COMET • Vol. 5, No. 03 – 4 February 2004


(1) From First to Worst (California’s Public Schools)


This Web site contains links to interviews and information related to the Merrow Report program, First to Worst. It includes interviews with James Guthrie, Michael Kirst, Catherine Lhamon, Peter Schrag, and Ron Unz; describes the impact of Proposition 13; offers a discussion board; and provides extended interviews with individuals profiled in First to Worst such as Richard Colvin, Nancy Ichinaga, Wayne Johnson, Marion Joseph, and John Mockler. The broadcast schedule for First to Worst is available at

(2) Algebra I Requirement for a High School Diploma Waiver Information

Source: Memo from Gavin Payne, Chief Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction, dated 9 January 2004 and addressed to District and County Superintendents and Directors of Charter High Schools


In the year 2000, Education Code Û51224.5 was enacted to require that students complete the content of Algebra I as a condition of receiving a high school diploma, beginning with the Class of 2004. We are gratified that virtually every high school in California organized its course offerings and instructional practices to ensure that this year’s seniors will have satisfied the Algebra I requirement. California students need and deserve the higher level of mathematics content and achievement reflected in the completion of Algebra I.

However, the State Board of Education (State Board) has been advised that a very small number of seniors in certain high schools–who would otherwise graduate in 2004–may not have completed Algebra I by the end of the school year.

This letter is to notify you that the State Board will consider as a consent matter narrow, limited waivers of the Algebra I requirement for Class of 2004 students who confront this situation. Consideration of these waivers is premised on the affected students being enrolled in Algebra I during the spring semester and satisfaction of the other provisions listed in the attachment.

Please be advised that the State Board indicated its intent not to consider as a consent matter these types of waivers for students in the Class of 2005 and thereafter.

For more information about applying for a narrow, limited waiver of the Algebra I requirement for affected Class of 2004 students your high school(s), please check with the California Department of Education’s Waiver Office at (916) 319-0824 or online at

(3) Mathematics Framework Revision: Teleconference Announcement


The Mathematics Subject Matter Committee of the Curriculum Commission will hold a teleconference on Friday, 13 February 2004, from 3:30-6:00 p.m. to finalize the edits to the “Criteria for Evaluating Instructional Materials” section of the Mathematics Framework. If necessary, a teleconference will also be held on Tuesday, February 17 from 3:30-6:00 p.m. (locations to be announced).

Teleconference sites/contacts (additional locations TBA for the February 13th meeting):

California Department of Education; 1430 N Street, Room 3102; Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 319-0881; Contact: Tom Akin

Claude Hudnall School; 331 W. Olive Street; Inglewood, CA 90301

(310) 680-5270; Contact: Wendy Levine

Los Angeles Unified School District; 333 South Beaudry Ave., 25th Floor; Los Angeles, CA 90017

(213) 241-6444; Contact: Dr. Norma Baker

Mira Loma High School; 4000 Edison Avenue; Sacramento, CA 95821

(916) 971-7464; Contact: Edith Crawford

San Pedro High School; 1001 West 15th Street, Room 148-A; San Pedro, CA 90731

(310) 547-2491; Contact: Richard Wagner

(4) Governor Schwarzenegger Appoints Seven State Board of Education Members

URL:  (navigate to 1/29/04 press releases)

On January 29, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced the appointment of seven members to the State Board of Education (SBE), which is the governing and policy-determining body of the California Department of Education. The State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Jack O’Connell, heads the CDE and also serves as the SBE’s executive officer and secretary. The SBE sets K-12 education policy in the areas of standards, curriculum, instructional materials and assessment. The SBE also adopts textbooks for use in grades K-8, and it adopts regulations to implement legislation. In addition, the SBE has the authority to grant local education agency requests for waivers of the state Education Code. The SBE has 11 members, ten of whom are appointed by the Governor and serve four-year terms, and a student member, who serves a one-year term. SBE members are unpaid.

The following individuals were appointed to the Board by Schwarzenegger (terms of service appear in parentheses): Ruth Bloom (3 years), Ruth Green (4 years), Reed Hastings (2 years), Glee Johnson (4 years), Jeannine Martineau (4 years), Bonnie Reiss (2 years), and Johnathan Williams (3 years).

Ruth Bloom is a longtime advocate for the arts and the public school system. She is currently a partner in AR Designs, a jewelry company based in Southern California. She has spent many years developing curriculum and teaching art at UCLA Extension and Museum of Contemporary Art. She has also served as a curator in West Los Angeles.

