COMET • Vol. 5, No. 04 – 11 February 2004


“Schools Chief Jack O’Connell Delivers State of Education Address: Calls for Reforms to Improve High Schools, Reduce Bureaucracy, Increase Student Achievement Gains”

Source: California Department of Education

URL (press release):

URL (full text and video of speech; details of initiatives):

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell delivered his first State of Education address today, calling the state of California schools promising, but identifying three main areas of priority to make K-12 education stronger: (a) improving high schools, (b) reducing bureaucratic burdens on schools, and (c) increasing student achievement gains.

Improving High Schools

“High school should be the gateway to opportunity for all students,” O’Connell said. “Yet, the majority of California’s 1.7 million high school students simply are not reaching the academic levels needed to succeed in the workplace, in college, or as effective citizens. Accordingly, I am proposing a series of tough, roll-up-our-sleeves measures aimed at improving high school student achievement.”

O’Connell announced that he will sponsor legislation to improve student achievement in high schools by giving high schools more flexibility over their budgets if they agree to focus on five goals: (a) raising expectations; (b) improving high school instructional materials; (c) developing excellent teachers and high school leaders; (d) smoothing transitions from middle school and to college; and (e) creating a community of support for high achieving high schools.

In his statement regarding the development of world-class, standards-based instructional materials for high schools, Secretary O’Connell said, “The State Board of Education reviews and adopts standards-based textbooks for kindergarten through eighth grade. Elementary school leaders attribute much of their recent academic progress to new, focused classroom materials that support both novice and experienced teachers. When it comes to high schools, however, there is no state adoption or review process for instructional materials. Districts are on their own to choose among a vast variety of materials, and students are taught with books of varying quality. I propose a new system of statewide review and approval of high school instructional materials to ensure they are fully aligned to our standards. Districts would not be limited in the books they choose. But they would be guided to standards-aligned materials by a state ‘seal of approval.'”

Reducing Bureaucratic Burdens on Schools

To reduce the bureaucratic burden placed on schools and districts, O’Connell committed to eliminate by July 1, 2004 all state requests for data that are not mandated or that have no legitimate operational need.

“I want to eliminate overlapping and duplicative requests for data and improve the quality of the data we collect, so it can help us improve instruction, target our resources, and work more efficiently to raise student achievement,” O’Connell said.

He challenged the California State Legislature to place an embargo on imposing any unnecessary requests for data and called for the completion of the California School Information Services program within the next five years.

Increasing Student Achievement Gains

O’Connell committed to lead the fight to increase the gains in student performance made over the last five years by protecting California’s accountability system, teacher training program, and class size reduction…

O’Connell stated, “Steady, sustained focus is the only reasonable way to truly improve our schools. So when you hear people bashing our schools and advocating to once again change directions, I hope you will greet that with skepticism. Know that while we may be progressing slower than we all wished, our schools are on the right path. I am committed to staying the course by fighting to retain, support, and expand those programs that are working to improve student achievement (our intervention teams at low performing schools, for example). Intensive professional development for teachers, support for paraprofessionals career academies, and rigorous curriculum for all students–all are working to help students reach a higher bar.”

No Child Left Behind

In his State of Education address, O’Connell also announced that he will advocate in Washington, D.C. with other state school chiefs from across the nation to make the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 more flexible and workable for states. Specifically, he will fight to make the federal accountability system more like California’s which judges schools on annual improvement, rather than requiring them to reach an arbitrary bar.

“High standards guided our California system of accountability long before NCLB,” O’Connell said. “I intend to fight hard in Washington D.C. for a plan that better complements California’s high standards system of accountability and is more flexible and workable in our schools.”


Related story:

State Schools Chief Details Initiatives at Sacramento Speech” (Sacramento Bee – 11 February 2004)



(1) “Improving Achievement in Math and Science”

Source: Educational Leadership – February 2004


The theme of the February 2004 issue of Educational Leadership is “Improving Achievement in Math and Science.” The titles of the articles in this issue are listed below. Links to abstracts for these articles are available at the above Web site.

The first three articles listed are available online free of charge. The first is an overview of the articles contained in this issue of Educational Leadership, and the next two articles present findings from TIMSS (abstracts are included below for these two articles).


