COMET • Vol. 7, No. 27 – 13 October 2006


(1) “Losing the Edge: Low science, math education funding threatens state’s tech leadership” by Barbara Grady

Source: Inside Bay Area – 10 October 2006

California is home to one-fourth of the nation’s billionaires, many of them software engineers who made it big in the tech boom. The state has the sixth-largest economy in the world–bigger than all other far West states combined. And Californians have higher incomes than people nationwide.

Yet California spends less on educating its students than two-thirds of the states–ranking 33 in spending per pupil. Its classrooms are more crowded than those in all but two states. And, not surprisingly given these other statistics, academic achievement among California kids ranks among the lowest in the 50 states based on standardized tests.

So why does the richest state and the technology capital of the world invest so much less in education? More importantly, what will be the consequences?

Nothing short of California fading as the technology leader of the world, business groups warn.

“California has a window of opportunity to prepare the highly educated work force we need to maintain our position as an economic leaders,” said Bill Hauck, president of the California Business Roundtable, at a press conference this spring. “If California fails to provide this work force in time, we are likely to lose the edge we now have over other states and international competitors.”

The problem has captured the attention of numerous business groups from the roundtable to TechNet to the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, which have made education reform and spending a top issue this year. They are lobbying for more money for education, particularly for math and science, and for reforms and more teacher training.

In a year California claims three Nobel Prizes in science–won by Bay Area professors at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley–they worry whether this legacy will continue.

California’s slide compared to the nation is happening even as U.S. students fall behind peers in China, India, Korea, Japan and Europe in their mastery of math and other academic subjects.

“Maintaining a culture of innovation in the United States will require a larger homegrown pool of energized and creative mathematicians and scientists,” warns the National Venture Capital Association, which puts education on the very top of its 2006 innovation initiative. The AeA, formerly the American Electronics Association, has pushed Congress to hold hearings on the education achievement of U.S. kids.

Just this past week, 60 industry executives and academic leaders sent a letter to California’s gubernatorial candidates urging them to adopt the coalition’s agenda, which calls for the state to spend more on hiring math and science teachers for California’s K-12 schools and to help enroll more math and science students at California’s public universities.

California has revised its curriculum standards in recent years–adding more stringent requirements in math and laboratory sciences, and a more hands-on approach to learning science–and the federal government has upped its requirements through No Child Left Behind. But the requirements have not been matched with significant increases in funding.

The American Competitiveness Initiative started by the Bush administration this year recognizes the need for more math and science education, but assigns only $412 million to its education effort for all of the United States. Also, it expands the college loan program by about $800 million a year.

In California, education organizations have long sought more state funding. This year the state education budget increased, but it still does not restore money cut early in this decade when education funding dropped precipitously.

Why does this matter? The most immediate consequence is a shortage of sufficiently trained workers.

“Homegrown talent is becoming a scarce resource,” warns the Silicon Valley Leadership Group in a 2006 study. Noting “an alarming decline in the number of American students training to be scientists,” it says that “Silicon Valley and the state are at a crossroads in how we prepare our children and train our workers.”

Among California’s 18- to 24-year-olds, only 40 percent are enrolled in college, according to the National Report Card on Higher Education, and only 25 percent of that age group actually graduates from college.

Those are the people expected to replace a good part of California’s current work force as baby boomers begin to retire. But today’s work force consists of 42.6 percent college graduates, according to Census Bureau statistics.

The California Business Roundtable and Campaign for College Opportunity see a severe shortage of knowledge workers hitting California over the next 16 years, as demand for college-educated workers grows 48 percent at the same time fewer Californians are graduating from college and more than 1 million baby boom workers are expected to retire.

Already, technology companies have a hard time finding skilled workers.

Job postings from such Bay Area tech companies as Intel Corp., Sybase Inc., Juniper Networks Inc. and Oracle Corp. show dozens of unfilled job openings for software engineers, computer scientists and the like.

Companies are going to creative means to find them. Dublin-based Sybase identifies and mentors college students studying computer science, keeping them up to date on technologies Sybase uses while they are in school so they’ll be ready for hire when they graduate.

