COMET • Vol. 6, No. 02 – 28 January 2005


(1) State School Superintendent Jack O’Connell Delivers State of Education Address

Source: California Department of Education


On 24 January 2005, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell delivered his second annual State of Education Address, calling for improving high schools, universal preschool, and better student nutrition and fitness. O’Connell also challenged the Governor and Legislative leaders to fully fund the Proposition 98 minimum-funding guarantee to schools and endorsed lowering the vote threshold for local parcel taxes to 55 percent to fund school operations… The vote threshold to pass parcel taxes currently requires a two-thirds majority. Parcel tax proceeds can be used for ongoing school operations.

O’Connell also outlined three key initiatives that are priorities for the public education this year:

High Performing Schools

“There is now broad agreement that high school must be made more challenging, more rigorous, and, at the same time, more relevant to our students’ lives and futures,” O’Connell said.

The need to improve high schools in California is an ongoing focus for O’Connell. This year he will continue to press for rigorous and relevant curriculum to better prepare high school graduates for technical careers or college. He also called for the expansion and enhancement of quality principal training and intensive teacher professional development for high school teachers, and announced that he will lead the effort at the California Department of Education to develop a state review process for high school instructional materials so they can better aligned to California’s high academic standards.

For more information on O’Connell’s High Performing High School Initiative please visit

Preschool for All

“Preschool for all is an idea whose time has come. It will help us raise achievement levels for all children in California and it offers real hope for closing the achievement gap,” O’Connell said.

In reiterating his support for universal preschool, established either through legislation or by voter initiative, O’Connell announced that the California Department of Education will draft content standards for preschool that are designed to build children’s confidence, competence, and joy in learning. He also called for the creation of a credential program for preschool teachers through partnerships between community college districts and local universities.

For more information on O’Connell’s Preschool for All Initiative, please visit

Healthy Children Ready to Learn

“The health of our students is everybody’s responsibility,” O’Connell said. “Physical health affects learning and schools have a role to play in developing lifelong habits of nutrition and fitness. It is time to promote and support a culture of health and fitness in our schools.”

O’Connell outlined a new initiative to make schools a healthier environment for students of all ages. He called for legislation initiating the development and adoption of health education standards for schools and announced his support for a ban on soft drink sales at high schools during the school day. O’Connell announced that he will establish an advisory group for improving the nutritional value of foods sold on school campuses, and pledged to work with the Legislature and the State Allocation Board to make sure that when new schools are built, they include adequate space and facilities for meals and for physical education.

For more information on O’Connell’s Healthy Children Initiative, please visit

A transcript of O’Connell’s State of Education 2005 address, the three research papers, and biography are available at


(2)”Schools Chief Offers ‘P-16’ Plan” by Laurel Rosenhall

Source: Sacramento Bee – 25 January 2005


The difference between K-12 and P-16 is more than a shuffling of letters and numbers in the proposal outlined Monday by Jack O’Connell, the state’s superintendent of public instruction.

California’s philosophical approach to education would gain five years and a broader scope under goals O’Connell set for the state’s children in his annual address on the condition of public schooling…

He proposed state and regional “P-16 councils” to execute the broader vision of integrating preschool and K-12 with higher education–even while he said the state doesn’t spend enough money to allow schools to live up to standards set for the 6 million students in the existing K-12 system…

As he has done during two weeks of appearances across the state, O’Connell called on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to restore $2.3 billion in Proposition 98 funding for schools that the governor proposed eliminating in next year’s budget…

In stretching the P-16 concept to the years beyond high school, O’Connell said additional work is needed to better prepare high school graduates for college.

He called for tougher graduation requirements and said that even students who don’t plan on attending college need advanced academic skills to perform jobs in today’s economy.

For that reason, O’Connell said, he plans on developing standards for vocational education to bring to the state Board of Education in March.


(3) “State School Board Veteran Loses Seat” by Nanette Asimov

Source: San Francisco Chronicle – 13 January 2005


Silicon Valley entrepreneur Reed Hastings lost his seat on the state Board of Education on [January 12] when the Senate Rules Committee refused to forward his name to the full Senate for reappointment.

Hastings, who has served twice as the board’s president, impressed the five-member panel with his knowledge of a wide range of education issues–though his day job is running Netflix, the DVD subscription service he founded.

Nevertheless, Hastings, a Democrat who speaks English and Spanish, lost his bid for confirmation when the three Democrats on the panel voted against him or abstained, purportedly over bilingual education.

Speaking on Hastings’ behalf were state schools chief Jack O’Connell and numerous supporters representing charter schools, students, educators and parents.

Those opposed to his reappointment represented several groups supporting classroom instruction in a student’s native language, a practice that has dwindled since California voters approved Proposition 227 in 1998 requiring instruction in English unless a school wins a waiver. Hastings, who opposed Prop. 227, later became an ardent supporter when test scores of English learners soared in California…


(4) Ethnomathematics Conference at the Exploratorium

Source:  Dan Orey, Sacramento State University (

The Organization for Northern California Ethnomathematics (ONCE) and the Exploratorium Teacher Institute present an Ethnomathematics Conference at the Exploratorium, San Francisco, on Saturday, February 26, 2005 from 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

ONCE’s mission is to cultivate practice and research in the field of ethnomathematics in the Northern California region of the United States. At the same time, we endeavor to keep our regional activities current and in concert with ethnomathematics work worldwide.