=  “Perspectives/ Love and Hate for Math and Science” by Marge Scherer

=  “A Vision for Mathematics” by William H. Schmidt

A common, coherent, and challenging curriculum can transform mathematics education in the United States. The No Child Left Behind Act’s vision is to provide rigorous and demanding subject matter content for all students. As a crucial subject area, mathematics is vital to this effort. How can educators change the curriculum of mathematics to make it rigorous and accessible to all students? The author reviews the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) data showing significant curricular differences between the United States and other countries, especially in the degrees of standardization, coherence, and challenge. He examines briefly the role of teachers, noting that differences in subject matter background account for significantly different levels of achievement in different countries. The author argues that even the best teachers need an effective curriculum to be effective and that such a curriculum does not substantially threaten the U.S. commitment to local control of schools.

=  “Improving Mathematics Teaching” by James W. Stigler and James Hiebert

      The TIMSS Video Study 1999 documents typical teaching practices in mathematics classrooms in seven countries: the United States, Japan, Australia, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Hong Kong, and Switzerland. By collecting and analyzing hundreds of videotapes of classroom process used by random samples of teachers in these countries, the researchers created a picture of what average teaching looks like in the different countries. This article reviews findings from the new video study and the original 1995 video study to arrive at several recommendations for improving mathematics instruction.

The video studies showed that teaching methods within each country were strikingly homogeneous, but the differences among countries were equally striking. The researchers discuss two basic categories of math problems: those that call on students to use basic computational skills and procedures, and those that focus on concepts and connections among mathematical ideas. What was important was not just the percentage of each type of problem presented in math classes, but also the way in which teachers and students worked through the problems. Teachers in the United States turned most math problems into procedural exercises–even those problems that were intended to focus on making connections. Student achievement tended to be higher in countries in which “making connections” problems were implemented as they were intended.

=  “A Deeper Look at Lesson Study” by Catherine Lewis, Rebecca Perry, and Jacqueline Hurd

Collaboratively analyzing lessons aids teachers in modifying classroom instruction.

=  “What Is High-Quality Instruction?” by Iris R. Weiss and Joan D. Pasley

The “Inside the Classroom” study suggests that only one in five lessons challenges students intellectually.

=  “The Dangerous Intersection Project…and Other Scientific Inquiries” by Kathleen Conn

Problem-solving activities give the green light to students’ imaginations.

=  “What Do Kids Know–and Misunderstand–About Science?” by Cynthia Crockett

How to help students unravel their faulty notions and incomplete understandings.

=  “Teaching Number Sense” by Sharon Griffin

If counting and computing are two basic skills, discovering relationships between quantities and numbers is the third.

=  “Marvelous Math!” by Alfred S. Posamentier

Share with students the mystery and elegance of mathematics.

=  “The Networked Classroom” by Jeremy Roschelle, William R. Penuel, and Louis Abrahamson

Handheld devices that connect to a shared screen increase class participation.

=  “The Arithmetic Gap” by Tom Loveless and John Coughlan

Why do we downplay the importance of students’ computational abilities?

=  “Why Mathematics Textbooks Matter” by Barbara J. Reys, Robert E. Reys, and Oscar Chàvez

Some things you need to know about common practices in the publishing world.

=  “Math Acceleration for All” by Carol Corbett Burris, Jay P. Heubert, and Henry M. Levin

Eliminating tracking in middle school can have long-term benefits.

=  “Creating a Differentiated Mathematics Classroom” by Richard Strong, Ed Thomas, Matthew Perini, and Harvey Silver

How to integrate a standards-based approach with different learning styles.

=  “The Rural Girls in Science Program” by Angela B. Ginorio, Janice Fournier, and Katie Frevert

Yearlong research projects spark girls’ interest and encourage their pursuit of careers in science.


=  “Research Link / Closing the Minority Achievement Gap in Math” by John H. Holloway

=  “Web Wonders / Improving Achievement in Math and Science by Rick Allen

(2) Full Science Committee Hearing on “An Overview of the Federal R&D Budget for Fiscal Year 2005”

Source: House Committee on Science – 11 February 2004


Archived Webcast:

On Wednesday, February 11th at 11:00 a.m., the House Science Committee held a hearing to consider President Bush’s fiscal year 2005 (FY05) budget request for research and development (R&D). Five Administration witnesses were scheduled to review the proposed budget in the context of the President’s overall priorities in science and technology (see Web site above for links to statements):

— Dr. John H. Marburger III, Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy

— Dr. Rita R. Colwell, Director, National Science Foundation

— Dr. Charles E. McQueary, Under Secretary for Science and Technology, Department of Homeland Security

