COMET • Vol. 7, No. 16 – 3 May 2006


(1) President Honors Nation’s Leading Math and Science Teachers

Source: National Science Foundation – 28 April 2006

Last Friday, President George W. Bush announced that 100 educators will receive the annual Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching for 2005. The award was established in 1983 and is administered by the National Science Foundation. This year, the White House recognizes the best of the Nation’s 7th-12th grade mathematics and science teachers.

The awardees are selected from mathematics and science teachers in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Territories, and the U.S. Department of Defense Schools. After an initial selection process at the State or Territorial level, a national panel of distinguished scientists, mathematicians, and educators recommends teachers to receive the Presidential Awards.

Awardees receive a $10,000 educational grant for their schools and a trip to Washington, D.C., to accept a certificate. The teachers will be in the Nation’s capital from May 1-6, 2006, to receive the award and participate in a variety of educational and celebratory events.

During the week, the teachers will tour the White House and be honored in an awards ceremony hosted by Dr. John H. Marburger III, Science Advisor to the President and Director, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. They will also meet with members of Congress and the Administration to discuss the latest issues in mathematics and science teaching, and share their expertise and viewpoints with their colleagues.

For a complete listing of the 2005 awardees, visit

(2) President and Mrs. Bush Meet with the 2006 National and State Teachers of the Year

Source: The White House, Office of the Press Secretary
URL (award information):
URL (California TOY information):

MRS. BUSH: …Congratulations to all of our State Teachers of the Year. As we gather today [Friday, 28 April 2006] to celebrate your accomplishments, we also honor the excellent teachers across America for their hard work and dedication…

The great American historian and writer, Henry Adams, once wrote, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” And that’s one of the best parts about teaching, being surprised by the effect you have on your students. Sometimes, the child everyone in town has pegged as a lifelong jokester goes on to do something great…thanks to his teachers. He might even become President of the United States.

Now, I’d like to introduce someone who probably surprised a lot of his teachers. Ladies and gentlemen, my husband, President George Bush…

THE PRESIDENT:…This is one of the great afternoons for Laura and me. We love to recognize our teachers. We really appreciate you coming. Actually, this is an annual event started by Harry Truman. And I’m glad to be a part of a tradition here at the White House, saying thanks to our teachers.

I admire teachers and like teachers so much, I married one…The thing I like about teaching is teaching is such an optimistic profession. I know when teachers look out at their classrooms, you see more than a child at play or at study. You’re able to see a child with big dreams and big hopes. You see future doctors and scientists and entrepreneurs and inventors, and I hope you see even a teacher or two.

You dedicated your lives to the formation of young minds. You’re giving our children the skills they need to succeed in life, and equally important, the courage and the drive to realize those dreams. Our nation is grateful for your hard work…

I appreciate the National Teacher of the Year Finalists: Sam Bennett from Florida…Ron Poplau, of Kansas ..And Susan Barnard, of Washington state. We’re really glad you’re here. Congratulations on setting such a fine example…

I thank Dr. Tom Houlihan, who is the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. That’s one of the sponsoring organizations… Margery Mayer, of the Scholastic Education, Scholastic Inc. …That’s also a sponsoring organization of this event.  Kathleen Murphy is the president of ING is here with us, as well as Tom Waldron, who is the executive vice president. These are the sponsoring groups of this important occasion…

I want you to know that we know that being a teacher is difficult work. It’s a hard job. It’s a job that requires compassion and determination and extraordinary patience. And, as Laura hinted, or maybe didn’t hint, I was probably one of those kids that tested your patience.

You’re helping young people to learn the basics of reading and writing and adding and subtracting. You’re serving as mentors, and probably most importantly, as role models. You help kindle young imaginations, and you inspire a love of learning. It’s a pretty significant job description, when you think about it. And the teachers we honor here today are excelling at that job.

Your daily efforts help young Americans grow into successful adults. In other words, you’re building the future for the country. We ask a lot of our teachers and we owe you a lot in return. Education is my top domestic priority. And when I first came to office, I worked with members of both political parties…to increase funding from the federal level, but also to pass the No Child Left Behind Act. The spirit of the No Child Left Behind Act basically says society has a deep obligation to challenge the soft bigotry of low expectations, that we believe every child can learn, and therefore, we believe it makes sense to determine whether or not every child is learning, and if not, there ought to be extra help so that no child in our society is left behind.

We’re beginning to see good results, thanks to our nation’s teachers. The 2005 Nation’s Report Card showed America’s 4th graders are posting the best scores in reading and math in the history of the test. African American and Hispanic fourth-graders set records in reading and math last year. America’s 8th graders earned the best math scores ever recorded. Eighth-grade Hispanic and African American students achieved their highest math scores ever. We’re making really important strides toward closing an achievement gap in America. And I want to thank our teachers for your hard work.

There’s more work to be done, obviously. I’ve recently launched the American Competitiveness Initiative, which will help our students do better in math and science. We need to train 70,000 high school teachers to lead AP courses in math and science. I know we’ve got some AP teachers here, and I want to thank you for that.

We need to bring 30,000 math and science professionals into our classrooms to send a message to our children it’s okay to be a mathematician or a scientist–as a matter of fact, it’s cool. We want to make sure that we help students who struggle with math get extra help to make sure that- to make sure they have a chance to be able to earn the high-wage jobs of the 21st century. If we ensure that America’s children have the skills they need to succeed in life, we will make sure America succeeds in the world.

Improving the quality of education for young Americans requires good laws and good policies, but ultimately it depends on good teachers. And that is why we’re here, on the South Lawn, to honor really good teachers.

The Teacher of the Year, Kim Oliver, teaches Kindergarten at Broad Acres Elementary School, in Silver Spring, Maryland. Broad Acres is Montgomery County’s highest poverty school, a place where 90 percent of the children qualify for federally-subsidized meals, and about 75 percent have parents who do not speak English at home.

It’s a school filled with the kind of students that inspired Kim Oliver to become a teacher. Kim decided to become a teacher at a young age. It’s really interesting for teachers to hear what she said.  She said, “As a young child, I loved and admired my day care teacher, Mrs. Chandler. I wanted to be just like her. Mrs. Chandler made me feel special, as if I were the only child in her class.”

Kim Oliver had many friends growing up who came from unstable and impoverished homes. She says, “I watched so many of my friends live up to the low expectations that were set for them. To this day, I find myself wondering, what if my disadvantaged friends had 12 years worth of Mrs. Chandlers in their lives?” Kim went on to say, “I chose to become a teacher to motivate and inspire the neediest students, who many have written off, and let them know they can achieve and succeed in life regardless of what the statistics may show.”

I love that attitude. I think you’re beginning to get the drift of why she’s the teacher of the year. When Kim Oliver arrived at Broad Acres in 2000, the school was threatened with forced restructuring by the state as a result of poor academic performance. Ms. Oliver took a leadership role at the school. That’s what good teachers do, they take the lead. She became a teacher leader, and helped lead a collaborative effort to improve the curriculum, instruction and assessment. She helped establish instructional planning sessions and formal procedures to examine student work and improve student performance.

She noticed that many parents at the school lacked the language skills to be able to read to their children and to be able to help with their school work. And so she and her colleagues purchased cassette players and recorded books on tape for the students to take home and share with their families, which made it a lot easier for parents who struggle with English to help their children.

Kim Oliver also organized a regular “Books and Supper Night,” where families could check out books from the library and read together before sharing a dinner, which fostered learning and family involvement in their children’s education. She knows what good teachers know–if you can get the parents involved in the child’s education, you have a much better chance of succeeding. She set high expectations. Good teachers set high expectations. She provided needed assistance. She involved families, and she helped turn that school around.

Within two years of her arrival, kindergarten students at Broad Acres were mastering early reading skills at higher rates than other schools in the district. After three years, Broad Acres students were meeting or exceeding all requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. There were dramatic increases in reading and math scores for the school’s 2nd graders.

The Superintendent of Schools in Montgomery County says this about the impact Kim Oliver has had: She has a rare gift for touching hearts and minds, inspiring in her students to aim high and believe in their potential. A Broad Acres parent says she knows how to talk to the children so they will listen. And all her students know that she cares about them. She made them all feel like they were smart and could learn anything. One of her colleagues says, “When you walk into Ms. Oliver’s classroom, one cannot help but notice that this is a special place.” She is dedicated to her school community and committed to excellence, and she has been an instrumental force in improving student achievement at her school.

Kim says the reason her students are achieving is simple: “I have high expectations for each of them. I teach them that they can accomplish anything with hard work and persistence”…


For a related article, visit

For more information about the National Teacher of the Year selection process, visit  (In California, see

(3) “Taft Wins Academic Decathlon” by Valerie Reitman

Source: Los Angeles Times – 30 April 2006
URL (article):,1,3771558.story?coll=la-headlines-pe-california
URL (Academic Decathlon):

Taft High School won the U.S. Academic Decathlon championship Saturday night, the third consecutive year a Woodland Hills team has captured the top national honors in the rigorous competition that tests high school students’ mettle in areas ranging from calculus, economics, art history and music to impromptu speaking and writing.

By the time the winner was announced at the conclusion of the awards banquet, there was no suspense about which team would win. Every one of Taft’s nine team members was draped with medals for placing first, second or third in each of the 10 individual competitions announced before the overall winner.

“It’s an incredible finish and an incredible nine months,” Michael Farrell, 17, of Canoga Park said of the hard work that the team put in. He hoisted into the air another team member, Atish Sawant, 18, of Stevenson Ranch, who had the top individual score on the team.

Taft, part of the Los Angeles Unified School District, continued California’s impressive showing in the storied competition. In the previous two years, L.A. Unified’s El Camino Real High School, also in Woodland Hills, won back-to-back national championships. In 24 years, teams representing the state have placed first or second every year but one. Taft also won national titles in 1994 and 1989.

But this victory stood out, said L.A. Unified decathlon coordinator Cliff Ker, with Taft scoring 51,659 points out of a possible 60,000.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Ker said. Team members won 43 medals in individual subjects and seven of the top nine awards for overall performance.

As the scores were announced at a banquet at the San Antonio Convention Center, the nine Taft seniors shot up their arms and hugged one another. The other 38 teams that participated gave them a standing ovation. [See for school names, locations, and scores.]…

The Taft team is practically a mini-United Nations, including two students born in Russia, one born in Bangladesh and two others whose parents immigrated to the United States from India and Mexico not long before the future decathletes were born…

They are bound next fall for colleges and universities including Stanford, UC Berkeley, Yale, Grinnell and the University of San Francisco.

The rules require that nine-member decathlon teams include three members with A averages, three with B averages and three below a B average. On Taft’s team, however, all the students are in the difficult individualized honors program in which, as juniors, they begin taking college-credit English and math classes from Santa Monica Community College.

Some of those college-credit courses are taught by team coach Arthur Berchin, chairman of Taft’s English department and also a faculty member at the Santa Monica college.

Berchin coached the school’s previous winning teams. After retiring from decathlon coaching in 1994 and taking a decade-long hiatus from the competition, Berchin returned to coaching the team four years ago…

Since his return to coaching, the team has won the ferociously competitive L.A. district championships in three of those four years–only to lose the state championship, including last year to cross-town rival El Camino, which had won a wild-card berth to the state competition.

Last year’s state defeat by the El Camino team it had beaten at the district competition was particularly humiliating for the Taft team members, six of whom were then juniors. They came in fifth.

They learned their lesson, team captain Dean Schaffer recalled earlier this month, as the team spent its spring break studying for at least eight hours each day.

“We didn’t work as hard as we should have” between city and state competitions, he said. “It wasn’t that we didn’t put in enough hours, it’s that we weren’t using our hours efficiently. The team as a whole was complacent; we thought we would beat El Camino again” at the state level.

Soon after that defeat, the other team members decided to devote themselves to the grueling study schedule one more year to attempt to win the national title. Stanford-bound Schaffer, who had the top score in the state last year (and was second this year) said he was the last one to decide whether it was worth another grueling year of studying an extra 35 hours or so a week for the competition alone.

“I said to my team, ‘You’ve got to promise that you’re going to work really hard, because I’m not going to do this again and lose.’ ”

The silver-haired Berchin, who has taught for 22 years at Taft, is a strict disciplinarian who made no secret that the team’s mission was to win the nationals.

At long last, the team was looking forward to relaxing and seeing the Alamo today.

Said Schaffer: “It feels good when you work for something for so long–it’s terrific to finally achieve it”…

(4) “Basic-Skills Advocate Hired as Math Adviser by Ed. Dept.” by Sean Cavanagh

SourceEducation Week – 26 April 2006

The U.S. Department of Education has hired a math scholar with well-publicized views about how that subject should be taught as a senior adviser.

W. Stephen Wilson, a mathematics professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, has advocated a strong grounding in basic math concepts before students move into problem-solving. That belief was recently articulated in a 2005 report by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, co-written by Mr. Wilson, which argues that state standards ignore far too many fundamental math skills.

Mr. Wilson, 60, said he was recruited by the department and is on leave from his university post.

The professor comes aboard as the Bush administration is preparing to name a national panel to identify best practices for math teaching. Mr. Wilson predicted that its composition would be free of any agenda regarding how the subject should be taught.

“It clearly has to be a balanced panel in order to have legitimacy,” he said in an e-mail response to Education Week questions. The central question, he said, is: “What mathematics is necessary in elementary school so that a student can progress successfully to college-level mathematics? The answer is, both skills and understanding”…


Related article:

“Bush Keeps Math-Science Plan on Bunsen Burner” by Michelle R. Davis
Source: Education Week – 26 April 2006

(5) Fostering Innovation in Math and Science Education (Senate Subcommittee Hearing)

Source: NCTM Legislative and Policy Update – 1 May 2006
URL (Hearing):

The Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Technology, Innovation, and Competitiveness held a hearing on April 26 on Fostering Innovation in Math and Science Education.  The hearing’s focus was the importance of science and mathematics education from kindergarten through graduate school in fueling future developments in the 21st century’s high-tech innovation economy.

Witnesses included Mary Ann Rankin from University of Texas’s UTeach program; Paul Dugan, superintendent of Nevada’s Washoe County School District; Thomas N. McCausland, president and CEO of Siemens Medical Solutions USA, Inc.; and Ioannis Miaoulis, president and director of the Museum of Science in Boston.

Senator John Ensign (R-Nev.), Chairman of the Subcommittee, opened the hearing by repeating what has been heard often on Capitol Hill: it is crucial that the U.S. preserve its “long-standing history” of being the world’s greatest innovator, and that federal support that “increases science and technology talent” in the U.S. is prudent.

Senator John Sununu (R-N.H.) also offered some opening remarks, asserting that he believes interest in engineering begins in grades 5–7, not secondary or postsecondary study, and that “good teachers” are the most important element in cementing such interest.

Dr. Rankin opened the panelists’ testimony.  She asserted that “strong teachers” are the key to the competitiveness of the United States in the future, but that the impetus for the creation of the UTeach program at the University of Texas at Austin was the “frighteningly” short supply of them.

During the question-and-answer period, Senator Ensign asked Miaoulis about the Boston Museum’s involvement in afterschool programs, noting that many existing programs target low-income students–a population that federal competitiveness efforts need to reach.  He also noted that museums are excellent sites for afterschool programs, as they provide an interesting environment and stimulating alternative to the regular school day.  Miaoulis agreed, saying that museums often partner with organizations like 4-H and Boy and Girl Scouts to offer programs infused with science content.  He did concede that professional development for afterschool program staff is a challenge.  Senator Ensign encouraged Miaoulis to continue work in this area.  Rankin built on this thread, asserting that UTeach often uses afterschool programs to provide the field experience that the program’s students find so valuable.

Also on the 26th, Raytheon held an event outside the Senate office buildings to showcase its “MathMovesU” and “Hippest Homework Happening” campaigns.  The event featured Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-Va.); gold medal Olympic speed skater Apolo Ohno; and Jonathan Farley, a mathematician at Stanford University and the founder of Hollywood Math and Science Film Consulting.

At the event, Raytheon announced it has committed $1 million to additional research and another $1 million for the “Hippest Homework Happening” campaign designed to help make mathematics relevant to students’ lives.  The program is related to the “MathMovesU” campaign (, which links mathematics to sports activities as well as celebrities and includes lesson suggestions for teachers.


Note: For a related piece by Thomas N. McCausland (Siemens Medical Solutions USA, Inc.), see