COMET • Vol. 7, No. 23 – 15 September 2006



“Gates Foundation is Giving $1.3 Million to L.A. Schools” by Howard Blume

Source: Los Angeles Times – 14 September 2006

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today will announce a $1.3-million grant to Los Angeles schools to improve the teaching of algebra and other college-prep courses.

The investment is modest compared to other Gates grants and even other school district initiatives, but marks a growing partnership between the nation’s second-largest school system and perhaps the world’s largest private philanthropic fund.

The one-year grant will pay for teacher training and curriculum design. The hope is to build on documented achievement gains at the elementary level. Progress has been sluggish at middle schools and high schools in Los Angeles and nationwide.

The school system’s experience with Algebra 1 symbolizes both the aspirations and limitations of local reforms. Los Angeles Unified School District officials initially trumpeted their strategy to put nearly all students into algebra courses in the eighth grade. But as many as 45% of students failed the class, pushing some students, in effect, more toward the dropout track than the college track.

But as of summer, the plan changed.

The entire curriculum is getting a makeover to create a more effective algebra course and to better prepare students before they get there. Now a third of eighth-graders will take an algebra-readiness class.

“We know that we’ve got to go back into our preparation for algebra and help students develop a conceptual understanding of math in a deeper way,” said L.A. Unified Supt. Roy Romer.

Another goal is to develop consistency “so all schools have coherent curriculum, training that matches the curriculum and curriculum that matches the standards,” said Steven Seleznow, education program director for the Gates Foundation. From the start, high schools have been a focus for the Seattle-based Gates Foundation, which has invested some $120 million in the New York area and about $50 million in Chicago. This compares to about $30 million in Los Angeles.



(1) NCTM Releases Curriculum Focal Points to Focus Math Curricula

Source: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics – 12 September 2006
URL (Press Conference-Link to Webcast):
URL (Press Release):
URL (Focal Points by Grade Level):

Press Release: On Tuesday, September 12, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) released Curriculum Focal Points, which identifies three important mathematical topics at each level, prekindergarten through grade 8. The publication is intended to bring more coherence to the very diverse mathematics curricula currently in use. It provides a framework for states and districts to design more focused curricular expectations and assessments for pre-K-grade 8 mathematics curriculum development.

“The Curriculum Focal Points are designed to promote a discussion on the refinement of mathematics curricula and address the impression that various state and district curricula are ‘a mile wide and an inch deep,'” said NCTM President Francis (Skip) Fennell.

“The Curriculum Focal Points present a vision for the design of the next generation of state curriculum standards and state tests, and they present a way to bring needed focus to what is taught in mathematics.”

State standards often describe specific learning expectations by grade. In some cases there are close to 100 expectations per grade, with different expectations from state to state. The focal points are intended as a first step toward a national discussion on how to bring consistency and coherence to the mathematics curricula used in the United States. At each grade level, prekindergarten through grade 8, the Curriculum Focal Points identify three topics, described as “cohesive clusters of related knowledge, skills, and concepts,” which form the necessary foundation for understanding concepts in higher-level mathematics.

Curriculum Focal Points for Prekindergarten through Grade 8 Mathematics: A Quest for Coherence was developed with the involvement of mathematicians, math educators, curriculum developers, and classroom teachers (Jane F. Schielack, Sybilla Beckman, Randall I. Charles, Douglas H. Clements, Paula B. Duckett, Skip Fennell, Sharon L. Lewandowski, Emma Trevino, and Rose Mary Zbiek).

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics is a public voice of mathematics education, providing vision, leadership, and professional development to support teachers in ensuring mathematics learning of the highest quality for all students. With 100,000 members and more than 240 Affiliates, NCTM is the world’s largest organization dedicated to improving mathematics education in prekindergarten through grade 12.

The Council’s Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (2000) includes guidelines for excellence in mathematics education and issues a call for all students to engage in more challenging mathematics. NCTM is dedicated to ongoing dialogue and constructive discussion with all stakeholders about what is best for our nation’s students.

Skip Fennell adds the following: “The Focal Points can be downloaded at no cost at  It is also available for purchase from NCTM online or by phone. A variety of materials is available online, including Q&A and a 13-minute segment discussing the document with PowerPoint slides. The slides themselves will be posted shortly, and additional leadership materials will be added as needed. For more information about such materials, contact Ken Krehbiel, Director of Public Affairs for NCTM, at


The following article in Education Week was recommended by NCTM President Skip Fennell and is posted on the NCTM Web site:“NCTM Issues New Guidelines to Help Schools Home In on the Essentials of Math” by Sean Cavanagh
Source: Education Week – 12 September 2006


Focal Points offers grade-by-grade advice for what students should be taught in various areas of math. Here is how students should progress, for selected grades, in the area of number and operations:

• Pre-K: Develop an understanding of whole numbers and how to count and compare them.

• Kindergarten: Use numbers to solve quantitative problems, count numbers in a set, and create a set within a given number of objects.

• 2nd Grade: Learn how to count in units and multiples of hundreds, tens, and ones; understand multi-digit numbers in terms of place-value, and how to compare and order numbers.

• 4th Grade: Develop understanding of multiplication, including “quick recall” of multiplication and division facts; select correct methods to make mental estimations and calculations.

• 6th Grade: Know the meanings of fractions, multiplication, and division; understand relationships between decimals and fractions, and how to multiply and divide them, using multistep problems.

• 8th Grade: Use linear functions, linear equations, and their understanding of the slope of a line to solve problems; understand verbal and graphical representations of functions; describe how the slope of a line and the y-intercept appear in different verbal, graphical, and algebraic representations…

(2) Fostering Innovation in Math and Science Education

Source: U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation — Technology, Innovation, and Competitiveness Subcommittee

The Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Technology, Innovation, and Competitiveness held a hearing on 26 April 2006 entitled, “Fostering Innovation in Math and Science Education.” Subcommittee Chairman John Ensign (R-Nev.) presided. This hearing focused on 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.

A webcast of this hearing is now available at

Downloadable files of the panelists’ testimonies are also available:

— Mary Ann Rankin (Dean of the College of Natural Sciences, University of Texas at Austin:  (includes information about UTeach, a highly successful mathematics and science teacher preparation program)

— Mr. Paul Dugan (Superintendent, Washoe County School District):

— Mr. Thomas N. McCausland (President and CEO, Siemans Medical Solutions USA, Inc.):

— Dr. Ioannis Miaoulis  (President and Director, Museum of Science in Boston): (includes information about engineering curriculum units for K-5 students]


Summary of April 26 hearing from the May 1, 2006 issue of the “NCTM Legislative and Policy Update”:Senator John Ensign 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.

(3) Senate Commerce Committee Approves Innovation Legislation

Source: “NCTM Legislative and Policy Update”: 22 May 2006

On May 18, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation approved S. 2802, the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, by a vote of 21-0.  Senator John Ensign (R-Nev.), Chairman of the Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Technology, Innovation, and Competitiveness, introduced the bill, which responds to recommendations included in the Council on Competitiveness’s “Innovate America” report and the National Academies’ “Rising Above the Gathering Storm” report.  In responding to these reports, the legislation focuses on three primary issues of importance to maintaining and improving United States innovation in the 21st century: increasing research investment, increasing science and technology talent, and developing innovation infrastructure.

This bill is expected to be offered as an amendment to a larger “competitiveness” bill when that proposal reaches the floor of the Senate.  More information on the bill is available below and at the following Web site:


The following bill summary is provided by the Congressional Research Service, which is a government entity that serves Congress and is run by the Library of Congress (the full bill text is available at

S. 2802, American Innovation and Competitiveness Act of 2006 (Introduced 5/25/06)URL:

Directs the President to: (1) convene a National Science and Technology Summit to examine the health and direction of the U.S. science and technology enterprise; (2) establish a President’s Council on Innovation and Competitiveness; and (3) establish the Innovation Acceleration Grants Program to support and promote innovation in the United States.

Directs the: (1) National Academy of Sciences to study barriers of U.S. businesses to innovation; (2) Assistant Secretary for Economic Development of the Department of Commerce to prepare and implement a strategy for greater funding for innovation in regional economic development; and (3) Secretary of Commerce to publish a Guide to Developing Successful Regional Innovation Hot Spots.

Requires the Director of the National Science Foundation (NSF) to: (1) establish a grant program to implement innovation-based experiential learning in elementary or middle schools; (2) expand the Graduate Research Fellowship Program and the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program to include an additional 1,250 fellowships and grants for each program over the next five-year period; (3) establish a clearinghouse and pilot programs relating to the creation or improvement of professional science master’s degree programs; (4) study how the federal government should support the new discipline of service science; and (5) determine how federal awards and research activities assist in meeting critical national needs in physical sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Directs the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to: (1) establish an Aeronautics Institute for Research; (2) along with other officials, coordinate basic and fundamental research activities related to physical sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics; and (3) establish a Basic Research Executive Council.

Authorizes appropriations through FY2011 for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership Program (Hollings Program). Requires the NIST Director to: (1) establish the Standards and Technology Acceleration Research Program; (2) support research and development of advanced manufacturing systems; (3) establish a pilot program of collaborative manufacturing research grants; (4) establish a program of competitive awards among participants in the Hollings Program; and (5) reestablish the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Technology.


Current status ( bill was considered in committee which has recommended it be considered by the Senate as a whole. Although it has been placed on a calendar of business [on July 19, 2006 under General Orders-Calendar No. 524], the order in which bills are considered and voted on is determined by the majority party leadership. [See for a current list of General Orders.]

(4) SHOPA “Kids In Need” Teacher Grants

Source: School, Home, & Office Products Association (SHOPA)

Kids In Need Teacher Grants provide K-12 educators with funding to provide innovative learning opportunities for their students. The SHOPA (School, Home, & Office Products Association — Kids In Need Foundation helps to engage students in the learning process by supporting our most creative and important educational resource–our nation’s teachers.

How are the Teacher Grants funded?

The Teacher Grants are funded by SHOPA’s retail and education credit union sponsors.

How do teachers get an application?

… Applications from the sponsors are available online at

How many Teacher Grants are awarded?

For the 2005-2006 academic year, the SHOPA Kids In Need Foundation awarded more than $103,000 to 240 teachers from a field of more than 1,800 grant applications. Teacher Grant awards range from $100 to $500 each and are used to finance creative classroom projects. Typically, 200-300 grants are awarded each year.

What is the selection criteria?

The Teacher Grant applications go through a four-tiered assessment process. The applications are judged according to a rubric which emphasizes innovativeness and merit, clarity of objectives, replication feasibility, suitability of evaluation methods, and cost effectiveness. Members of the Foundation’s Teacher Grants Committee complete the final round of evaluation of the grant applications in late October. See details of the requirements here.

Who is eligible?

All certified K-12 teachers in the U.S. are eligible.

What type of projects are funded?

At the end of the academic year, teachers report on the outcome of the funded projects. Some examples of winning projects include:

* Twilight Zone “Eye of the Beholder”-This project consisted of remaking a Twilight Zone episode in its entirety from the original script. Students cast the drama, built the sets, designed and rigged the lighting and sound, applied the make-up, ran the cameras, edited the video tape, designed the titles and credits, and put on an event for the premiere showing of the completed video.

* Charged Cars – Math in Motion – Students designed and built a battery-operated vehicle with a wheelbase of 40 cm designed to be mathematically accurate to travel and stop at any designated point between 1 and 10 meters.

Winning projects are put in the form of lesson plans and are published as a Best Practices Guide:

The proposals are due by 30 September 2006.

[Note contains information about a number of grant opportunities for teachers, including the one above.]