COMET • Vol. 7, No. 15 – 27 April 2006


(1) PPIC Statewide Survey on Education

Source: Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC)
URL (Report):

Earlier today, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) released the findings of the second in a series of special surveys focusing on education in California. The findings are based on telephone interviews of 2,501 California adult residents between April 4 and April 19, 2006. Interviews were conducted in English, Spanish, Korean, Vietnamese, and Chinese. The entire report can be downloaded free of charge from the above Web site. Below are some of the key findings of the survey:

*  The share of Californians who say the quality of education is a big problem (58%) is higher now than at any time since 1998, when the PPIC Statewide Survey was launched.

*  In contrast to their pessimistic view of education quality in the state, 64% of the parents of public school children gave their own neighborhood schools marks of A’s or B’s, while far fewer gave D’s or F’s (11%).

* Proposition 82, which would fund voluntary preschool education for all 4-year-olds in California through a tax on wealthy state residents, is currently supported by 51% of likely voters, with 40% opposed. Democrats (64%) are more likely than independents (50%) and Republicans (38%) to back the measure, and Latinos (63%) are more likely than whites (47%) to do so.

*  73% of public school parents think that students should have to pass a statewide reading and math test to be promoted to the next grade, even if they have passing grades in their classes. 75% believe that students should have to pass a statewide test to graduate from high school.

*  87% of blacks are very concerned about high school drop-out rates, a much higher percentage than in any other group (Latinos–9%, Asians–51%, whites–50%). Likewise, the percentage of blacks who are very concerned about low-income students failing the high school exit exam (75%) is substantially higher than the percentage of Latinos (54%), Asians (39%), or whites (38%).

*  About half of Californians (49%) believe the state should give more funding to schools in lower-income areas, even if it means less funding for other schools. Asians (72%) support this idea far more than any other group (blacks–57%, Latinos–52%, whites–45%).

*  Only 36% of likely voters favor raising the state sales tax and 24% favor raising property taxes to fund public schools. However, 64% of those interviewed favored raising the income tax paid by the wealthiest Californians to fund education.

*  Younger residents (61%) are more likely than older Californians (35%) to believe schools should offer a wide variety of courses rather than concentrate on fewer basics.

*  A majority of Californians (58%) say art and music are an important part of the public school curriculum. Blacks (79%) overwhelmingly support these programs.

*  Nearly all likely voters say that gubernatorial candidates’ positions on K-12 education are very important (60%) or somewhat important (32%). Six in 10 likely voters say they are currently following the news about the governor’s race at least fairly closely. Democratic primary voters currently favor State Controller Steve Westly (26%) over State Treasurer Phil Angelides (20%) in the race to challenge incumbent Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger this November. Still, over half of these likely voters remain undecided or say they would vote for someone else.

*  Californians (27%) now rank immigration as the most important issue for the governor and legislature to work on in the coming year, followed by education and schools (24%).

In response to these findings, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell announced that he has “asked four major foundations to undertake a comprehensive study of what it truly will take to fully fund and efficiently make the improvements we need in our schools. This project will build better public understanding and serve as a springboard for much-needed public discussion about what we as Californians and we as educators must do in order to have the schools we want and that our students deserve.”

The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) is a privately operated foundation established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett. The Institute is dedicated to improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research.



(1) “Girls Just Want to Have Sums” (Sunday’s Episode of “The Simpsons”)


This Sunday’s episode of “The Simpsons” (8 p.m. PT, April 30) is entitled “Girls Just Want to Have Sums.” The Simpsons Archive Web site provides the following synopsis of this episode:

“The new principal at Springfield Elementary (replacing a fired Seymour Skinner, who made a sexist remark) decides that the boys should be taught separately from the girls, but when Lisa realizes that the girls aren’t really being taught anything important (especially in math), she gets Bart to help her masquerade as a boy so she can attend the boys’ classes.”

