COMET • Vol. 7, No. 26 – 6 October 2006


(1) State Schools Chief Jack O’Connell Announces a New-Century Vision for Middle Grades Education

Source: California Department of Education

In recognition of October as the Month of the Young Adolescent, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell released 12 recommendations to launch a new-century vision for middle grades education in California. The recommendations, collaboratively forged by the California Middle Grades Alliance, will be the foundation for Taking Center Stage–Act II: Closing the Achievement Gap for California’s Middle Grades Students, scheduled for release in early 2008.

“Middle grades can either be a time when students become discouraged and give up or become a springboard to life-long learning,” said O’Connell. “These children experience swift physical, mental, and emotional changes that alter every aspect of their lives. The depth and breadth of this transformation require us to create the appropriate learning conditions and deliver a rigorous and relevant education that meets the needs of these young people.”

The 12 recommendations are framed upon the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform’s four organizing criteria: (a) academic excellence (rigor; instruction, assessment, and intervention; and time), (b) developmental responsiveness (relevance, relationships, and transitions), (c) social equity (access and safety, resilience, and health), and (d) organizational support (leadership, professional learning, accountability, and partnerships). See the above Web page for more details.

The recommendations are the culmination of 18 months of work by the California Middle Grades Alliance, a collaborative partnership of 10 statewide organizations, including the California Department of Education, committed to improving education for more than 1.44 million middle grades students enrolled in the state’s public schools. Organizational members of the alliance have formally endorsed the recommendations.

The work of the alliance in formulating the recommendations echoes efforts led by the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform to improve academic achievement among the nation’s middle school students. The forum is a broad-based coalition comprised of state departments of education (including California), educational institutions, foundations, and national, state and regional entities interested in improving middle grades education.

“The release of these 12 recommendations signifies the beginning of our efforts to gather innovative, effective grade-level strategies and resources and disseminate them to all of California middle grades educators,” said O’Connell. “Refining and building on these recommendations will be an ongoing process.”

The department’s Middle and High School Improvement Office is currently building a Web portal for middle grades research, resources, connections, and sample school practices. Scheduled for release in early 2008, Taking Center Stage–Act II will feature easy, online access to strategies for implementing the 12 recommendations as well as a guidebook for middle grades policymakers, educators and parents; video clips of recommendation-based practices; and important resources.

(2) Governor Schwarzenegger Signs Legislation Designed to Increase the Number of Highly Qualified Teachers Serving California Students

Source: Office of the Governor
URL (SB 1209):

On September 28, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law SB 1209, a bill that addresses the challenges California is facing due to the loss of 100,000 teachers over the next decade because of retirement.  Specifically, the bill:

— Removes barriers for out-of-state teachers by eliminating duplicative requirements and accepting out-of-state training verified by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC).

— Enhances new teacher and intern support by establishing mentoring programs and providing $6,000 annual stipends to experienced teachers who mentor new teachers in low-performing schools.

— Improves compensation and teacher distribution by helping local educators provide compensation packages that recognize professional experience and rewards teachers that serve in challenging school settings.

— Encourages professional development through participation in individual professional growth programs with no specific hour requirements (eliminates the requirement of 150 hours of course work every five years for credential renewal).

— Requires that all teacher preparation programs include a performance assessment.

— Simplifies credential testing by allowing new teachers to substitute the Multiple Subject California Subject Examination for Teachers (CSET), the GRE, the ACT Plus Writing, and the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) Reasoning Test for the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST).  The bill would require the CCTC, by July 1,2009, to ensure that the single subject CSET in English and in mathematics assess basic writing skills similarly to the CBEST.


(1) National Math Symposium held at Skywalker Ranch–Speaker Audiocasts Now Available


SRA/McGraw Hill has posted audiocasts on the above Web site of speaker presentations from the National Math Symposium, held on 22 October 2005 from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. in the post-production studio building housing Skywalker Sound ( at George Lucas’s Skywalker Ranch.

