COMET • Vol. 6, No. 32 – 30 November 2005


(1) Schools Chief O’Connell Congratulates Two Teachers from Los Angeles County for Receiving National Educator Award

Source: California Department of Education

Last Tuesday, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell recognized two California teachers from Los Angeles County as they received the Milken Family Foundation National Educator Award.

Mathew McClenahan, a mathematics and social studies teacher at High Tech High School in Lake Balboa, and James Orihuela, a Spanish-language arts teacher at Cecil B. DeMille Middle School in Long Beach, were presented the awards during separate, surprise assemblies at their respective schools.

The award, given each year to a maximum of 100 secondary teachers, principals, and specialists throughout the nation, includes a $25,000 cash prize and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington D.C. to participate in the annual Milken National Education Conference next May.

“Mr. McClenahan is an innovative, inspiring teacher who brings to the classroom the kinds of advances in technology that keep his students energized and engaged. His teaching style is one of dedication, motivation, and expectation,” O’Connell said.

“Mr. Orihuela is a teacher’s teacher who has earned the respect of students, parents, and colleagues. A mentor, gifted educator, and a true believer in a child’s ability to learn, his extraordinary abilities allow his students to discover within themselves the potential he already sees,” said O’Connell.

Teachers are recommended for this award program without their knowledge by their respective state departments of education. There is no formal nomination process. Teachers are judged on factors such as exceptional educational talent that is evidenced by outstanding instructional practices in the classroom, school, and profession; outstanding accomplishments and strong long-range potential for professional and policy leadership; and having an engaging and inspiring presence that motivates and impacts students, colleagues, and the community at large.

Lowell Milken is the chairman and co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation. He created what has become the country’s largest teacher recognition program, the National Educator Awards, in 1985 to celebrate the nation’s most outstanding teachers, principals, and specialists in K-12 education.

For more information, please contact the Milken Family Foundation at 310-570-4773 or visit

(2) Facilitator Institute for “Learning and Teaching Linear Functions”

Source:  Judy Mumme – 805-388-4415

A Facilitator Institute is being offered for those interested in learning to use the “Learning and Teaching Linear Functions” videocases in professional development.  The Institute will be conducted February 28 to March 3, 2006 in San Diego.  Most of the costs, including materials, lodging and most meals are being supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, which also supported the development of these materials.  The institute is for leaders of mathematics professional development, pre-service educators, and higher education-K-12 teams working with teacher groups in algebra and algebraic thinking.  Institute leaders are Nanette Seago and Judy Mumme. The deadline for registration is December 16, and space is limited. For more information and an application, visit or email


(1) Results to be Released Tomorrow (December 1): 2005 NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) in Reading and Mathematics

Source: National Center for Education Statistics — NCES (via Marianne Smith)

Results from the 2005 NAEP Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) in reading and mathematics are scheduled for release by NCES on December 1 at 10:00 AM EST. This year, fourth- and eighth-graders in 11 large urban school districts (Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, San Diego, and Washington, DC) took NAEP. The Nation’s Report Card for the districts will examine how their performance has changed over time (not all districts participated in all previous assessments); make comparisons among districts, to the nation, and large central cities; and examine the performance of various student groups.

* View the results on December 1 at the time of release at

* Join National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Associate Commissioner Peggy Carr at 12:00 PM EST on December 1 for a live chat about the results. For more information or to submit questions ahead of time, check [at press time, currently experiencing technical difficulties].

* Learn more about TUDA and how the districts performed on (a) the 2003 reading assessment at and on (b) the 2003 mathematics assessment at:

(2) New Study Finds U.S. Math Students Consistently Behind Their Peers Around The WorldFindings Challenge Conventional Wisdom About U.S. Math Success In Early Grades

Source:  American Institutes for Research (AIR)
URL (full report):

Despite a widely held belief that U.S. students do well in mathematics in grade school but decline precipitously in high school, a new study comparing the math skills of students in industrialized nations finds that U.S. students in 4th and 8th grade perform consistently below most of their peers around the world and continue that trend into high school.

The study, conducted by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) under funding provided by the U.S. Department of Education, reexamined data from three international surveys assessing mathematics achievement in 2003:  the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), which assessed students in grades 4 and 8, and the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which assessed 15-year-olds, most of whom were in 10th grade.

The study, “Reassessing U.S. International Mathematics Performance: New Findings from the 2003 TIMSS and PISA,” focused on students in the United States and 11 other industrial countries that participated in all three assessments: Australia, Belgium, Hong Kong, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and the Russian Federation.

U.S. students consistently performed below average, ranking 8th or 9th out of 12 at all three grade levels. These findings suggest that U.S. reform proposals to strengthen mathematics instruction in the upper grades should be expanded to include improving U.S. mathematics instruction beginning in the primary grades.

“The conventional wisdom is that U.S. students perform above average in grades 4 and 8, and then decline sharply in high school,” says Steven Leinwand, principal research analyst at AIR and one of the report’s authors. “But this study proves the conventional wisdom is dead wrong.”

Previous studies compared U.S. performance with substantially more countries, whose characteristics vary widely. A total of 24 countries participated in TIMSS-grade 4, 45 countries in TIMSS-grade 8, and 40 countries in PISA.

According to widely publicized findings from those studies, U.S. performance was above the international average in grades 4 and 8, but below the international average at age 15, suggesting that the quality of American high schools is inferior to that of elementary and middle schools.

“We believe the narrower focus of this study more accurately reflects the state of education in the United States in relation to a common set of industrialized nations because we are comparing apples to apples,” says Leinwand.

The reanalysis took advantage of the richness of the TIMSS and PISA data sets to present new findings on the strengths and weaknesses of U.S. and other countries’ mathematics performance.

Countries that score well on items that emphasize mathematical reasoning (a higher-level skill) also score well on items that require knowledge of facts and procedures (a lower-level skill), suggesting that reasoning and computation skills are mutually reinforcing in learning mathematics well. Compared to other countries, students in the United States students do not do well on questions at either skill level.

Many countries differ in their strengths and weaknesses among mathematical content areas (numbers, algebra, measurement, geometry, and data and statistics). The United States does relatively better in data and statistics and relatively worse in measurement in grades 4 and 8 and in geometry in grade 8 and at age 15.

Overall differences within countries between boys’ and girls’ mathematics performance are not large, although there is some evidence that the boys’ score advantage is greatest on the more difficult items, especially at age 15.  In addition, the study found that boys in the United States consistently outperform girls in all three assessments, a pattern shared only with Italy, but the differences are small.

“These findings suggest cross-national surveys of educational achievement at different grade levels and ages provide a broader lens than is possible from domestic research alone from which to determine the strengths and weaknesses of U.S. mathematics instruction,” says Alan Ginsburg of the U.S. Department of Education, another of the study’s authors.

(3) Mathematical Association of America’s American Mathematics Competitions (AMC)

URL (AMC Overview):
URL (Problem Directory):
URL (Math Clubs):

The American Mathematics Competitions (AMC) is dedicated to the goal of strengthening the mathematical capabilities of our nation’s youth. We believe that one way to meet this goal is to identify, recognize and reward excellence in mathematics through a series of national contests for middle school students (the American Mathematics Contest 8 –AMC 8) and for high school students (the American Mathematics Contest 10–AMC 10, the American Mathematics Contest 12–AMC 12, the American Invitational Mathematics Examination–AIME, and the United States of America Mathematical Olympiad–USAMO).

For over 50 years, many excellent exams have been prepared by individuals throughout the mathematical community in the hope that all secondary students will have an opportunity to participate in these problem solving and enriching mathematics experiences. The AMC contests are intended for everyone from the average student at a typical school who enjoys mathematics to the very best student at the most special school. To insure this mission is served, each year the AMC solicits enrollment by mailing an Invitation Brochure to all schools in the United States teaching grades six through twelve…

The AMC year culminates with the Mathematical Olympiad Summer Program (MOSP), which is a 3-4-week training program for the top qualifying AMC students. It is from this group of truly exceptional students that the USA Team is chosen; this team represents the United States at the International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO). The 2005 team competed against over 85 countries in Mérida, Mexico, in July 2005 and came in second (with 213 points) behind the team from China (which scored 235 points) and ahead of third-place Russia (with 212 points). Slovenia will serve as the host country for the competition in 2006: (Also visit for more information about the IMO.)

Problem Directory/Archive:

Visit for a collection of problems from various mathematics competitions and links to sites with additional problems and resources.

Math Club Information:

Visit for resources designed to help middle school and high school teachers establish and run a Math Club, League, Organization, etc.

(4) NCTM Activities to Engage Middle and High School Students–Help Your Students Prepare for MATHCOUNTS Competition

Source:  NCTM News Bulletin – November 2005 – page 8

Visit the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ Web site today and register for free access to MATHCOUNTS Web pages at Here you will find a variety of resources from NCTM’s journals that can be used to engage middle school and high school students in mathematics as well as to help students practice for the MATHCOUNTS competition.

Each month, new problems will be added to the site, including the following:

— Student Math Notes:  Theme-based problems that progressively become more challenging

— Menu Problems:  Problems that range from short to open-ended and are appropriate for middle school students

— Calendar Problems:  A variety of problems targeted to high school students and great for challenging middle school students.


Join the 2005-2006 MATHCOUNTS Program:

NCTM is a founding sponsor of MATHCOUNTS, which is a yearlong program that leads to local, state, and national competitions. MATHCOUNTS challenges participants’ mathematics skills, helps develop their self-confidence, and rewards their achievements.

To learn more about MATHCOUNTS, visit or call (703) 684-2828. If you would like to register to participate in the 2005-2006 MATHCOUNTS program, visit or call (301) 498-6141. Completed registration forms must be postmarked by December 9 (

From the MATHCOUNTS Web site:

MATHCOUNTS is a national enrichment, coaching and competition program that promotes middle school mathematics achievement through grassroots involvement in every U.S. state and territory.

With over 22 years of experience, MATHCOUNTS is one of the country’s largest and most successful education partnerships involving volunteers, educators, industry sponsors and students. President George W. Bush and former Presidents Clinton, Bush and Reagan have all recognized MATHCOUNTS in White House ceremonies. The MATHCOUNTS program has also received two White House citations as an outstanding private sector initiative. Particularly exciting for our Mathletes were the hour-long ESPN programs on each of the past three National Competitions.

(5) NCTM Online Presidential Chat on Influential Mathematics Teachers

Source: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics URL:

Today’s online Presidential Chat by NCTM President Cathy Seeley focused on teachers who have made a positive difference in our lives. She asked what characteristics these teachers had, what made them remarkable, and how they helped us as students of mathematics. The transcript of this chat will be available at (currently see

(6) Kinder Excellence in Teaching Award

Contact: Catherine North — (415) 503-8654 or

The purpose of the Kinder Excellence in Teaching Award is to award $100,000 to one outstanding teacher working in an underserved community in America. The award seeks to recognize innovative and results-oriented teaching and to raise public awareness of the importance of effective and committed teachers. The hope is that thousands of individuals will nominate a teacher who has inspired students to learn and achieve more.

Nancy and Rich Kinder of Houston, TX established this award so an outstanding educator serving low-income children could be rewarded financially for his or her work. The award was created to honor Rich Kinder’s mother, Edna C. Kinder, a former teacher in his hometown of Cape Girardeau, MO. Nancy Kinder says, “Through this award, my husband Rich and I hope to shine a spotlight on the teaching profession, because we know that a great teacher can make a difference for thousands of children in a lifetime.”

The $100,000 award will be the largest single, unrestricted award given to a K-12 teacher in American history, and it is the Kinders’ hope that some day, teachers earning as much as other professions will become the norm instead of an exception to the rule.

Teachers may nominate themselves or may be nominated by someone else (e.g., a parent, student, colleague, or school leader).  Candidates must currently be employed in a K-12 school, public or private, in the U.S. where at least 50 percent of students qualify for the free- and reduced-price meal program.  The deadline for nominations is February 1, 2006. For more information on the nomination process, please visit the above Web site.