Sarah J. Greenwald, a professor of mathematics at Appalachian State University and an avid fan of the show, wrote the following in the March-April 2006 issue of the Association for Women in Mathematics Newsletter:

“The Simpsons is the longest-running sitcom of all time, and it is also one of the most literate television programs on the air, containing many references to subject matter and scholars from various academic fields, including mathematics. Andrew Nestler [Santa Monica College, CA:] and I have found that the program is an ideal source of fun ways to introduce important mathematical concepts to students and to reduce math anxiety and motivate students in courses for non-majors.

“Our website contains information about mathematics in the show and our use of it in mathematics classrooms, and on August 25, 2005, we were thrilled to have the opportunity to speak with Jeff Westbrook, one of the writers of the show. Jeff has a bachelor’s degree in physics and the history of science from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in computer science from Princeton University. Jeff was an associate professor at Yale University and also worked at AT&T Labs before writing for the animated sitcom ‘Futurama,’ and he has been writing for ”The Simpsons’ since 2004…

“A few months later, Jeff showed us portions of a preliminary ‘animatic,’ pictures of a storyboard synchronized with the soundtrack, from the upcoming women and mathematics episode that he mentioned in the interview. The amusing animatic revealed separate girls and boys mathematics classroom environments. Lisa Simpson, who has always been portrayed as intelligent and good at mathematics and science in addition to other subjects, wanted to work on problems instead of embracing the cooperative learning environment found in the girls’ class, and so she peered into the boys’ classroom window to work on the boys’ problems from there…

“This episode is sure to be a great opportunity for continued discussion about women in mathematics, and a chance to expose a large viewing public to some of the related issues.  The title of the episode parodies the title of Cyndi Lauper’s song ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun.’ ”

(2) Biographies of Women in Mathematics

Source: Agnes Scott College, Atlanta, GA

The Web site, “Biographies of Women in Mathematics”… [is] part of an on-going project at Agnes Scott College in Atlanta, Georgia, to illustrate the numerous achievements of women in the field of mathematics. Here you can find biographical essays or comments on women mathematicians, as well as additional resources about women in mathematics… [Below are some of the links on this site’s home page:]

— Names in Alphabetical Order

— Names in Chronological Order

— Names by Location of Birth

— Other Resources about Women Mathematicians

— The First PhDs in Mathematics by Women before 1930

— Prizes, Awards and Honors for Women Mathematicians

— Birth and Death Anniversaries

[This site also includes updates on topics such as “The Simpsons” episode above and useful information about female achievements in mathematics such as the following:]

=  The actress Danica McKellar, perhaps better known as Winnie from The Wonder Years, graduated with highest honors from UCLA with a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics. She is co-author of a mathematical research paper published in the Journal of Physics A: Mathematical and General. Listen to her February 11th interview on NRP Weekend Edition in which she discusses this paper ( Or visit the mathematics link on her website to read about her interest in mathematics: [Students can also send Danica an email message to request assistance with mathematics problems:  Also see]

=  In 1998 Melanie Wood became the first high school girl ever to win a spot on the United States Mathematical Olympiad Team. While a student at Duke University, Melanie was the first American woman, and second woman overall, to win the Putnam competition–a prestigious math competition for college students. Read about her accomplishments in Math Horizons, September 2004 ( or in a 2003 Duke University article:

=  Alison Crocker, a double major in physics and mathematics at Dartmouth College, and Eliana Hechter, an eighteen-year-old senior mathematics major at the University of Washington, have been chosen as 2006 Rhode Scholars to study at the University of Oxford, England. Alison plans to pursue a doctorate in astrophysics, while Eliana plans to complete a doctorate in mathematics. Read the Dartmouth press release about Alison ( and the article about Eliana from the Seattle Times (

(3)  Society of Women Engineers


The Society of Women Engineers (SWE), founded in 1950, is a not-for-profit educational and service organization. SWE is the driving force that establishes engineering as a highly desirable career aspiration for women. SWE empowers women to succeed and advance in those aspirations and be recognized for their life-changing contributions and achievements as engineers and leaders. For more information about the Society, please call (312) 596-5223.

The SWE Scholarship Program provides financial assistance to women admitted to accredited baccalaureate or graduate programs, in preparation for careers in engineering, engineering technology, and computer science. In fiscal year 2005, SWE disbursed more than 130 new and renewed scholarships valued at more than $300,000. Scholarships and fellowships range from $1,000 to $10,000 each.

Grants are announced in the late spring (sophomore, junior, senior and graduate students) and late summer/early fall (freshmen and reentry students) for use during the following academic year. Grant payments are made in the fall for corporate-sponsored scholarships and in both the fall and spring for endowed scholarships, upon proof of registration.

The deadline to apply for Freshman Scholarships is May 15, 2006.  For more information, check the scholarship section on the SWE Web site.

(4) The Futures Channel Mathematics and Science “Micro-documentaries”


When math and science teachers face the age-old student question, “Why do I need to learn this?” they can instantly take their students “on location” with a diverse range of scientists, artists, and professionals across the U.S. who use math and science skills in fascinating careers…

Futures Channel “micro-documentaries”…take students behind the scenes with architects and designers, artists and inventors, music composers and sound engineers, aerospace engineers, deep sea explorers, and dozens more men and women in careers that many students haven’t even imagined. [Visit to view a dozen movie clips showing how professionals use mathematics and science in their careers.]

(5) “Math and Science Education” Webcast (“Education News Parents Can Use” Episode)

Source: U.S. Department of Education
URL (Archives):
URL (Education News):

Education News Parents Can Use focuses on schools, learning and the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. On the third Tuesday of each month during the school year, Education News airs live via satellite, offering parents and anyone else with an interest in education vital information about getting involved in children’s learning.

On February 1, 2006, a panel tackled a number of questions related to high quality mathematics and science education in response to President Bush’s recently-announced American Competitiveness Initiative.  Some of the questions addressed included the following:

* What is the “global economy” and what does it demand of our students and educational system?

* Why is it so critical for all children to become “literate” in mathematics and science today?

* How will the American Competitiveness Initiative help improve math and science instruction, student competence, and achievement?

* How can parents encourage their children to learn mathematics and science outside the classroom?

* What should students be learning in mathematics and science at the elementary, middle and high school grades? What must change in the way these subjects are currently being taught?

The archived webcast of this one-hour program can be viewed using WindowsMedia or RealPlayer by visiting the above Web site.

Guests on the show included the following (in order of appearance):

– Tom Luce–Assistant Secretary of Education

– Edward Argueta–Principal, The Science Academy of South Texas

– Ann Wilson Cramer–Director, IBM Corporate Community Relations (

– Gregg Fleisher–President, AP Strategies (

– Chelsea Zhang and Minh Huynh-Le–Intel Science Talent Search finalists

– Margaret Spellings–U.S. Secretary of Education (from an interview available at

– Mel Riddile – Principal, JEB Stuart High School, Falls Church, VA–NASSP 2006 National Teacher of the Year

– Jo Anne Vasquez–National Science Board (AP tests)

– Tom Price–Senior Vice President, National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (

Guest statements included the following:

Luce: “If you’re going to have a high-paying job, you need math and science skills in the 21st century…  That’s how you can be savvy and smart today–to know math and science–because you’ll learn to solve problems…  I think the foundation for science is math, so we’re starting with math –we’re calling it ‘Math Now’ [in the American Competitiveness Initiative]–and science next.”

Spellings: “Problem solving and creativity, the ability to work in a group–those are skills that are needed in any field; and math and science–especially math–teach those sort of problem solving skills. …I hate to tell you all this, but that’s the way of the world. The world has changed. [Math and science are needed by everybody.]”

Cramer: “The fact is that there will be jobs–in fact 91 million jobs by the end of the decade…8 of the 12 skills required for an information technology professional are new…Yes, we need communications–we need the ability for folks to be able to read and write and talk, but it’s the higher level math and science skills that enable folks to really do the critical thinking that we need for tomorrow’s and today’s life skills.”

Riddile: “Parents should never say, ‘I wasn’t good at math.'”