COMET • Vol. 6, No. 05 – 18 February 2005


(1) “U.S. May Force California to Call More School Districts Failures” by Duke Helfand

Source: Los Angeles Times – 17 February 2005


The Bush administration is pressing California to toughen its rules for identifying failing school districts–a change that could add 310 school systems to a watch list this year and eventually threaten the jobs of superintendents and school board members throughout the state.

The U.S. Department of Education warned that it could cut off money to the state if California did not change the way it classified struggling districts under the No Child Left Behind Act.

The federal law calls for states to place districts on a watch list if the number of students doing well on math and English standardized tests fails to increase enough two years in a row. Such districts can face sanctions if they continue to falter.

California, however, lets districts avoid the list if students from low-income households reach a set score on a separate measure of achievement.

Federal education officials believe the state policy amounts to an escape valve. The policy violates No Child Left Behind by reducing the number of districts identified as needing improvement, the officials have told the state Department of Education.

Only 14 of California’s 1,000 school districts were placed on the state’s watch list this year.  But hundreds of districts could be considered failures within two years if California yielded to Washington’s demands, according to state education officials.

The expanded list would feature some of California’s highest-performing school districts, including Santa Monica-Malibu Unified and Cupertino Union near San Jose. Even though these districts are well regarded, they could still find themselves publicly labeled as troubled if certain groups of their students–those in special education, for example–were not making enough progress.

At the extreme, these school systems and the others could be abolished or restructured, or their superintendents and school board members could be replaced by state-appointed trustees.

Leaders of several California school systems said it would be unfair to identify failing districts in the middle of the school year without any notice or time to respond. The district officials wondered where the money would come from to create new programs aimed at improving student test scores.

“The entire notion of how No Child Left Behind has been enacted is very narrow, very myopic and very draconian,” said Santa Monica-Malibu Unified Supt. John Deasy. “It sets up a very negative dynamic for schools that have successfully shown they can raise achievement over time.”

No Child Left Behind requires schools to give standardized English and math tests annually in the third through eighth grades, and to increase the numbers of students who score high enough to be labeled proficient. The law calls for states to set annual improvement goals and to identify schools and districts as in need of improvement if they fall short.

State leaders say they have neither the money nor staff to oversee hundreds of districts that could fall under new scrutiny. And they question whether widespread failure would reduce No Child Left Behind to a meaningless federal mandate.

“What kind of an accountability system do you have when most of the school districts need help?” asked California Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell. “Frankly, we don’t have the resources for that.”

He and other state education officials have been lobbying the federal Education Department to ease its demands but have met with little successf

In the meantime, the state Education Department this week notified 310 school systems, including those in Los Angeles, Santa Ana, Pomona and San Bernardino, that they could soon join the 14 districts already on the watch list.

Los Angeles Unified officials voiced anger at the prospect of a failure label.

“We’re making real progress. We have been moving the ball down the court faster than most schools in California,” said Supt. Roy Romer. “People should be applauding that and assisting us, not saying, ‘We’re going to cut your legs off.’ They ought to give us assistance to improve. This redefinition is just not helpful.”

He also objected to federal rules which say that if a district is on the watch list, it cannot provide supplemental tutoring to students who attend low-performing schools.

No Child Left Behind requires districts that are not on the list, but that have low-performing schools, to provide tutoring. L.A. Unified is spending about $25 million of its federal money to offer after-school tutoring to more than 16,000 students.

But if the district were put on the watch list, students would have to go elsewhere for tutoring–to private companies, for example.

Members of the Los Angeles Board of Education will hold a hearing today to discuss that issue and other challenges posed by No Child Left Behind.

Board members said they were concerned that a negative rating for the district would dampen enthusiasm at schools and further erode support for public education.

“It’s a stigma that doesn’t drive thoughtful change. It’s controlling and punitive rather than encouraging,” said David Tokofsky, who chairs the board committee holding today’s hearingf

The controversy surfaced last fall, when federal education officials visited California to monitor how the state was implementing No Child Left Behind. The officials found several problems with application of the law, but the thorniest issue revolved around the identification of failing school districts.

Since December, the two sides have been negotiating. State Supt. O’Connell and state Board of Education President Ruth Green may travel to Washington next month in an effort to broker a compromise.

“There are obviously some issues we have to work out,” Green said. “We want to approach them in a constructive way to find common ground.”


Only 5% of the 200 wealthiest school districts would fail under the revised rules, versus 64% of the poorest 200 districts.

Percent of failing districts by quintile:

1st: 5%

2nd: 10%

3rd: 26%

4th: 50%

5th: 64%

15 largest districts that would fail under revised rules (figures show enrollment and percent of students who qualify for federally subsidized lunches):

Los Angeles Unified — 747,009 — 75%

Fresno Unified — 81,408 — 80%

Santa Ana Unified — 62,874 — 79%

San Bernardino City Unified — 57,818 — 81%

Elk Grove Unified — 55,613 — 39%

Oakland Unified — 50,437 — 65%

Fontana Unified — 41,343 — 63%

Stockton City Unified — 39,483 — 65%

Sweetwater Union High — 39,228 — 51%

Montebello Unified — 35,952 — 77%

Pomona Unified — 35,412 — 66%

Moreno Valley Unified — 34,792 — 62%

West Contra Costa Unified — 33,672 — 54%

Compton Unified — 32,486 — 95%

Anaheim Union High — 32,468 — 45%


(2) State Schools Chief Jack O’Connell Comments On New Study of Teacher Quality by Ed Trust-West

Source: California Department of Education – 15 February 2005


On Tuesday, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell issued the following statement in response to a new study by Education Trust-West that highlighted the need for well-trained, experienced teachers in low-performing schools.

“I commend Education Trust-West for focusing on the important issue of providing well-paid, experienced teachers to instruct our students with the greatest challenges. This is a problem that needs to be addressed in the best interests of California’s students, and one that will require good faith negotiations and compromise between school districts and bargaining units.

“The report illustrates the importance of additional state funding to provide a range of teacher recruitment and retention incentives. Before California’s fiscal crisis led to a serious erosion in the promise of Proposition 98, we were able to provide a range of teacher recruitment and retention incentives specifically designed to attract the best and brightest teachers into our lowest-performing schools. These included: bonuses for nationally board certified teachers who agreed to teach in low-performing schools, fellowships to the most promising education school graduates who committed to working four years in low-performing schools, and district-designed incentives that could include better working conditions or higher salaries–whatever it would take to attract high quality teachers committed to teaching students with the greatest needs.

“We know such programs ultimately help California’s students. It is time for us to find a way to fund them.”


(3)  Twirl:  A New Performance by Karl Schaffer Integrating Mathematics and Dance

URL (Math Dance):

Karl Schaffer, co-artistic director of Dr. Schaffer and Mr. Stern Dance Ensemble (, presents a concert of new work on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 18 and 19, at the Mello Theatre in Watsonville, CA (, at 8:00 p.m. (There will be puzzles and games in the lobby from 6:30-7:30 p.m.) “Twirl: Dances by Karl Schaffer and Friends” is SchafferÍs first solo show without artistic collaborator Erik Stern, and highlights the creative efforts of a group of local dancers and performers. Schaffer is part of the Mello CenterÍs Artist in Residence (AIR) Program for 2004 and 2005.

Twirl features new dances illuminated with the magical and the mathematical. Performances incorporate play with a variety of props: loops of rope, vaudevillian hats, five-gallon water bottles, and giant mathematical puzzle pieces known as tangrams. Dancers and creative collaborators include Saki, Rock Lerum, Fabricio Olsson, Gina Garcia, Shelly Adams, Lalu Simcik, Kristin Hoffman, and Kirsten Livingston. Musical scores include work by Berkeley composer Victor Spiegel. The concert also features performances by children from the Watsonville Charter School for the Arts.

Karl Schaffer has co-directed the Dr. Schaffer and Mr. Stern Dance Ensemble for the past 17 years.  Schaffer and co-director Erik SternÍs workshops–and many of their dance works–focus on integrating math and dance. Their work led them to publish a 132-page book of class activities, MathDance, with fellow artist Scott Kim in 2001.  Sample classroom activities and portions of the book are available at this Web site:

Schaffer and co-director Erik Stern write, “Our math dance work grew from two seeds. As choreographers, much of our work springs from play with ideas from the world of mathematics. As teachers, we have found that mathematical ideas become more exciting, tangible and memorable when you act them out with your whole body. So for the past fourteen years we have developed a series of performances and workshops on math dance, which we have given hundreds of times in schools and conferences.”

Schaffer and Stern spent two months touring the U.S. and Canada in 2003, performing at such venues as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Annenberg Center in Philadelphia, the Mondavi Center in Davis, and at two international ChildrenÍs Festivals in Canada. In 2004 they were named to the artist roster of the Kennedy CenterÍs Partners in Education, which sponsors arts workshops at many of the largest performing arts centers in the United States.

Schaffer and Stern received a National Endowment for the Arts Access to the Arts award for 2004-05 (their fourth such grant in the past five years) for their cross-disciplinary performance work. This grant will fund residencies by Schaffer and Stern in Hawaii and a number of other communities. Schaffer taught at the American Ballet TheatreÍs Summer Dance Intensive in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in July of 2004, and he teaches Mathematics at De Anza College. He also directs two touring shows about dance and math which play to Bay Area schools, and is part of the Spectra Arts in the Schools program.


(1) Administration Unveils FY2006 Budget

Source: NSTA Express – 14 February 2005


The Administration released its proposed spending plan for FY2006 programs to Congress on February 7, and although the Administration is seeking additional funding for the Math and Science Partnerships at the U. S. Department of Education, many K-12 math and science education programs at NSF saw steep cuts.

National Science Foundation: The President requested a cut of 12.4 percent for programs under the Education and Human Resources directorate ($737 million for FY2006, down from $841 million in FY2005, a decrease of $104 million). Funding for programs under the Elementary, Secondary, and Informal Education (ESIE) was reduced by 22.6 percent ($140 million for FY2006, down from $181 million in FY2005), and the Research, Evaluation, and Communication (REC) budget was cut by more than 43 percent ($33 million, down from $59 million in FY2005). The funding request for the FY2006 NSF Math and Science Partnerships (MSPs) was $60 million, a 24 percent cut. For more information on the NSF budget, go to

Department of Education: Total funding for the Department of Education for FY2006 is $56 billion, a one percent increase over FY2005. The funding request for the FY 2006 MSP program at the Department of Education is $269 million, a $90 million increase over FY2005 funding. However the Administration wants $120 million of these funds to stay at the U. S. Department of Education for competitive grants solely to math initiatives at the secondary level as part of the new High School Initiative. Currently all the funds under the ED MSP program go to the states for competitive grants to local science and math initiatives.

Vocational education programs, including the Tech Prep Education state grants, and other programs including Upward Bound, Talent Search, GEAR UP, and Smaller Learning Communities have been eliminated and the funding is being shifted to create a new $1.3 billion High School Initiative which includes incorporating No Child Left Behind (NCLB) testing in grades 9-11 in language arts and math.

Improving Teacher Quality State Grants (Title II A) were level-funded at $2.9 billion, and the President is seeking $12 million to help states establish State Scholars programs that encourage students to complete a rigorous curriculum that includes at least three years of math and science.

Teacher quality enhancement grants under the Higher Education Act (HEA Title II) were eliminated.

Education Technology State Grants (Title II D) and the National Writing Project were also eliminated in the budget proposal; in FY2005 states received $496 million for the state Ed Tech grants initiative. Proposed funding for the Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities program was reduced by almost half (state grants were eliminated). The Reading First State Grants saw a small increase, as did Title I and IDEA programs. For more information on the Department of Education FY2006 budget go to

In related budget and appropriations news, House leaders have announced they have reorganized 13 of the current Appropriations subcommittees down to 10 subcommittees. Although the appropriations subcommittee with oversight of the U.S. Department of Education–the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education chaired by Rep. Ralph Regula–remains intact, the appropriations subcommittee responsible for NSF appropriations (VA/HUD and Independent Agencies) has been eliminated. Appropriations for the NSF (and NASA and OSTP) will now be under the jurisdiction of the Science, State, Justice and Commerce subcommittee, chaired by Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA).


Related article:

“Cuts Proposed in Bush Budget Hit Education Plan Would End 48 Programs; High School Effort Is Funded” by Erik W. Robelen

Source: Education Week – 16 February 2005



(2) “Education Sciences Board Convenes for First Time” by Debra Viadero

SourceEducation Week – 16 February 2005


The Department of Education convened a new national research advisory board last week that has high hopes of injecting more “science” into the study of schooling.

The 15-member National Board of Education Sciences–made up of prominent researchers, business executives, and school administrators–was established in 2002 when Congress overhauled the departmentÍs educational research functions. The Education Sciences Reform Act abolished the departmentÍs office of educational research and improvement, or OERI, and replaced it with a new Institute of Education Sciences that lawmakers hoped would buffer federally financed educational research from prevailing politics and education fads.

The boardÍs job is to independently advise the instituteÍs director, Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, on the direction and priorities his agency should set. But at the groupÍs Feb. 8-9 inaugural meeting here, several members made clear that the Bush administrationÍs ongoing mission of transforming education into an “evidence-based science” is one they endorse.

“I am passionate about converting education into a field where a critical mass of people know the difference between quack medicine and real medicine,” Caroline M. Hoxby, a Harvard University economist whose research focuses on education, told fellow board members.

What worries some outsiders, though, is how the new board will define science. The Bush administration, through its centerpiece No Child Left Behind Act and related reading programs, has put a priority on randomized controlled trials–experiments, in other words, that involve randomly assigning subjects to either a treatment or a control group. Some researchers fear that the new emphasis leaves little room for other forms of research, such as descriptive studies, that might afford a better ground-level view of schools and classrooms.

Of the 14 board members sworn in last week, several are active advocates of randomized experiments. They include Jon Baron, the executive director of the nonpartisan, Washington-based Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, and Jerry Lee, a Philadelphia radio station owner who supports efforts to step up randomized experiments in the social sciences.

“This board is clearly chosen to send a message that favors researchers who prefer a narrow definition of scientifically based research,” Kenji Hakuta, the dean of the education school at the University of California-Merced and the former head of the old OERI board, said in an e-mail.

Mr. Baron, however, said he sees the board as more balanced than critics do.

“I think it cuts across econometric research to randomized trials and everything in between,” he said.

Other observers said they were heartened that some board members and department officials had also expressed a need to be practical and realistic in their quest for more rigorous education research.

For instance, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings told board members, “We canÍt let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Presidential Selections

In form, the new board has some differences from its predecessor. It contains a few more researchers–eight as opposed to five on the old OERI board. And several of the scholars on the new board were trained in fields outside education, such as economics and medicine.

Some members also have close ties to the Bush administration. They include two former department officials and a former campaign adviser to Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, the presidentÍs brother.

Unlike the old board, whose members were appointed by the secretary of education, the new boardÍs nominees are selected by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

The process was changed, in part, to elevate the boardÍs status.

But some department officials blamed the new nomination procedures for the two years it took to put a board in place.

C. Kent McGuire, who was the assistant secretary of education in charge of the OERI under President Clinton, said the long wait in convening the board means its members will have some catching up to do to make an imprint on the Institute of Education Sciences. ThatÍs because Mr. Whitehurst, out of necessity, had to set much of the agencyÍs agenda without a board in place.

“ThereÍs no getting around the fact that some bets have already been placed,” said Mr. McGuire, who is now dean of the school of education at Temple University in Philadelphia.

Sworn In

The members of the newly constituted National Board for Education Sciences are:

Robert C. Granger (chairman)–President of the William T. Grant Foundation, based in New York City

R. Philip Handy (vice chairman)–Chairman of the Florida state board of education and a co-chairman of Florida Gov. Jeb BushÍs 2002 re-election campaign

Jon Baron, the executive director of the Washington-based Council for Excellence in Government

Beth Ann Bryan, a former senior adviser to then-U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and now senior education adviser in Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld law firm

Carol DÍAmico, the chancellor of Ivy Tech State College-Central Indiana and a former U.S. Education Department assistant secretary for vocational and adult education under President Bush

James R. Davis, the superintendent of the Hattiesburg, Miss., schools

Eric A. Hanushek, a senior fellow at Stanford UniversityÍs Hoover Institution

Caroline B. Hoxby, an economics professor at Harvard University

Jerry Lee, the president of WBEB 101 FM in Philadelphia and the founder of the Jerry Lee Center for Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania

Robert I. Lopez, the superintendent and principal of the George I. Sanchez Charter High School in Houston

R. James Milgram, a mathematics professor at Stanford University

Sally E. Shaywitz, a pediatrics professor at the Yale University School of Medicine

Joseph K. Torgesen, a professor of psychology and education at Florida State University in Tallahassee

Herbert J. Walberg, a visiting fellow at Stanford UniversityÍs Hoover Institution

SOURCE: Institute of Education Sciences


About the Institute of Education Sciences


Established by the Education Sciences Reform Act of 2002, the Institute of Education Sciences is the research arm of the Department of Education. Its mission is to expand knowledge and provide information on the condition of education, practices that improve academic achievement, and the effectiveness of Federal and other education programs. Its goal is the transformation of education into an evidence-based field in which decision makers routinely seek out the best available research and data before adopting programs or practices that will affect significant numbers of students.

Grover J. (Russ) Whitehurst was appointed to a 6-year term as the first Director of the Institute in November 2002. The Office of the Director and three centers, the National Center for Education Statistics, the National Center for Education Research, and the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, compose the Institute.