Co-sponsored by SRA/McGraw Hill and the George Lucas Educational Foundation (GLEF,, “the purpose of the symposium was to exchange and discuss the most current information, research, and ideas on the subject of teaching and learning math.”

Invited attendees (primarily teachers and educational leaders from across the nation) were taken by bus from a hotel near the San Francisco Airport to the ranch in Marin County, where they attended a series of presentations by mathematics educators Jeremy Kilpatrick, Doug Clements, Hung-Hsi Wu, Peter Hilton, and Steve Willoughby, as well as presentations by Joseph Conaty (U.S. Dept. of Education), U.S. Rep. George Miller (Senior Democrat, Education and the Work Force, and a key architect of NCLB), James Daly (Editor in Chief, EduTopia magazine), a panel of innovative teachers, and the animation and computer graphics supervisors for Lucas’s Industrial Light + Magic, who showed a film of how the special effects in Star Wars, Episode III were created.  Milton Chen (Executive Director of GLEF) hosted the day and introduced the speakers.

The following audiocasts (speakers/topics) are available on the Web site:

Milton Chen and Peter Sayeski – Introduction

Jeremy Kilpatrick – “Mathematics Education Research as a Tool of Construction”

Doug Clements – “The Role of Technology in Mathematics Education”

Hung-Hsi Wu – “Elementary Mathematics Needs Reasoning and Precision, and Is

Surprisingly Sophisticated”

Peter Hilton – “The Teaching and Learning of Mathematics”

Joseph Conaty – “No Child Left Behind and Mathematics”

Panel Discussion: “Perspectives from Today’s Math Classroom” – Moderator: James Daly; Panelists: Joyce F. Baynes, Jim Diekmann, Florencetine Bourne Jasmin, and Valerie Rose-Pivern

Steve Willoughby – “On the Future of Mathematics Education” [includes a brief history of mathematics education as well]

(2) New NRC Publication–Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8

Source: National Research Council
URL (report):

Improving science education in kindergarten through eighth grade will require major changes in how science is taught in America’s classrooms, as well as shifts in commonly held views of what young children know and how they learn, says a new report from the National Research Council.  After decades of education reform efforts that have produced only modest gains in science performance, the need for change is clear.  And the issue takes on even greater significance with the looming mandate of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which says that states must measure students’ annual progress in science beginning in 2007.

Being proficient in science means that students must both understand scientific ideas and demonstrate a firm grasp of scientific practices.  The report emphasizes that doing science entails much more than reciting facts or being able to design experiments.  In addition, the next generation of science standards and curricula at the national and state levels should be centered on a few core ideas and should expand on them each year, at increasing levels of complexity, across grades K-8.  Today’s standards are still too broad, resulting in superficial coverage of science that fails to link concepts or develop them over successive grades, the report says.  Teachers also need more opportunities to learn how to teach science as an integrated whole–and to diverse student populations.

“Current teaching approaches are insufficient to launch students on a path to participation in a society infused with job opportunities in scientific and technical fields, as well as scientific issues such as alternative fuels, avian influenza, global warming, and nanotechnology,” said Richard A. Duschl, professor of science education, Graduate School of Education, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J., and chair of the committee that wrote the report.  “To improve science education, a curriculum coordinated across grade levels and broad changes in assessment and instruction are urgently needed.”

Four intertwined and equally important strands comprise the committee’s definition of proficiency in science.  First, students should know, use, and interpret scientific explanations of the natural world.  Second, they should be able to generate and evaluate scientific evidence and explanations.  Third, they should understand the nature and development of scientific knowledge.  And finally, students’ work should include active participation in scientific collaboration and discussion.  All K-8 education should offer students opportunities to engage in the four strands of science proficiency.

The commonly held view that young children are simplistic thinkers is outmoded, the report adds.  Studies show that children think in surprisingly sophisticated ways.  Yet much science education is based on old assumptions, and it focuses on what children cannot do instead of what they can.  All children have basic reasoning skills, personal knowledge of the natural world, and curiosity that teachers can build on to achieve proficiency in science.

The four strands, plus current scientific understandings of how children think, should be the basis for new science standards, assessments, and curricula, the report says…Students should have a wide variety of learning experiences in science classes, the committee said.  Those experiences should include conducting investigations; sharing ideas with peers; talking and writing in specialized ways; and using mechanical, mathematical, and computer-based models.  Science should be presented as a process of using evidence to build explanatory theories and models, and then checking how well the evidence supports them…

A solid base of evidence supports the committee’s call for action to help all students become proficient in science, but additional research is needed to shed more light on how learning occurs across the four strands, how instruction should change with children’s development, and which scientific ideas have the broadest reach across disciplines.

The entire 300+ page report can be read online free of charge at

(3) “Solving the Math Problem” by Lynn Thompson

SourceThe Seattle Times – 27 September 2006

Students around the state [of Washington] are struggling with math.

Almost half–49 percent–didn’t understand it well enough to pass the 10th-grade Washington Assessment of Student Learning last spring.

But in some classrooms, the kids are getting it, even kids who’ve been told they aren’t good at math.

The students in Tom Clemans’ precision-machining class at the Sno-Isle Technical Skills Center in Mukilteo use math to translate blueprint directions, to calibrate machines, to fabricate parts. They routinely translate fractions to decimals, a skill that eludes many students on the state’s standardized test.

So what’s the secret?

“Tom infuses it into the curriculum. The students do algebra, geometry and trigonometry, but they don’t know they’re doing it,” said Steve Burch, director of Sno-Isle, a career- and technical-training center for high-school students in Snohomish and Island counties.

Clemans, who has taught at Sno-Isle for 15 years, can relate to his students’ struggles. He took math four times in college. His best grade was a D. He reached the same conclusion as many of his students. “I told myself, ‘I’m just no good at math.’ ”

Ten years later, when he was well into a professional machining career, a preacher/physicist friend drew a right triangle within a quarter circle, showing the relationship of the angles to the triangle’s three sides.

“Suddenly, the light turned on,” said Clemans, who is now writing a math textbook for machining students that will be published by a New York industrial press…

Math in Clemans’ class isn’t a series of equations. In fact, he said, he presents very few. Rather, the math is a tool to solve problems and allow students to create something useful. Clemans speculates that so many students struggle with math because “they’ve never seen a practical application that interested them.”

Karen Coulombe, who teaches electronics and robotics at Sno-Isle, agrees that giving students real-world problems is a key to their success. When students need math to measure and compute the wattage in a current, the math becomes less impenetrable.

“A lot of these students have been told they’re not good at math and shouldn’t even try, but they are good students. They need an application to want to learn the math,” Coulombe said.

Clemans said one weakness of standard high-school math classes is that students are typically introduced to new concepts once, drilled, tested, and moved on. To show his method, Clemans waves his fingers in a spiral. “I don’t teach something for them to forget it,” he said.

The concept of spiraling is gaining educational credence. The state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction over the summer piloted new 10th-grade math modules, each of which builds on previous lessons, returning to important principles.

Tina Butt, executive director for teaching and learning in the Mukilteo School District, said the summer-school curriculum seems promising.

The district hired good teachers, kept the class size small and used problems that demanded high levels of skill. Each class also lasted four hours, and the intensity led to close relationships among students and teachers, Butt said.

Another strategy being tried in both reading and math is to enroll students in double periods of the classes in which they’re struggling, on the theory that giving them more time and more exposure to materials will reinforce learning.

But these double, or support classes, as they’re sometimes called, reduce the number of electives students can take, and some national experts say that may be counterproductive.

Willard Daggett, president of the International Center for Leadership in Education, said infusing popular electives with math is a better strategy than making students take a double-dose of a class they don’t like and don’t think they’re good at.

“Instead of ninth-grade math, the student should be given two periods of art or an elective the kid likes, with tons of math integrated into it,” Daggett said.

(4) Grants for Teachers Through NCTM’s Mathematics Education Trust

Source: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics – (703) 620-9840, ext. 2112

Established by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the Mathematics Education Trust (MET) offers opportunities to expand your professional horizons! MET supports the improvement of mathematics teaching and learning through the funding of grants, awards, and other projects by channeling the generosity of contributors into classroom-based efforts that benefit all students.

MET provides funds to support classroom teachers in the areas of improving classroom practices and increasing teachers’ mathematical knowledge. MET also sponsors activities for prospective teachers and NCTM’s Affiliates, as well as recognizing the lifetime achievement of leaders in mathematics education.

Most awards are available through a competitive process based on proposals submitted by individual applicants. All 2007–08 applications (except for those otherwise noted) must be postmarked by November 3, 2006 Below is a listing of the available grants. See the above Web site for links to details about each.

School In-Service Training Grants (Gr. K-12): Up to $4000 to provide financial assistance to schools for in-service education in mathematics

Emerging Teacher-Leaders in Elementary School Mathematics Grants  (Gr. K-5): Up to $6000 to increase the breadth and depth of the mathematics content knowledge of an elementary school teacher who has a demonstrated commitment to mathematics teaching and learning

Teacher Professional Development Grants: Up to $3000 to support professional development to improve teacher competence in the teaching of mathematics

Using Music to Teach Mathematics Grants (Gr. K-2): Up to $3000 to incorporate music into the elementary school classroom to help young students learn mathematics

Engaging Students in Learning Mathematics Grants (Gr. 6-8): Up to $3000 to incorporate middle school classroom materials or lessons that actively engage students in tasks and experiences to deepen and connect their content knowledge

Narrowing the Achievement Gap in Mathematics Grants (Gr. 6-8): Up to $3000 to incorporate middle school classroom materials or lessons that will improve the achievement of student groups that have previous records of underachievement

Improving Students’ Understanding of Geometry Grants (Gr. K-8): Up to $3000 to develop activities that will enable students to better appreciate and understand some aspect of geometry that is consistent with the Principles and Standards for School Mathematics of NCTM

Implementing the Mathematics Content of the Principles and Standards Grants  (Gr. 7-12): Up to $3000 to create lessons to increase mathematics content knowledge for one or more of the Content Standards defined by the Principles and Standards for School Mathematics of NCTM

Connecting Mathematics to Other Subject Areas Grants  (Gr. 9-12): Up to $3000 to create senior high classroom materials or lessons connecting mathematics to other fields

Classroom-Based Research Grants  (Gr. K-12): Up to $8000 to support and encourage classroom-based research in precollege mathematics education in collaboration with college or university mathematics educators

Mathematics Graduate Course Work Scholarships (Gr. K-12): Up to $2000 to provide financial support for improving teachers’ understanding of mathematics by completing graduate course work in mathematics

Prospective Secondary Teacher Course Work Scholarships (Gr. K-12; deadline: May 11, 2007): Up to $10,000 to college students preparing to be secondary school mathematics teachers

Prospective Teacher NCTM Annual Conference Attendance Awards  (Gr. K-12): Up to $1,200 for travel and subsistence expenses for full-time undergraduate or graduate students who are committed to teaching mathematics in grades K–12 to attend an NCTM annual meeting or a regional meeting of NCTM

Future Leaders Initial NCTM Annual Conference Attendance Awards (Gr. K-12): Up to $1200 for NCTM members who are full-time mathematics teachers and have never attended an NCTM annual conference.

Additional MET Initiatives

NCTM Lifetime Achievement Awards for Distinguished Service to Mathematics Education  (

International Development Fund Grant: Up to $10,000 to advance the teaching of school mathematics (grades K–12 or equivalent) in developing countries (deadline: May 15, 2007)

NCTM Affiliate Awards including the Kenneth B. Cummins Grant (