Ruth Green has served for the past three years as a member of the Board of Trustees for the Santa Barbara Elementary and High School Districts. She has also served as a member of the State of California Instructional Materials Advisory Panel for Reading Language Arts in 2002 and a panel member for the State of California Standardized Testing and Reporting assessment program in 1998. Her personal focus is on curricular and special education reforms which led to the creation of an elementary language arts pilot program addressing the needs of the most at-risk students in Santa Barbara. Green also worked with children’s television programs and various educational and promotional films in the 1980s.

Reed Hastings, the 2003 President of the State Board of Education, is being reappointed to the board. He is currently CEO of, a subscription DVD movie service. He is a founding member of, Aspire Public Schools, Pacific Collegiate School and He is the former CEO and a current member of TechNet.

Glee Johnson has served as Chief Deputy Chancellor for the California Community Colleges. Among Johnson’s duties were internal office management, supervising strategic initiatives and collaborating with control agencies and other constituencies. She also served as the Undersecretary of the Office of Child Development and Education and Chief Deputy Legislative Secretary, both under Governor Wilson. Johnson, 56, also taught high school mathematics prior to serving the Wilson administration.

Jeannine Martineau is the immediate past president of the California School Boards Association and a school board member in the Lake Elsinore Unified School District in Riverside County. She has been associated with CSBA for 12 years. She has chaired CSBA’s Governmental Relations Committee, Legislative Action Network and its English Language Learners Task Force. She is a former teacher and author, and has served as an educational advisor to the California State PTA and PTSA.

Bonnie Reiss, currently a senior advisor to Governor Schwarzenegger, has served as president of the Inner-City Games Foundation and is a founding director of Arnold’s All-Stars, a California non-profit organization providing after-school programs to middle schools. In June of this year, she worked with U.S. Education Secretary Rod Paige to organize a national After-School Summit, hosted by Schwarzenegger and Paige. Her experience includes careers as an entertainment lawyer, accountant, producer and writer. She also founded the Earth Communications Office (ECO) in 1988, where she led the effort to increase the entertainment industry’s awareness of environmental issues.

Johnathan Williams is the founder and co-director of the Accelerated School, an inner city charter school in South Central Los Angeles that Time Magazine named the 2001 Elementary School of the year. The school was founded in 1994 to provide an educational laboratory where teachers can practice innovative curricula, test new ideas, assess achievement and share what works with educators nationwide. Prior to founding the school, Williams taught in the Los Angeles Unified School district.

(5) “Back to Basics vs. Hands-On Instruction–Calif. Rethinks Science Labs” by Valerie Strauss

Source: The Washington Post – 3 February 2004


First came the wars over how to teach reading and math to young students. Now the fighting has spilled into science.

The battleground: California, vanguard of educational trends, a state with so much clout that its selection of textbooks influences editions sold across the country.

The issue: broadly, the best way to teach science. Specifically, whether a state panel is trying to unduly limit “hands-on” instruction (lab experiments and practical projects) in kindergarten through eighth grade as part of a back-to-basics movement.

The major players: the California Curriculum Commission, which advises the state Board of Education and has recommended new criteria for K-8 textbooks that allow for a maximum of 20 to 25 percent of hands-on material. In opposition are many classroom teachers and scientists–including leaders of the National Academy of Sciences and the California Science Teachers Association–who say the recommendation makes no sense in a field that is all about discovery.

“What is being proposed is beyond idiotic,” said Jackie Goldberg, a former teacher who chairs the state Assembly’s education committee and recently was appointed to the curriculum commission. “There isn’t a scientist who thinks you can do science without hands-on, and then you say, ‘We are going to artificially limit the amount of instruction that can be hands-on.’ It is unbelievable.”

Thomas Adams, executive director of the curriculum commission, said critics are misrepresenting the panel’s views. He said commission members are trying to balance the need for a comprehensive science curriculum with the limited science background of many K-8 teachers. Twenty to 25 percent of hands-on instruction seemed like “the most reasonable amount of time for someone faced with the challenges of limited facilities and limited time,” he said.

“What we want are materials that all teachers can use,” Adams said. “.There are some people who are convinced that the only way that students learn is in a discovery method.î

Rae Belisle, executive director of the California Board of Education, which will vote on the commission’s textbook recommendation next month, also said there was no intent to mandate a maximum amount of hands-on learning.

But many science teachers say that there is no research to justify a 20 to 25 percent limit, and that even if the commission isn’t trying to restrict hands-on science, the new textbook criteria would have that effect. “If publishers are not allowed to put more than 25 percent hands-on materials into their books, then teachers will have books that, in effect, don’t give them the alternative,” said Christine Bertrand, executive director of the California Science Teachers Association.

