensions and so appear to travel faster than the speed of light–without violating the equations of general relativity.

But how can you measure the speed of gravity?  …Kopeikin…reworked the equations of general relativity to express the gravitational field of a moving body in terms of its mass, velocity and the speed of gravity. If you could measure the gravitational field of Jupiter, while knowing its mass and velocity, you could work out the speed of gravity.

The opportunity to do this arose in September 2002, when Jupiter passed in front of a quasar that emits bright radio waves. Fomalont and Kopeikin combined observations from a series of radio telescopes across the Earth to measure the apparent change in the quasar’s position as the gravitational field of Jupiter bent the passing radio waves.

From that they worked out that gravity does move at the same speed as light. Their actual figure was 0.95 times light speed, but with a large error margin of plus or minus 0.25.  Their result, announced on Tuesday at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle, should help narrow down the possible number of extra dimensions and their sizes…