COMET • Vol. 6, No. 03 – 3 February 2005


(1) President Bush’s State of the Union Address

URL (full text):

URL (White House report):

The following is excerpted from the White House report of the President’s State of the Union Address:

…Strengthening High Schools:  The No Child Left Behind Act is bringing important reforms to America’s elementary schools by insisting on standards and accountability for results. The early grades are seeing progress across America, but we must improve America’s high schools. The President wants high standards to be applied to AmericaÍs high schools to ensure that every student graduates with the skills needed to succeed in college and a globally competitive workforce. His Fiscal Year 2006 budget will provide $1.5 billion in funding for a new High School Initiative to help states hold high schools accountable for teaching all students and to provide effective and timely intervention for those students who are not learning at grade level. This initiative includes requirements for state assessments in high school to ensure that diplomas are truly meaningful.

Providing Students with Assistance for Quality Higher Education:  The current Federal student-aid system does not serve American students well, and is not the best use of taxpayer money. By reforming the student loan program, the President’s Fiscal Year 2006 budget will increase the maximum Pell Grant award to $4,150 this year and $4,550 over five years to help more students pay for higher education and prepare for a lifetime of achievement. The President’s budget request will increase resources for Pell Grants by more than $15 billion over the next 10 years to provide extra assistance for the Nation’s low-income studentsf

Helping America’s Youth:  Statistics show that boys are at greater risk than girls for learning disabilities, dropping out of school, violence, juvenile arrest, and early death caused by violent behavior. Boys often begin to fall behind girls in elementary school, which leads to higher dropout rates and juvenile delinquency, and they often show signs of behavioral problems early in life. As boys grow older, risk behaviors such as alcohol and drug abuse become more prevalent, and gang involvement increases.

*  The President announced a new outreach effort, to be led by Mrs. Laura Bush, to focus on young Americans, especially young men, to help ensure a successful future. During the next year, the President and Mrs. Bush are committed to highlighting the importance of focusing on at-risk youth, especially boys; educating parents and communities on the importance of promoting positive youth development; and informing parents and communities of strong and successful prevention and intervention programs that work by drawing attention to initiatives from around the country.

*  The President’s focus on young Americans will include support for programs that help youth overcome the specific risk of gang influence and involvement. The President proposed a three-year, $150-million initiative to help youth at risk of gang influence and involvement through grants to faith-based and community organizations. These organizations will provide a positive model for youth– one that respects women and rejects violence…


(2) “President Bush Outlines Second Term Proposals for High School Students

Source: ABC News (Associated Press) – 12 January 2005


On January 12, President Bush began his push to require high school students to take the math and reading tests now required of younger students under the No Child Left Behind law, the most ambitious item on the president’s slate of second-term education proposals.

“Testing is important,” Bush said at J.E.B Stuart High School in [a] Washington suburb. “Testing at high school levels will help us become more competitive as the years go by. Testing in high schools will make sure that our children are employable for the jobs of the 21st century. …Testing will make sure the diploma is not merely a sign of endurance, but the mark of a young person ready to succeed”…

“We’re not interested in mediocrity,” Bush said at the school, which was the lowest-performing among those in relatively prosperous Fairfax County, Va., in 1997, but met its academic goals under No Child Left Behind Act in the 2003-04 school year. “We’re interested in excellence so not one single child is left behind in our country,” he said.

Bush wants to require states to test students annually in reading and math in grades three through 11. That’s an expansion of the law he signed in 2002, which requires those tests in grades three through eight, and at least once during grades 10 to 12.

The president also wants to require that the 12th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress be administered in every state in reading and math every two years, just as it is in those subjects in grades four and eight. That would produce the first-ever state results for high school seniors on this national test, helping policy-makers evaluate their school standards…

Among other proposals Bush has announced for high schools:

–$200 million for the “Striving Readers” literacy program. Bush asked Congress for $100 million for this fiscal year and received $25 million for the initiative, which provides grants to schools to give extra help to middle and high school students who have fallen behind in reading.

–$12 million to expand the state scholars program nationally to better prepare more students for college or the workplace.

–$500 million for states and school districts to reward teachers whose students show improved achievement.


(3) “AMS Website Connects Math and the Public” by Allyn Jackson

Source: Notices of the AMS – February 2005


Math in the Media is an online magazine posted monthly on the AMS website ( Its main aim is to inform and entertain both mathematicians and interested members of the general public by highlighting coverage of mathematics in the mainstream media. Another offering on the AMS website is the monthly Feature Column, which provides expositions about mathematical topics accessible to the general public ( This fall, the AMS inaugurated a snazzy new design for both Math in the Media and the Feature Column that makes them even more fun and easier to use.

Each month, the main page of Math in the Media carries “Tony’s Take,” a survey of the previous month’s news relating to mathematics, written by Tony Phillips of the State University of New York at Stony Brook. His brief synopses of stories appearing in print and on radio and television are witty and eloquent…

The “Math Digest” section takes a more comprehensive approach to following math coverage in the media ( Pooling the efforts of AMS staff and AMS-AAAS Mass Media Fellows, the “Math Digest” section provides bibliographic references and short summaries of media stories about mathematics. Among the outlets systematically covered are Science, Nature, New Scientist, the New York Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and American Scientist. The “Math Digest” contributors also stay on the lookout for math stories in other print outlets and on radio and TV. With archives reaching back to 1995, this may be the most comprehensive resource for media coverage of mathematics available on the web…

The following article appears in the same issue of Notices of the AMS (available for download as a PDF file):

“Racial Equity Requires Teaching Elementary School Teachers More Mathematics” by Patricia Clark Kenschaft

The author argues that societal imperatives, particularly in minority education, necessitate improving the mathematical competence of elementary school teachers, and she shares her own experiences in so doing.

(4) “Test-Takers Also to Face More Rigorous SAT Math Section” by Sean Cavanagh

Source: Education Week – 2 February 2005


Students taking the revamped SAT this spring will face a broader test of their abilities in advanced mathematics, a level of rigor that reflects the higher standards many states are making a part of their high school graduation requirements.

The revised college-entrance exam, which debuts in March, will for the first time include questions covering Algebra 2, a subject typically taught in the junior year of high school. Quantitative comparisons, a section of relatively short-answer questions requiring less time and less computation, will be dropped from the math section entirely.

As with the addition of a writing section and changes to the SAT’s verbal section, now called Critical Reading, the revised math test is aimed at providing admissions officers with a better gauge of what test-takers learned in high school, and how prepared they are for higher education.

“There was a belief among some students that the SAT was not related to what you did in school,” said Brian O’Reilly, the executive director for SAT information services for the College Board, which sponsors the test. “We’re trying to steer away from that.”

The new math section, which will still be scored on scale of 200 to 800 points, “is more of a signal to students that if you’re going to be college-ready, you’d better be prepared for this,” he said.

While the addition of Algebra 2 will provide a different test of mathematical ability, Mr. O’Reilly believes it won’t necessarily amount to a more difficult one. The College Board evaluated the types of questions on the new SAT, he said, to make certain the difficulty level was roughly equivalent to that of the current exam.

Students who have taken Algebra 1-a subject typically offered in 9th grade or in middle school-will already be familiar with much of the more advanced Algebra 2 material, Mr. O’Reilly said. Moreover, the ability of students to answer SAT questions correctly, he argued, is likely to depend more on those test-takers’ overall problem-solving abilities than on their mastery of specific mathematics content.

But Jennifer H. Karan of the test-preparation company Kaplan Inc. says that the math section will clearly amount to a tougher task for students.

The new exam contains a heavier dose of more complex math, such as fractional exponents, as opposed to generally simpler concepts such as positive exponents and whole numbers, said Ms. Karan, the national director of SAT/ACT programs for New York City-based Kaplan…

Mr. O’Reilly acknowledged that the SAT was only now adding higher-level math that the ACT has included for years. But he argued that the SAT has traditionally done a better job of evaluating students’ reasoning and problem-solving skills in mathematics-as opposed to simply their grasp of classroom material-than the ACT.

The changes to the SAT’S math section are significant enough, Ms. Karan of Kaplan believes, that some schools will evaluate their math curricula to make sure advanced algebra and other higher-level material are presented early enough so that students can master themf

The following article appears in the same issue of Education Week:

“It’s Not Just About the Numbers” by Erica N. Walker & Alexander P. Karp


…”As teacher-educators and lifelong mathematics enthusiasts, we think that America’s problems with math are not new news; they predate both the No Child Left Behind Act and the reform-math movement. To us, the story here is less about test scores and more about the nation’s attitudes toward math. Simply put, America is math-phobic–to an extent that profoundly influences our country’s policies, teaching practices, and, ultimately, the performance of our students”f

(5) “The Sexes in the Sciences: Does One Gender do Better?” by Natalie Angier and Kenneth Chang

Source:  Seattle Post-Intelligencer – 1 February 2005


When Lawrence Summers, the president of Harvard, suggested recently that one factor in women’s lagging progress in science and mathematics might be innate differences between the sexes, he slapped a bit of brimstone into a debate that has simmered for decades. And though his comments elicited so many fierce reactions that he quickly apologized, many were left to wonder: Did he have a point?…

Related articles:

(a) “Gender Differences Still a Touchy Topic” by Robert J. Samuelson

Source: Newsweek – 30 January 2005


(b) “Harvard President Criticized over Comments”

Source: – 18 January 2005


(c) “Harvard President’s Comments Spark Debate About Gender”

Source: PBS – 24 January 2005


(d) “There is no Single Reason why Girls Avoid Science by Valerie Strauss

Source: Washington Post


(e) ñHarvard President Right to Mention Gender Differences in Math and Science Skills” by Linda Chavez

Source: Human Events Online – 19 January 2005


(f) “Truth about Math, Science and Women” by Joyce King

Source: USA Today – 27 January 2005


(g) “Truth to Power” by Judith Kleinfeld

SourceNational Review – 25 January 2005