At the heart of the dispute is a disagreement about how students learn best — a debate also swirling around the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which emphasizes basic math and reading skills and the use of standardized test scores to measure progress.

Supporters of a philosophy known as “direct instruction” believe that students are served best in teacher-led classrooms that rely on structure, drilling and textbooks. They say that without the basics, students can’t learn more complex scientific theories, and that hands-on-dominated curriculum doesn’t offer enough content.

Critics of this approach say research shows that students learn best when they are allowed to discover material themselves and that back-to-basics programs leave no room for higher-level thinking.

Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences, said the California curriculum commission’s recommendation, if approved, would be harmful to students. “They are pushing very hard the dogmatic position of the ‘direct instruction’ crowd and emphasize what students know, not what they are able to do or understand,” he said. “I strongly believe that they will turn even more students off of science and that they will work directly against the vital interests of California business and industry, who need a workforce of high school graduates who are able to solve problems using logic and evidence.”

For years, the National Science Foundation has funded new hands-on science programs for schools, many of which are opposed by a majority of members of California’s curriculum commission.

The commission, for example, has refused to approve a K-8 hands-on science program called Full Option Science System, developed at the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California at Berkeley. The creator, Lawrence Lowery, said it was designed for novice teachers, and some California school districts like it so much that their leaders have found a way to purchase the program.

Kim Bess, director of science and educational technology for the San Diego schools, is one of them.

“They [commission members] still think that if you do ‘hands-on’ science, students are playing and it’s not real,” she said. “They haven’t paid any attention to what we’ve learned about how the brain works. They haven’t paid any attention to the literature on how people learn.”

Several curriculum commission members declined to comment, including Stan Metzenberg, assistant professor of biology at California State University at Northridge, who was heavily involved in creating the state’s science curriculum standards.

When asked about the debate unfolding in California, teachers and students in the Washington area said they could not understand any attempt to restrict hands-on learning.

“I’ve never heard of anything so ridiculous in my life,” said Peter Petrossian, a science teacher at Pyle Middle School in Bethesda. Petrossian, who uses numerous innovative hands-on activities to engage his students, said: “It flies against all the current thought in educational psychology and, well, common sense. I think one of the things science has going for it is the fact that we can use so many modalities to reach our students — even the old adage of ‘tell a man how to fish versus show a man how to fish.’ Yikes!”

Justin Bar, 12, a seventh-grader in Petrossian’s class, said he has learned to love science — and remember more of it — because of all the hands-on work he is assigned. “We learn more that way because it’s more fun,” he said.


(1) Julia Sets and Fractal Geometry

On Tuesday, 3 February 2004, commemorated the birthday of Gaston Maurice Julia (1893-1978) by decorating its moniker with fractals. An Image Search for “Julia sets” on the Google Web site yields a large collection of fractal images.

Information on Julia from

Gaston Maurice Julia was born on February 3, 1893 in Sidi Bel Abbes, Algeria, then a northern African land under the dominion of France.

At a very young age, Julia was a soldier in the First World War. In a fierce combat during winter, young Julia was severely wounded, and as a result, he lost his nose. Despite several surgical interventions to remedy the situation, he had to wear a leather strap across his face for the rest of his life.

During those difficult times, Julia continued his research in mathematics, and after the war, he became a distinguished mathematician. In 1918, at the age of 25, he published a 199-page article [entitled] “Memoire sur l’iteration des fonctions rationnelles,” in which he discussed the iteration of a rational function, a topic that was also studied by another contemporary Frenchman, Pierre Joseph Louis Fatou (1878-1929) at the same time and in a similar way, but from different perspectives… This work was so important that he received the Grand Prix de l’Academie des Sciences (France) and made him famous throughout most mathematics centers of his days (the Academie also recognized Fatou’s contribution with a secondary award).

Notwithstanding that sudden fame, his work became almost forgotten, until many decades later Beno’t B. Mandelbrot–years after his own days at the Äcole Polytechnique in Paris, where Julia was professor of mathematics, and where he came in contact with Memoires for the first time–brought it back to the forefront through his own renowned workings in what soon came to be known as fractal geometry.


Related links:

Julia and Mandelbrot Set Explorer:

MathTools–Julia Sets:

Absolute Certainty? (Computers are transforming the way mathematicians discover, prove and communicate ideas, but is there a place for absolute certainty in this brave new world?)

(2) Square Root Day

Monday was 2/2/04, a “Square Root Day.” An article in the (San Jose) Mercury News reported that “Redwood City high school teacher Ron Gordon hopes people across the country will start celebrating Square Root Day, which occurs whenever the numbers representing the month and day both are the square root of the last two digits of the year.”