The Exploratorium Teacher Institute has provided professional development for secondary math and science teachers for over twenty years.

The conference features two keynote presentations, floor walks given by Exploratorium staff, a catered lunch from Sample This, numerous workshops, and a closing panel discussion.

Conference information can be found on the following Web site:


(1) Senate Confirms Margaret Spellings as Secretary of Education

Source: Washington Partners, LLC–reported in NCTM’s Legislative and Policy Update – 24 January 2005

On January 20, Senators gathered on the Senate floor to endorse Margaret Spellings as the new Secretary of Education.  Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), new chair of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, described her as a qualified and enthusiastic candidate whom he heartily endorsed.  Sens. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), ranking member on the HELP Committee, Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) joined Enzi in praising Spellings…

Kennedy called for a strong focus on early childhood education, as did Alexander and Dodd.  Alexander, the chair of the new Subcommittee on Education and Early Childhood Development, called on the Administration to create a position for a “point person” in higher education.  He noted that he regretted that he had not done this when he was Secretary of Education.  The federal government’s role in higher education extends well beyond the Department of Education, he noted, including the labs in the Department of Energy.  Alexander’s other priorities include finding more ways to involve parents in choosing educational opportunities for their children; ensuring that No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is flexible, funded and working; and restoring the civic mission of our public schools.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) raised the issue of the inequity of women and girls in science and math.  He noted that he had studied this issue extensively and believes that the answer is for the federal government to enforce Title IX as it should be enforced. He noted that Title IX is an academic statute, not a sports statute.

Mrs. Spellings was confirmed by voice vote with no opposition.


Note: To subscribe to NCTM’s free Legislative and Policy Update, send an e-mail message to  Please include your e-mail address, name, the grade you teach or teaching specialty, and state.


(2) “NRC Publishes Follow-Up on Student Learning” by Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Source: Education Week – 12 January 2005


The National Research Council’s synthesis of the research on learning turned into an international best seller after its release six years ago. Now, the council has released a companion volume intended to help teachers convert the abstract research-based principles identified in the earlier report to effective practice.

But the report is unlikely to quell debates about which methods are best for teaching the subjects.

How Students Learn: History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom outlines how three central tenets of learning theory might shape instruction in those subjects. Those tenets, drawn from the extensive research analysis of a committee of scholars, suggest that teachers must address students’ initial understanding and preconceptions about particular topics, provide a foundation of factual knowledge and conceptual understanding, and teach strategies to help students take control of their learning.

“These principles, even if teachers [understood] them, were still at too abstract a level,” said M. Suzanne Donovan, who directed the study for the NRC, a part of the National Academies, which advise the federal government and the public on issues in science, engineering, and medicine. “We were looking for a set of chapters that took all three principles and addressed them in depth and communicated them effectively to teachers.”

‘Repertoire of Strategies’

The 600-page volume is divided by subject area, with recommendations from experts for incorporating the three principles into lessons and activities in those areas. The book also features a number of detailed descriptions of how skilled educators have designed lessons around the principles…

The subject-area sections will also be published separately in the hope of making them more useful to teachers.

A range of instructional methods could be used to cover the content of lessons and help students master them, but the report falls short of suggesting how to teach the subjects–a question that has stirred vigorous debate in each of the fields and among policymakers.

“We don’t believe, nor do the chapters indicate, that there is a single method that can be used,” Ms. Donovan said. “We hope teachers will see things they can incorporate into their own repertoire of strategies.”

The report is, however, a step toward bridging the gap between research and practice and improving instruction for all students, according to Beatrice L. Bridglall, the assistant director of the Institute for Urban & Minority Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.

Teacher Access

But while it could prove a valuable resource, disseminating research for use in classrooms has long been difficult.

“One of the challenges…is the lack of time teachers and other educators have for reading, honestly reflecting on what they read, and integrating relevant information in instruction,” Ms. Bridglall wrote in an e-mail. “I am not sanguine that the main audience for whom this book is intended, namely teachers, will even know about this resource.”

The earlier publication, How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School, was one of the council’s most popular, selling 85,000 copies in a number of languages, including Chinese, Finnish, Korean, Japanese, and Portuguese.


Note: How Students Learn is available for free online viewing at To purchase the book, go to


(3) NEW Changes to the Teacher Loan Program

Source: U.S. Department of Education – 24 January 2005


Attention Teachers: Do you teach math, science or special education? Have you taught for five years in a Title I school? If you answered yes to both of these questions, the U.S. Department of Education would like you to know that you may be eligible for new loan forgiveness limits recently signed into law by President Bush.

The Taxpayer-Teacher Protection Act (P.L. 108-409) authorizes up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness to eligible highly qualified math, science and special education teachers. This dramatic increase of $12,500 above the previous loan limits is meant to ease the shortage of teachers in key subject areas. The increased amount of teacher loan forgiveness is available to new borrowers (teachers with no outstanding loan balances prior to Oct. 1, 1998, who borrow eligible loans prior to Oct. 1, 2005). The additional loan forgiveness will provide substantial relief for existing teachers and an incentive for prospective teachers to teach in subjects and schools that have difficulty hiring highly qualified candidates.

For detailed information on the program and to find out if you qualify for the loan forgiveness, please call the Department’s Federal Student Aid Customer Service hotline at 1-800-433-7327. More information on the loan forgiveness limits is posted on the Web at:

More information on the Department’s Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative is posted on the Web at: