COMET • Vol. 5, No. 12 – 28 April 2004


(1) “State Schools Chief O’Connell Unveils New California Department of Education Web Site”

Source: California Department of Education – 26 April 2004


In keeping with his commitment to reduce bureaucracy and enhance assistance to local educational agencies, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell today unveiled substantial improvements to the California Department of Education’s (CDE) Web site.

The newly restructured Web site is now more dynamic and increases accessibility to users. The changes are designed to streamline CDE operations, present better quality of information, and eliminate duplicative data. Also, an enhanced “Funding Opportunities” link is designed to help educational agencies more easily learn about and apply for funding. The Web site also has a link to its emerging Data Resource Guide that allows users to search for specific data products produced by CDE.

“The technology improvements are aimed at reducing the bureaucratic burden on our local educational agencies, and increasing our productivity and accountability to our students that I believe will save taxpayer dollars,” said O’Connell. “This will help schools and districts focus more attention on their most important responsibility, which is educating our students.”

The new Web site ( is designed with a more streamlined structure and consistent appearance that is more user friendly and navigable by topic instead of CDE division.   Material is categorized by curriculum and instruction, testing and accountability, professional development, finance and grants, data and statistics, learning support, specialized programs, and resources. Regular users of the Web site may need to change their “favorite” bookmarks to match the new site. To help users locate Web documents, there is a new “smart” search engine, an A-Z index covering all topics, and a dynamic site map.

Links to information about the STAR program and the California High School Exit Exam can be found on the Testing and Accountability page at

CDE’s “Funding Opportunities” link ( helps educational agencies learn about and apply for more than 150 state and federal grants administered by CDE. Information is presented in a standardized format with downloadable requests for applications and proposals. There is a free subscription service to automatically advise users by e-mail of new funding opportunities. There are already nearly 16,000 subscribers. New features will soon be added including all funding opportunities projected for the fiscal year, improving the coherence of requests for applications and proposals, and soliciting funding opportunities from agencies other than CDE. Ultimately, the system will contain historical fiscal data and will allow a school or district to track its unique status in the funding process.

CDE’s new Data Resource Guide ( is a dynamic tool that allows users to search an online catalog of about 200 CDE data products by keyword, subject, type of data, date, as well as other criteria. The search will produce a list of data products, including information on school, district, program-related data collections, databases, and reports. The information will include a description of the data product, deadlines for submitting information, legal requirements, contacts, and associated Web links.

(2) “STAR Released/Sample Test Questions and Topics”

Source: California Department of Education


On April 16, the California Department of Education posted links to downloadable files (PDF) containing sample CAT/6 questions and released items from the California Standards Tests (CST) for English Language Arts, Mathematics, and Science. CAT/6 Mathematics sample questions are available for Level 12 (grade 2) through Level 21/22 (grade 11). Sample items for the CST for Mathematics are available for grades 2-7, Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry.

(3) Just for the Kids–California

Source: Ken Sorey (


Just for the Kids–California (JFTK-CA) is a California non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that provides free, easy to understand data on the performance of every public school in California and promotes identified, proven teaching best practices that get results. February 25, 2004 marked the public launch of the JFTK-CA website ( and support system across California with benchmarking data on every public school in the K-12 system.

The JFTK-CA website presents an accurate academic picture showing the strengths, weaknesses, long-term progress, and realistic improvement targets for individual public schools through easy to use and understand data charts on student performance. By focusing on student performance at grade level on the Language Arts and Mathematics California Standards Tests, JFTK-CA connects schools to a pool of higher performing grade levels from similar schools, in an effort to benchmark and transfer best educational practices. Schools and school districts are supported in using the data as well as best practice tools and research on the website and encouraged to participate in one of six regional Best Practice Institutes this summer–developed through partnerships with the Bay Area School Reform Collaborative, Fresno State University, Claremont Graduate School, and the Mendocino County Office of Education.

The Just for the Kids data system is being used effectively in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Tennessee, Texas, and Washington.  Within the year, Illinois, Hawaii, New York and Michigan will be launching Just for the Kids websites as well.  The National Center for Educational Accountability (, national sponsor of the Just for the Kids school improvement model, is a part of a nationwide collaborative effort among the Education Commission of the States, The University of Texas at Austin, and Just for the Kids.

For more information on Just for the Kids–California, contact Ken Sorey at (510) 593-0493 or

(4) “Schools Get Waivers for Algebra Law” by Joel Rubin

Source: Los Angeles Times – 26 April 2004


Since the State Board of Education granted Santa Cruz a waiver earlier this year exempting it from the law requiring high school students to complete one year of algebra, about 200 other districts statewide have scrambled to make the same request…

Some of the other 200 districts that have since sought waivers have claimed ignorance of the law, like Santa Cruz, while others say low-performing students who struggle with algebra’s abstract concepts deserve to be excused.

The state board has reluctantly agreed to approve the waivers this year and has ruled out future blanket approvals. Regardless, the rash of requests for exemptions has frustrated lawmakers and education officials who see the math requirement as vital to raising educational standards in California.

“I wonder what they all would have done if Santa Cruz, a district that completely failed in its obligation to its kids, hadn’t cleared the way,” said state Sen. Charles Poochigian (R-Fresno), who wrote the law requiring algebra. “It’s really shameful.”

The law, passed in 2000, requires all high school students–starting with this year’s senior class–to complete Algebra 1 to graduate. The law does not exempt anyone, including students with learning disabilities, English learners or the troubled, at-risk students attending continuation high schools.

It is mostly these students, educators say, who are now struggling to learn the basics of quadratic equations, polynomials and the point-slope formula.

Poochigian and his supporters argue that the law is vital to raising the state’s educational standards, to closing performance gaps between minority students and their white peers and to preparing students for college and the workplace.

“Algebra is a gateway skill,” Poochigian said. “It is important in building higher levels of critical thinking for all students.”

Like Santa Cruz, a few districts have said they simply were not aware of the law and criticized state officials for not having a better notification process. Others said they had wrongly believed that the algebra requirement had been postponed along with a statewide graduation exam until 2006.

But many of the 200 districts seeking waivers knew about the law and tried to expand their math programs to teach algebra to the relatively small number of students who weren’t already on pace to fulfill or exceed the new requirement. They developed slower-paced classes that spanned two years, reduced class sizes and increased tutoring while letting their students know that their diplomas hung in the balance…

To be eligible for the waiver, a district must at least enroll all seniors who have not completed Algebra 1 in the class in an attempt to learn the subject. And in an effort to prevent a similar rush for waivers next year, the exempt districts must also provide state officials with progress reports on how they are preparing next year’s seniors who have not yet passed the course.

State officials say they do not know if any districts with students who have not completed Algebra 1 plan to deny them diplomas and not seek a state waiver.

California Deputy Supt. for Curriculum Sue Stickel, a former math teacher, said she was disappointed in districts such as Santa Cruz that had failed to implement programs for the seniors in need of algebra. In general, Stickel and Poochigian dismissed criticism that the law was too sweeping and did not allow flexibility for students with learning disabilities and limited English skills.

“Instead of expecting less from these students, the approach should be: What else do we need to do to this basic level?” she said. “I have a problem when we look at these students and we say it’s OK to expect something less.”

Poochigian accused critics of the law of exploiting special-education students and “using them as a rationale to undermine the drive to raise overall standards because they are either incapable or oblivious”…

Though relieved to have this year’s waiver, many teachers said they were not telling their senior Algebra 1 students about it –so they wouldn’t have an excuse to give up on passing the class.

Administrators at Capistrano Unified instructed all math teachers to keep the waiver a secret from the 125 seniors who are still trying to pass.

Stickel concedes that some students will fail to graduate next year but expects that, as schools better implement basic algebra classes, the number of seniors denied diplomas each year will decline.

Regardless, she said, state education officials are determined not to allow waivers again next year. “At some point the rubber needs to meet the road on this,” she said.

(5) “A Collision Course: High Expectations for Students, Low Investment in Teacher Training”

Source:  “Center View” (Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning) – April 2004


In the late 1990s, as standards rose for both students and teachers, California policy-makers invested substantially in strengthening the teacher workforce as a core strategy to improve student achievement. Today, expectations for students’ academic achievement continue to rise. But resources needed to strengthen the teaching workforce have declined significantly. Since 2000-01, total allocations for major teacher professional development programs have decreased from $222 million to approximately $62 million in 2003-04…

Reflecting California’s persistent economic downturn and budget deficit, the governor’s proposed 2004-05 budget does not restore K-12 teacher development funds, but instead generally maintains reduced funding levels from previous years. The effort to strengthen the teaching workforce may also be complicated by the proposal to consolidate categorical funding for 22 K-12 education programs, including most of the incentives and programs for teacher professional development, into the revenue limits, or general funds of school districts and county offices of education.

California’s major professional development initiatives have been hit hard by the state’s budget cuts. These include the California Subject Matter Projects and the California Professional Development Institutes; the Mathematics and Reading Professional Development Program; and the Peer Assistance and Review program.

Additionally, support for the California Professional Development Institutes was eliminated in the 2002-03 budget and never restored. Only the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment program (BTSA) and the Instructional Time and Staff Development Reform program have maintained fairly consistent levels of funding.