— Mr. Phillip J. Bond, Under Secretary of Commerce for Technology, Department of Commerce

— Dr. Raymond L. Orbach, Director, Office of Science, Department of Energy

The hearing charter (available at the web site above) includes the following text:

Overall Budget: On February 2, 2004, President Bush delivered his FY05 federal budget submission to Congress. The budget proposes $2.4 trillion in outlays (versus an estimated $2.0 trillion in receipts), a 3.4 percent increase over FY04, and an estimated 19.9 percent of the $12 trillion U.S. gross domestic product. The overall budget request focuses heavily on Department of Defense (DOD) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) activities, which receive 7 and 10 percent increases, respectively. All other discretionary spending is held to 0.5 percent growth…

The following highlights flag those areas of greatest interest to the Science Committee:

NSF Math and Science Partnership Program: The budget would eliminate the Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program at NSF ($140 million enacted in FY04). MSP, which funds partnerships between local school districts and institutions of higher education to improve K-12 math and science education, was established in the National Science Foundation Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-368), following the recommendation of the President. After highlighting MSP in the FY03 and FY04 budget requests for NSF, the Administration has proposed moving the program and its funds to the Department of Education. Opponents of the move believe NSF is better suited to run a competitive program that pairs universities with school districts. If moved, the NSF program would be merged with a Department of Education program that focuses exclusively on mathematics for secondary school students, particularly those who are at risk of dropping out of high school because they lack basic skills. Also, by law, the Department of Education program is distributed to states by formula. As part of its proposal, the Administration wants Congress to amend the law so that the Department could award funds competitively, as NSF already does…

…Education and Human Resources (EHR): In addition to eliminating the MSP program as discussed above, the FY05 budget request would cut other NSF education programs at the K-12 and undergraduate levels. For example, the Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology Talent Expansion Program (known as STEP or the Tech Talent program) established in the National Science Foundation Authorization Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-368) would receive $15 million in FY05, a decrease of $9.85 million (40 percent) from the FY04 enacted level of $24.85 million. Tech Talent funds innovative programs at colleges and universities designed to increase the number of American undergraduates completing degrees in math, science, and engineering. The Robert Noyce Scholarship Program, which was reauthorized in the 2002 Act, would receive $4 million in FY05, a decrease of $3.95 million (50 percent) from the FY04 enacted level of $7.95 million. The program offers scholarships to math and science majors at the junior and senior undergraduate level, and stipends to math and science professionals, who are seeking to become K-12 math and science teachers…


Related story:

“Math, Science Grants in Federal Cross Hairs” (Education Week – 11 February 2004)


(3) “Rita Colwell to Leave National Science Foundation”

Source: National Science Foundation – 11 February 2004


National Science Foundation Director Rita R. Colwell will assume the position of Chairman of Canon U.S. Life Sciences, Inc. upon her retirement from the Foundation, effective February 21, 2004.

Canon U.S. Life Sciences is a newly created, Washington-based subsidiary of Canon U.S.A., Inc., whose goal is to identify and develop life-science solutions with potential applications in diagnostics and medical instrumentation.

Dr. Colwell, a microbiologist and internationally recognized expert on cholera and other infectious diseases, will also serve as Distinguished University Professor at the

University of Maryland, College Park, and on the faculty of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where she will help develop a new international center for the study of infectious diseases, water, and health in conjunction with scientific colleagues from Sweden, Norway, Japan, and Bangladesh.

“I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to lead NSF through two Administrations and major transformational changes,” Colwell said.  “During the past five and a half years, our budget has increased by 68 percent, our merit review system has been recognized throughout government as the gold standard for responsible use of public funds, and our programs have helped U.S. science and engineering evolve into the flexible, robust and diverse endeavors that they must become to keep America preeminent at the frontier of research and education”f

Dr. Colwell, the third-longest-serving Director in NSF’s 54-year history, created a program to place promising science and engineering graduate students directly in K-12 classrooms.  In the highly successful and widely praised “GK-12” program, school children benefit from the energy and enthusiasm of the graduate students, and the graduate students learn first-hand the challenges involved in science and math education.

During Dr. Colwell’s term, NSF received the highest achievement ratings of any federal agency in performance on the President’s Management Agenda and was named a “model” agency by the White House…

(4) Leap Year Problem

This year, February has five Sundays.  In what year will this next occur? Is the interval between five-Sunday-February years always the same? Why or why not? (URL for virtual perpetual calendars: