COMET • Vol. 7, No. 18 – 17 May 2006


(1) “High School Exit Exam Tossed” by Joel Rubin and Seema Mehta

Source: Los Angeles Times – 13 May 2006

A California judge struck down the state’s controversial high school exit exam Friday, potentially clearing the way for thousands of seniors who have failed the test to graduate with their class next month.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Robert B. Freedman issued a preliminary injunction against the mandatory testing requirement, ruling it places an unfair burden on poor and minority students who attend low-performing schools.

“With the bold stroke of a pen, Judge Freedman has given 47,000 students an opportunity to walk the stage with their classmates and to receive their high school diplomas,” attorney Arturo Gonzalez said in a statement. Gonzalez filed the challenge to the exit exam in February on behalf of a group of students and their parents.

With graduation ceremonies weeks away, the decision throws into question the fate of many of the 46,700 seniors statewide-roughly one in 10–who have failed the two-part test. It is certain to reignite national debate over the fairness of such exams.

State Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, who wrote the legislation mandating the exam in 1999, expressed deep frustration over the ruling and reiterated the state’s plans for a speedy appeal.

“I am greatly disappointed in today’s court decision,” he said. “It’s a setback for students and for hard-fought school accountability in our state… It’s a decision that should not be allowed to stand.”

Freedman rejected a request by state lawyers Friday to stay his decision until an appeals court can rule on the case. Hoping to quell confusion among students, parents and school districts, state lawyers said they would seek the stay from a higher court as they pursue their appeal.

“The most immediate concern is the chaos this decision creates in high schools all over the state. There are students who are within days of graduation. They are left with uncertainty about whether or not they will be granted a diploma,” O’Connell said at a news conference at Burbank High School. “How are these students and schools supposed to plan for their immediate future?”

This year’s 12th-graders were the first class to face the testing requirement, which includes a section of eighth-grade math and another of ninth- and 10th-grade English. Students are required to answer little more than half of the questions correctly and can take the test multiple times. Students with learning disabilities were exempted from the test.

Originally slated for students in the class of 2004, the test was postponed for two years because of low passing rates. In January, O’Connell rejected calls from civil rights groups and others to consider alternatives to the test.

Friday’s ruling marks a serious setback for O’Connell and other advocates of the exam. They have strongly defended it as an important gauge to assure students leave high school with a basic level of knowledge.

[This] week could bring further problems for the state when Freedman will hear arguments in another exit exam lawsuit. Filed last month, the suit alleges that the state Board of Education and O’Connell reviewed exam alternatives too late for lawmakers to meaningfully consider them.

In issuing the injunction, Freedman said he was swayed by Gonzalez’s argument that many impoverished and minority students–particularly those learning English as a second language–attend low-performing schools that do not prepare them adequately for the test.

Of the 46,700 seniors who have failed the test, 20,600 are designated as limited English learners and 28,300 are poor.

Freedman added that $20 million allocated by state lawmakers to bolster schools’ test preparation efforts had not been fairly distributed, with more than 160 needy schools receiving none of the money…

Russlynn Ali, director of the advocacy group Education Trust-West, echoed the judge’s concerns about unequal schools, but said without the test it will be harder to “ensure that all students master the basic skills they will need to succeed in college and in the workforce.”

The judge rejected the state’s argument that the decision should apply only to the students who filed the case. Any senior who has completed all other graduation requirements but failed the exit exam is affected, he wrote…

Nationwide, 19 other states with about half of the country’s students require seniors to pass an exit exam, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Education Policy. Six more states are developing exams.

Jack Jennings, the center’s president, said similar legal challenges to the one filed by Gonzalez were tried unsuccessfully in many of the other states. If it does not prevail on appeal, Jennings added, California’s defeat could have a chilling effect on other Western U.S. states such as Washington, Arizona and Idaho that are considering an exit exam…

Assistant Supt. Lewis Bratcher of the Santa Ana Unified School District said the purpose of the exam is noble, but its methods are flawed.

“Everyone wants accountability,” he said. “The issue with this exam is it’s one-size-fits-all”…


Visit to read State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell’s statement regarding the judge’s ruling.

(2) Governor Schwarzenegger’s May Budget Revision for 2006-2007 Includes Significant Support for Public Education

Source: Office of the Governor – 15 May 2006

Governor Schwarzenegger on Monday visited the Del Rio Elementary School in Oceanside to highlight record education funding included in his May Revise. Funding education, helping students, and improving schools are the governor’s top priorities. The majority of California’s two-year, $7.5 billion surplus will go to pay down debt and increase resources for education.

Governor Schwarzenegger’s 2006-2007 budget:

— Increases education spending by $8.1 billion, for a total of $55.1 billion–a 17% overall funding increase from 2004-2005.

— Proposes per-student funding from all fund sources of $11,268.

— Eliminates tuition and fee increases at UC and CSU for the upcoming school year.

— Finances charter schools, career technical education, infrastructure, testing, accountability, art and music, physical education equipment and supplies, and healthy student programs.

— Provides $15.6 million to support the K-12 High Speed Network, which provides cost-effective Internet and other communication services for all California schools.

— Provides funding for middle and high school counselors.

— Invests in after school programs for elementary and middle school students.

— Supports teacher and principal training, and provides significant support to help high school students pass the California High School Exit Exam, including increasing the number of opportunities students have to take the CAHSEE.

— Provides funds to be used to establish discretionary accounts for classroom supplies and materials for all classroom teachers.

– Utilizes $1.8 million in one-time Proposition 98 funding for a pilot program to improve the level of mathematics instruction in California by both ensuring quality math instructors in secondary schools and encouraging upper-division college math majors to enter the teaching profession within districts most in need.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell issued the following statement regarding the release of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s May Budget Revision:

“The May Revision to the budget delivers on Governor Schwarzenegger’s commitment to restore funding to schools. It will allow us to make good on the debts to schools created through the recent lean years and to make important new investments in public education.

“Although the budget process is far from over and we will likely differ on some of his budget priorities, I am happy to thank Governor Schwarzenegger for working with the education community to invest in public education.”

“I am particularly pleased to see that the Governor has increased funding to expand remediation programs for students who are struggling to pass the California High School Exit Exam, and to pay for new summer and evening administrations of the Exam. I also applaud the increase in funding to expand and improve student nutrition program, giving more students the opportunity to make healthier food choices on campus. In addition, I am very happy to see additional funding for high school counselors. Our state currently has the lowest ratio of counselors to students in the nation. This is a statistic we need to improve upon.”


(1) Secretary Spellings Announces National Mathematics Advisory Panel Members

Source: U.S. Department of Education (
URL (Bios):

On May 15, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced the 17 expert panelists and six ex-officio members chosen to comprise the National Mathematics Advisory Panel.  The biographiesof the panelists and ex-officio members are available at  The panel will advise President Bush and Secretary Spellings on the best use of scientifically based research to advance the teaching and learning of mathematics.

“To keep America competitive in the 21st century, we must improve the way we teach math and we must give more students the chance to take advanced math and science courses in high school,” Secretary Spellings said. “America’s high school graduates need solid math skills, whether proceeding to college or going into the workforce.”

The National Mathematics Advisory Panel (NMP), modeled after the National Reading Panel, will examine and summarize the scientific evidence related to the teaching and learning of mathematics, with a specific focus on preparation for and success in learning algebra. The NMP will issue an interim report by Jan. 31, 2007, and a final report no later than Feb. 28, 2008. These reports will provide policy recommendations on how to improve mathematics achievement for all students.

The National Mathematics Advisory Panel will be chaired by Dr. Larry Faulkner, president of the Houston Endowment and President Emeritus of the University of Texas at Austin.

Other panelists:

* Dr. Deborah Ball, Dean, School of Education and Collegiate Professor, University of Michigan

* Dr. Camilla Benbow, Dean of Education and Human Development, Vanderbilt University, Peabody College

* Dr. A. Wade Boykin, Professor and Director of the Developmental Psychology Graduate Program in the Department of Psychology, Howard University

* Dr. Francis “Skip” Fennell, Professor of Education, McDaniel College (Md.); President, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

* Dr. David Geary, Curators’ Professor, Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri at Columbia

* Dr. Russell Gersten, Executive Director, Instructional Research Group; Professor Emeritus, College for Education, University of Oregon

* Nancy Ichinaga, former Principal, Bennett-Kew Elementary School, Inglewood, Calif.

* Dr. Tom Loveless, Director, Brown Center on Education Policy and Senior Fellow in Governance Studies, The Brookings Institution

* Dr. Liping Ma, Senior Scholar for the Advancement of Teaching, Carnegie Foundation

* Dr. Valerie Reyna, Professor of Human Development and Professor of Psychology, Cornell University

* Dr. Wilfried Schmid, Professor of Mathematics, Harvard University

* Dr. Robert Siegler, Teresa Heinz Professor of Cognitive Psychology, Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University

* Dr. Jim Simons, President of Renaissance Technologies Corporation; former Chairman of the Mathematics Department, State University of New York at Stony Brook

* Dr. Sandra Stotsky, Independent researcher and consultant in education; former Senior Associate Commissioner, Massachusetts Department of Education

* Vern Williams, Math Teacher, Longfellow Middle School, Fairfax, Va.

* Dr. Hung-Hsi Wu, Professor of Mathematics, University of California at Berkeley

Ex-officio members:

* Dan Berch, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health

* Diane Jones, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

* Tom Luce, Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Education

* Kathie Olsen, Deputy Director, National Science Foundation

* Raymond Simon, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Education

* Grover (Russ) Whitehurst, Director, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education

All meetings of the NMP will be open to the public and will be announced in the Federal Register.

For a fact sheets on the NMP and the American Competitiveness Initiative please visit

(2) “Former University President Will Lead U.S. Math Panel” by Diana Jean Schemo

Source: New York Times – 15 May 2006

The Bush administration has named a former president of the University of Texas at Austin to lead a national panel to weigh in on the math wars playing out across the country. The politically fraught battle pits a more free-form approach to teaching math against the traditional method that emphasizes rules and formulas to solve number problems.

The former president, Larry R. Faulkner, who led the university from 1998 until early this year, will be chairman of the National Math Panel, which President Bush created by executive order in mid-April.

The panel is modeled on the National Reading Panel, which has been highly influential in promoting phonics and a back-to-basics approach to reading in classrooms around the nation. Though that panel has been criticized by English teachers and other educators, its report has become the guide by which $5 billion in federal grants to promote reading proficiency are being awarded.

The new panel reflects a growing concern by the Bush administration that the United States risks losing its competitive edge as other nations outpace its performance in math and science. Citing figures from a report by the National Academies in his State of the Union address in January, President Bush unveiled an American Competitiveness Initiative to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into research in the physical sciences, and some $250 million into improving math instruction in elementary and secondary schools.

The panel is to examine the numerous ways the nation’s 15,000 school districts teach math, and to make recommendations intended to improve American achievement in math and get students to tackle more advanced math earlier.

While the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is often called “the nation’s report card,” shows American students making steady progress in math–with fourth and eighth graders gaining an average of two grade levels in the subject over the last 16 years–eighth graders fell behind countries like China, Singapore and Hungary on an important international competition in math and science.

Dr. Faulkner, a chemistry professor for 25 years, said he was not taking the post with a position on how math should be taught.

“When the administration approached me, they did so in the desire to have someone who is experienced with educational issues, but not an intellectual stakeholder in any aspect of this problem,” Dr. Faulkner said in a telephone interview. “I see my role as that of a shepherd.”

The administration also named Camilla P. Benbow, dean at the Peabody College department of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt University, as the panel’s vice chairwoman…

The conflict over how to teach reading–whether by teaching children to recognize words in the context of stories or through more explicit instruction in letters and sounds–has its parallels in the fight over how to teach math, and the conflicts share many of the same political and philosophical disputes…

The math panel is also charged with examining whether students can learn high-school-level math in earlier grades, as students in many Asian nations do. A study by the federal Education Department suggested that students who passed advanced algebra in high school had a better chance of graduating from college.

The panel is expected to hold four hearings around the country and to offer a preliminary report by the end of January and a final report in February 2008.

Much as the National Reading Panel was criticized as being stacked with supporters of the more traditional forms of reading instruction, some educators have expressed concern that the new math panel may be similarly structured.

“What is needed is not a panel which has been selected to ensure a majority position,” Solomon Garfunkel, executive director of the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications, wrote to Ms. Spellings.

“What is needed is honest, competent people who recognize the importance and difficulties in getting this right and who are willing to put aside preconceived notions and a specific political agenda,” wrote Mr. Garfunkel, whose consortium, a nonprofit organization, writes math curriculums and supports the constructivist approach.

Kevin Sullivan, a spokesman for the Education Department, said “there’s nothing preconceived” about the panel’s outcome.

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics set off much of the furor in the debate over math instruction when it issued new teaching standards in 1989. In 2000, the council modified its position to favor a middle ground in teaching that did not eschew the use of formulas for problem solving but said that students should also grasp the concepts.

“There has been real effort by various segments of the math community to find common ground,” said James M. Rubillo, the council’s executive director. Mr. Rubillo said he had “great hopes that this panel will honestly and openly find a path that will be helpful for the 15,000 school districts in this country that have to decide how to teach mathematics.”

A big part of the problem, regardless of the teaching method used, is the shortage of qualified math teachers. According to the report by the National Academies, “The Gathering Storm,” 41 percent of eighth graders in 1999 were learning math from teachers who neither majored in math nor studied it for certification.


Related Article:

Bush Administration Names Members to Serve on National Math Panel

Source: Education Week – 15 May 2006


(3) Secretary Spellings Delivers Remarks to the First National Summit on the Advancement of Girls in Math and Science

Source: U.S. Department of Education – 15 May 2006

Related Article:

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings delivered remarks to the first national summit on the advancement of girls in math and science yesterday in Washington, D.C.   Secretary Spellings and co-host Dr. Kathie Olsen, Deputy Director of the National Science Foundation, joined leaders from the National Science Foundation, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Sally Ride Science, Girl Scouts of the USA, and dozens of national organizations to address the math-science gender gap in our schools and its effect on women entering the fastest-growing jobs of the future. Following are the Secretary’s prepared remarks:


It’s an honor and a thrill to be here with you and so many other talented leaders, like my co-host, Dr. Kathie Olsen from the National Science Foundation; former astronaut Sally Ride; and Senator Ron Wyden.

I’d also like to thank Jim Whaley of the Siemens Foundation for making this luncheon possible. I recently met with George Nolen, President and CEO of Siemens Corporation, and I look forward to working with him on President Bush’s American Competitiveness Initiative.

We are joined by more than 100 of the best and brightest scientists, explorers, and entrepreneurs in the world. These women have ventured into space, set records in undersea research, and soared to the top of the Fortune 500. According to a recent Economist magazine, women have been the “main driving force of growth in the past couple of decades,” contributing more to the worldwide GDP than new technology or advancing countries like China and India…

Today’s students need strong math and science skills to succeed in fields like computer programming and bioengineering, and in others you might not expect – like advertising, consulting, and business. Several members of the President’s Cabinet have backgrounds in math and science. And more S&P 500 CEOs majored in engineering than in any other field. Why? Because math and science teach you to solve problems.

Knowing this, I’m always glad to see students who are inspired by math and science. Like the high school seniors studying forensics in Birmingham, and the National Science Bowl finalists, who are getting recruited by some of the top labs in the country.

Last month President Bush and I visited a sixth grade class in Maryland called Introduction to Robotic Systems. Think about that–a sixth grade class in robotic systems! The teacher walked up to President Bush and said, “welcome to the future.” And he was right. These classes are training the innovators and leaders who will lead our country into the 21st century.

But there’s one question that is bothering me: Where are all the girls?

Girls continue to be underrepresented in critical fields related to math and science. They make up only a third of AP physics students… and only 15 percent of AP computer science classes. At the college level, less than 20 percent of engineering majors are women. The number of women with computer science degrees has dropped 25 percent since 1985…

Our country can’t afford to lose half of our potential innovators, especially in this ever-flattening, Ipod-loving, Tivo-watching world. That’s why Kathie [Olsen] and I convened this first-ever National Summit on the Advancement of Girls in Math and Science. By bringing together the best and brightest women leaders from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors–and a few men, too–we’ve started to develop a coordinated national strategy.

We at the Department of Education are committed to doing our part. Today I’m announcing a comprehensive review of the research on how and why girls are turning away from the fields of the future. We need definitive insights into what goes wrong, when, and why. As President Bush likes to say, you can’t solve a problem until you’ve diagnosed it.

We already know that one of our primary challenges is to change the culture. I can’t tell you how frustrated I get when I hear otherwise intelligent adults–frequently women–brag about their inability to balance a checkbook or calculate a tip. We would never brag about being unable to read a street sign or a prescription bottle. So why is it okay to brag about poor math skills?