The governor’s proposed budget also suggests that categorical funding for 22 K-12 education programs be folded into the revenue limits, or general funds, of school districts and county offices of education. These 22 programs fund a wide range of programs, including the teacher development programs…

This shift in categorical funding is quite different from block granting proposals that have been considered by the legislature in the past where specially funded programs for similar purposes, such as teacher professional development, are consolidated into one support program for that purpose. By contrast, under the governor’s plan districts may use these funds as they see fit. There would be no state-imposed criteria or requirements that districts submit a plan for how the funds are to be spent. While, as in previous years, districts and county offices of education would receive funding for these programs, they would have the option to shift the use of these funds away from the original intent of the legislation that established the programs. For example, districts could supplement funding for intern programs with money that was previously allocated to BTSA, or they could provide professional development in science with funds that previously were targeted only at reading and math. In fact, districts would not have to spend the money on teacher development at all, and could spend the money on any number of pressing local expenses.

The proposed change may have far reaching impact on the support and training that teachers receive and policy-makers should carefully examine the implications…


The Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning is a public, not-for-profit organization dedicated to strengthening teacher development policy and practice. Our Web site features recent information on teacher development including research, state and national policy and legislative initiatives, and models for effective practice. We invite policy-makers, parents and teachers, researchers and journalists, and education and philanthropic organizations to use the resources of this site and join us in helping to ensure that every child learns from a fully qualified and effective teacher.


(1) NCTM 82nd Annual Meeting Highlights

Source: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics


The 82nd Annual Meeting of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) was held in Philadelphia, PA, on 21-24 April 2004. Numerous links to meeting highlights are available at the above Web site. These include webcasts, speaker handouts, photographs, and session reports. A webcast of the provocative opening keynote speaker, Keith Devlin (, can be accessed at

(2) NCTM President Promotes Political Advocacy

Source: Ken Krehbiel – “Friday Daily News” (from the NCTM Annual Meeting) – 23 April 2004


At NCTM’s 82nd Annual Meeting, NCTM President Johnny Lott outlined the Council’s plans to be more politically active.  In the session “Strength in Numbers–Drawing on the Council’s Membership for Political Action,” Lott said that based on what he’s heard from NCTM members and leadership that it was clear that more political action was needed and expected from the Council.

NCTM members are encouraged to take political action on their own, and an NCTM Advocacy Toolkit has been developed to support the Council’s strategic direction of political advocacy.  The Advocacy Toolkit was unveiled at the meeting and is available to NCTM members upon request from NCTM headquarters.

In 2002, the Board of Directors identified political advocacy as one of the organization’s four key strategic directions for the future.  As a first step in determining how to address the issue, the Council conducted a stakeholders audit, which surveyed external and internal audiences: the news media, policymakers, third-party influencers (think tanks and policy organizations), NCTM leadership and members, and other related organizations.  After determining how these audiences viewed the Council, the Washington office of Hill & Knowlton made several recommendations for actions to address the findings from the survey.

Johnny Lott was joined at Thursday’s session by Ellin Nolan, NCTM’s government relations consultant, and Ken Krehbiel, NCTM director of communications.  Nolan presented an overview of the current policy climate in Washington and spoke about some of the challenges presented by No Child Left Behind within the current budget environment.

Krehbiel outlined the Council’s expectations and what it hopes members will do with the Advocacy Toolkit materials that have been developed and assembled for them.  He said that NCTM currently works with many of the education organizations in Washington and that many have several of the same interests and priorities.  However, those that are most successful in their legislative affairs activities have one thing in common.  They’re effective at getting their members to act as constituents by writing letters to either e-mail or fax and by calling Congressional offices when the issue and time are right.  He emphasized that because of its large membership, the Council has a great potential resource to call on to be influential in the same way.  The Advocacy Toolkit is a start at giving individuals the tools they need.

The NCTM Advocacy Toolkits include:

— NCTM Legislative Platform  (Board-approved NCTM statements on broad issues and the foundation of NCTM government relations activities)

— NCTM Communications Guide  (Basic how-to information for individuals dealing with the policymakers and their staff, and the news media)

— Congressional Directory  (108th Congress, 2nd session)  (Contact information and committee assignments for all members of Congress.

— Principles and Standards Executive Summary  (A concise summary of NCTM’s Principles and Standards for School Mathematics)

— Principles and Standards FAQs  (Answers to frequently asked questions)

— NCTM Key Messages  (Concise statements for communicators on key issues)

— NCTM at a Glance  (Basic background information on NCTM)

— List of NCTM Position Statements