COMET • Vol. 5, No. 32 – 7 December 2004


(1) Cathy Barkett is Appointed Executive Director of the State Board of Education

Source: California Department of Education


On November 30, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell released the following statement:

“I am pleased with the appointment of Cathy Barkett to the position of Executive Director of the State Board of Education. She has demonstrated her commitment to California’s students for decades, as an employee of the Department of Education specializing in both instructional materials and professional development reflecting California’s high academic standards… [Editor’s Note:  Cathy served as Unit Manager of the Curriculum Frameworks and Instructional Resources (CFIR) office during the development of the 1999 Mathematics Framework and during the AB 2519 mathematics materials adoption process, 1998-1999.]


Related message:

“November 2004 Highlights”–Message from Superintendent O’Connell to County and District Superintendents


“…In November, important education appointments were made at both federal and state levels. President Bush’s appointment of Margaret Spellings as U.S. Secretary of Education puts one of his closest White House advisors at the helm of the federal education bureaucracy. My staff has had an opportunity to work with Ms. Spellings, and find her dedicated and knowledgeable. I am pleased that in this position she will likely spend more time talking with us in the field, and we look forward to working with her toward finding a more local flexibility under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001. We all share the same goals; however, we must be practical about how to attain them. In California, the State Board of Education appointed former California Department of Education (CDE) employee Catherine Barkett to the post of Executive Director of the Board. I am certain Cathy will help us continue the collaborative relationship CDE has developed with the board, focused on maintaining high standards for student achievement and providing our schools with both the guidance and support they need…”

(2) Mathematics Subject Matter Committee Telephone Conferences

Source: California Department of Education


On December 14 and (if necessary) December 15, the Mathematics Subject Matter Committee (SMC) will hold a teleconference to discuss the Mathematics Framework field review results and take action on the draft framework as appropriate. Teleconference locations and contact information is available at the above Web site. The teleconference is scheduled to last from 3:30-5:00± p.m.

In addition, the Mathematics SMC has scheduled a teleconference on the same topic on January 10, 2005.

Minutes from past Mathematics SMC teleconferences are available for download (PDF files) at


(1) PISA 2003 Results Show Need for U.S. High School Reform

Source: U.S. Department of Education – 6 December 2004




URL (Report):

As part of its Congressional mandate, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in the Institute of Education Sciences supports international comparisons in education to collect and report reliable and timely data on a variety of subjects. Through student assessments, surveys of adults in the workforce, and the development of international indicators on education systems around the world, NCES examines education in the United States and other nations. These international comparisons in education (e.g., TIMSS, PISA) are designed to complement the national programs of NCES.

A new report released on December 6–International Outcomes of Learning in Mathematics and Science Literacy: PISA 2003 Results From the U.S. Perspective–provides key findings from the 2003 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). The international results on PISA were released by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

PISA is organized under the auspices of the OECD and is directed in the United States by NCES. The OECD is an intergovernmental organization of industrialized countries for cooperation in research and policy development on social and economic topics. PISA assesses students every three years to provide participating nations with regular information on learning outcomes for reading literacy, mathematics literacy and science literacy and cross-curricular skills, like problem-solving. Problem-solving questions involved students using reasoning skills to make decisions, troubleshoot systems, and analyze and design systems based on given criteria.

The United States PISA report focuses on the performance of U.S. 15-year-olds in the two major areas assessed in 2003, mathematics literacy and problem solving, compared to their peers in 38 other countries…

America’s 15-year-olds performed below the international average in each area. U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige said the results point to the need for reform of the nation’s high schools. “The PISA results are a blinking warning light,” he said. “It’s more evidence that high standards and accountability for results are a good idea for all schools at all grade levels.”

Some key findings from PISA 2003:

* Of the other 38 comparison countries, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong-China, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, Korea, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macao-China, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, the Slovak Republic, Sweden, and Switzerland outperformed the United States in mathematics literacy in 2003. These same 23 countries, plus Hungary and Poland, outperformed the United States in problem-solving.

* Male 15-year-olds outperformed female 15-year-olds in mathematics literacy in the United States and two-thirds of the other participating countries. However, there was no difference in performance between males and females in problem-solving in the United States or in most (32 of the 39) participating countries.

* White students performed above the OECD average in mathematics literacy and problem-solving, while Black and Hispanic students performed below the OECD average.

* U.S. scores in the two mathematics literacy content areas that were measured in 2000 (space and shape, change and relationships) did not change from 2000 to 2003. About two-thirds of participating countries outperformed the United States in these topics in 2000 and 2003.

* As in PISA 2000, U.S. students scored at the OECD average in reading literacy in 2003.

* U.S. students scored below the OECD average in science literacy in 2003.

In releasing the U.S. findings, Robert Lerner, commissioner of NCES, said, “PISA provides important information about education in the United States and in other industrialized nations, giving us an external perspective on U.S. performance. We need PISA in particular because it offers such a different measure of achievement, one that poses complex problems that students might realistically encounter in their lives.”

For further information on PISA, visit  To download the report, International Outcomes of Learning in Mathematics and Science Literacy: PISA 2003 Results From the U.S. Perspective, go to

(2) “Math + Test = Trouble for U.S. Economy” by Gail Russell Chaddock

Source: Christian Science Monitor – 7 December 2004


For a nation committed to preparing students for 21st century jobs, the results of the first-of-its-kind study of how well teenagers can apply math skills to real-life problems is sobering.

American 15-year-olds rank well below those in most other industrialized countries in mathematics literacy and problem solving, according to a survey released Monday.