Starting today, we’ll be partnering with the Girl Scouts to expand initiatives such as their campaign with the Ad Council on girls and math and science. People need to realize that algebra, geometry, and calculus teach problem-solving skills that are essential for every student–not just the top one percent.

When you see that math is everywhere these days, and you know that less than half of our students graduate from high school ready for college-level math and science, it’s upsetting to hear that 70 percent of high school parents say their children are learning enough about these subjects.

Unfortunately, most students feel the same. A recent survey showed that 84 percent of middle schoolers would rather clean their rooms, take out the garbage, or go to the dentist than do their math homework.

I suspect this problem has something to do with the fact that our school systems are desperate for math and science teachers–especially in urban areas. Research shows that teachers with strong content knowledge get better results in the classroom. Unfortunately, in high-poverty middle and high schools, only one out of every two math teachers majored or minored in the field they’re teaching. In science, that number drops to only one out of three.

The heads of the math and science teachers associations are here with me today, and I’d like to thank you for your commitment to your students. The President and I know America needs more people like you.

So, we’re reaching out to bring professionals from the field into our classrooms. President Bush has called for $25 million to help recruit 30,000 math and science professionals to be adjunct teachers. After all, who better than trailblazers like Sally [Ride] and Kathie [Olsen] to show students what math and science can accomplish in the real world?

To support current and new math teachers with the tools they need to succeed, last month the President established a National Math Panel. I’ll be announcing the members today, and one of them is with us–Dr. Camilla Benbow, Dean of the Peabody College of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University. By January 31st, 2007, she and the rest of the panel will review the best research available and issue a report on what works in teaching math. And to help schools apply those recommendations, President Bush has asked the Congress to fund a new initiative called Math Now.

We at the Department of Education will expand our Teacher-to-Teacher workshops to help teachers inspire girls and boys to become innovators and problem solvers. We will make this training available online, for free, for all to use.

I may not be a scientist, but I have a firm belief in bringing research-based insights into our classrooms. Scientists, engineers, and successful business leaders agree that measuring results is the foundation of any successful endeavor.

Because we’ve measured student progress under No Child Left Behind, we know that math scores in the early grades are at all-time highs–for the student population as a whole, and for African American and Hispanic students. Over the last two years alone, the number of fourth-graders who learned their fundamental math skills increased by 235,000–enough to fill 500 elementary schools.

Starting in 2007, we’ll also be measuring achievement in science. Once we have strong data on what’s happening in our science classes, we’ll be better equipped to ensure both boys and girls are getting the quality education they deserve. As President Bush said in the State of the Union, “If we ensure that America’s children succeed in life, they will ensure that America succeeds in the world.”

In the last 50 years, American ingenuity has put a man on the moon, a rover on Mars, and computers in our businesses, our homes, and even our pockets. We launched the World Wide Web, mapped the human genome, and developed life-extending drugs and treatment for AIDS. The trailblazing women who are here today remind us that America has always been the most innovative society in the world. And together, we’ll make sure we always are.

(4) Survey Reveals CEOs of America’s Top Science and Tech Companies Concerned About Global Competition, but Few Tap Women and Minority Talent Pools

Source: NSTA Express – 15 May 2006

A new survey commissioned by the Bayer Corporation found that many CEOs of some of the fastest growing American science and technology companies are concerned about a rising competition for scientific and technical workers and fear their company’s international competitors will gain an advantage. Four in five CEOs polled reported they are concerned that the United States is in danger of losing its global predominance in science and technology due to manpower shortage issues, and one-third are “very concerned.” In addition, well over one-half are concerned that their company will be able to attract and retain the scientific and technically trained employees it needs to remain competitive in the global marketplace.

At the same time, while many acknowledge that their industries suffer from a lack of women, African-American, Native American and Hispanic American STEM workers, only one-third of executives indicate their company or employees participate in precollege education programs that attract, encourage, and sustain girls’ and minority students’ interest in math and science. In addition, executives give an average grade of C to the U.S. education system for how well it is doing providing U.S. companies with diverse and talented graduates who have the skills to be successful in today’s STEM careers.

Titled Bayer Facts of Science Education XII: CEOs on STEM Diversity: The Need, The Seed, The Feed, the survey is part of Bayer’s Making Science Make Sense (MSMS) program. To view and download the survey, visit