Although the notion that America faces a math gap is not new, Monday’s results show with new clarity that the problem extends beyond the classrooms into the kind of life-skills that employers care about. And to the surprise of some experts, the U.S. shortcoming exists even when only top students in each nation are considered.

“It’s very disturbing for business if the capacity to take what you know … and apply it to something novel is difficult for US teenagers,” says Susan Traiman, director of education and workforce policy at the Business Roundtable.

Grim results on such international tests helped build political support for higher standards in U.S. schools in the 1990s, and especially for more consistent testing and tougher accountability measures in the No Child Left Behind Act, a centerpiece of President Bush’s domestic program in his first term.

The president campaigned to extend that testing regime into U.S. high schools in his second term. The new test results are likely to be Exhibit A as the Bush administration prepares a new round of education reforms aimed at US high schools.

The tests also give educators some clues about teaching programs that are successful and might be transplanted to the U.S.

“These tests are enormously instructive to the U.S., especially when we look at the instructional programs in other countries to see what works,” says Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools.

A key to the success of students in other nations is a very focused curriculum, maintained over time, he adds. “We can’t do it nationally,” because the U.S. is a vast, diverse country with little appetite for a national curriculum. “But we can do it in cities, and we are.”

…PISA, unlike previous international assessments, is measuring not just whether students have learned a set math curriculum, but whether they can apply math concepts outside the classroom. In the U.S., 262 schools and 5,456 students participated in the two-hour, paper and pencil assessment. Most answers were constructed responses, not just the multiple choice format.

In one question, students are asked to calculate the number of dots on the bottom face of six dice, given the rule that the total number of dots on two opposite faces is always seven…  Other problems involved constructing simple decision tree diagrams for a lending library, figuring out which gate is stuck closed in an irrigation system, and generating graphics on computers.

The survey comes a week before another set of results of global math performance, which could also cast the US as faltering. The results of the 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), to be released next week, will report on fourth and eighth graders’ proficiency in science and math.

Where the TIMSS test has been done before, in four year intervals, PISA’s math testing began in 2003.

Of the …nations participating in PISA 2003, …only eight ranked measurably below the U.S.: Greece, Turkey, Mexico, Thailand, Serbia and Montenegro, Uruguay, Indonesia, and Tunisia.

These results track findings that most U.S. high school students don’t know enough mathematics to do well in college courses or the work force…

“At a time when many companies can hire talent all over the world, there’s a choice about whether to hire in the United States [or] go where the talent is. So it’s absolutely essential for young Americans to leave high school prepared for college or the work world,” says Ms. Traiman of the Business Roundtable.

…Below are results for 10 of the nations:

South Korea–550




Czech Republic–516






OECD average–500

(3) Elementary School Teaching Guide for the Japanese Course of Study: Arithmetic (Grades 1-6)

Source: Akihiko Takahashi (DePaul University; 773-325-4695) via Patsy Wang-Iverson


URL (Free download):

Since the release of the results from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, there has been an increased interest in Japanese mathematics education practices.

Japanese textbooks must follow the Course of Study established by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports.  In addition to the Course of Study, the Ministry also publishes separate Teaching Guides for each subject area at each level (elementary, lower-secondary and upper-secondary). Those Teaching Guides provide more in-depth discussion of specific topics included in the Course of Study as well as elaboration of pedagogical considerations.  Moreover, the Teaching Guides are one of the primary documents that inform textbook writers.

Although the 1989 Japanese National Course of Study was translated by the Japan Society of Mathematical Education and included in the TIMSS Resource Kit, the accompanying Teaching Guide has never been translated–until now! Global Education Resources, Inc., has translated the 1989 Teaching Guide for elementary school mathematics.  This will be a great resource for mathematics education researchers, mathematics teacher educators and classroom teachers. The publication is now available for purchase at the GER web site:

You can download sample pages of the Teaching Guide as a PDF file. The sample pages include the Table of Contents, Overview of the Objectives and Contents of the [K-6] Numbers and Calculations strand (from Chapter 2), and Contents of First Grade: Numbers and Calculations (from Chapter 3).

(4) “Hickok Resigns from Education Post”

Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer – 3 December 2004


Former Pennsylvania Education Secretary Eugene W. Hickok said Thursday he was stepping down from his federal post as a deputy education secretary in the Bush administration.

Hickok said the No Child Left Behind initiative that sets performance goals and requires testing among public schools had permanently transformed American education. He also praised President Bush and Education Secretary Rod Paige, who announced last month he also is resigning.

“Your unwavering dedication to reform education has given birth to a new era in this country,” Hickok said in a letter to Bush. “Today, we talk about accountability and results. We confront the achievement gap instead of closing our eyes to it.”

Hickok spent six years at the head of the state Education Department under Gov. Tom Ridge before taking a job in Washington in 2001. He is a former political-science professor at Dickinson College in Carlisle.

(5) “The Geminid Meteor Shower”

Source: NASA – 6 December 2004


…The best meteor shower of 2004 is about to peak on a long cold December night.

It’s the Geminids. The best time to look is Monday night, December 13th. Sky watchers who stay outside for a few hours around midnight can expect to see dozens to hundreds of “shooting stars.”

The source of the shower is asteroid 3200 Phaethon. There’s a cloud of dust trailing the asteroid and Earth plows through it every year in mid-December. Bits of dust traveling 80,000 mph hit our atmosphere and turn into glowing meteors.

Where should you look? Anywhere. Geminids streak all over the sky. Trace some backwards: they all lead to a radiant point in the constellation Gemini. This year the radiant lies next to Saturn–a beautiful coincidence. Gemini and Saturn are high overhead at midnight, easy to find…