Some companies find recruitment such a sensitive business competition topic that they refused to talk about it for publication.

With such demand for good-paying tech jobs, why aren’t more students interested in studying math and science?

Sixth-graders Krystal Swan and Caley Keene of Albany Middle School say math comes easy to them, but they have mixed reactions as to how interesting it is. For Swan “math has been my best subject since kindergarten,” and she is so good at it she helps older kids with their algebra homework. For Keene, “I’m good at it but I don’t like it.” Why? “Because you get the same things all the time.”

Educators and policy observers say something happens between fourth and eighth grade that leads to declining interest in math and often declining ability. Standardized tests given to all students in fourth and eighth grades and high school exit exams trace a deterioration in California kids’ absorption of math.

Across California, 71 percent of fourth-graders met a “basic” or “proficient” measure of knowledge in math in 2005 on National Assessment of Educational Progress tests. But by eighth grade, only 57 percent of California eighth-graders met the basic or proficient standards.

“Our belief is that it really starts early on. Part of the reason we see a flattening in number of kids with science and engineering degrees is because when kids go into college they are not prepared for those majors,” said Josh James, senior research and policy analyst at AeA.

Mae Jemison, a medical doctor and astronaut who was the nation’s first African-American woman in space, is the national advocate for Bayer Corp.’s Making Science Make Sense educational program. She says the answer lies in introducing students, particularly minorities and girls, to the applications of math and science early on. Bayer, which employs 1,500 people in Berkeley, is among several companies that have pushed for programs to encourage science and technology professionals to consider teaching.

“These individuals have a real wealth of information to contribute,” Jemison said. A new state law makes it easier for people with certain skills to become certified as teachers.

The California Department of Education has revised the curriculum for K-12 public schools and has pushed districts to meet standards based on the new curriculum. These curriculum and standards adjustments are beginning to enlarge the number of kids in math and science.

“The number of kids taking AP classes and calculus at Berkeley High School is large and growing,” said Neil Smith, assistant superintendent at the Berkeley Unified School District. “The state, in terms of standards, has moved everything up significantly,” such that algebra is now an eighth-grade course instead of ninth-grade and laboratory sciences are taught earlier.

High school students in San Mateo, Berkeley and other school districts are now required to have three years of math and two years of lab science to graduate.

In the San Mateo Union High School District, a revision of the math and science curriculum came not only from state nudging but also parents and teachers looking at the reality of the job market.

“It grew out of our district’s strategic plan to up the achievement level of our kids and close the achievement gap,” said Mark Avelar, deputy superintendent for instruction. “Look at job market surveys,” he said, noting that even those jobs that do not require a college degree require technical knowledge in math and science.

New curriculum requirements are a step in the right direction.

UC Berkeley runs a summer Academic Talent Development Program for K-11 students introducing them to higher level science and math curriculums. UC Berkeley as well as Santa Clara University also run summer institutes for teachers to learn the latest in math and computer sciences.

What’s missing is the money.

Science textbooks were so old in Berkeley’s three middle schools that parents launched a fund-raising campaign to buy new science textbooks to go with the new curriculum. Yet providing textbooks is a constitutional requirement of the school districts and the state.

If California’s tech firms cannot find enough qualified workers among people raised and educated in California, there is always the out-of-state and international labor pool.

But the California Business Roundtable notes, “It is risky for the state to depend on outside migration” to make up for California’s “weakness in producing college graduates.” For one, talent in other U.S. states and from India, China and elsewhere are starting to stay home.

(2) “Ex-Admiral Is Named New Schools Chief [for LA Unified]” by Joel Rubin and Howard Blume

Source: Los Angeles Times – 13 October 2006

The Los Angeles Board of Education unanimously selected retired Navy Vice Adm. David L. Brewer III to be the next superintendent Thursday amid a battle for control of the school system between the board and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Brewer, 60, who left the Navy in March, is a non-educator who, school board members say, impressed them with his intelligence, accomplishments and leadership skills. He recently headed the Military Sealift Command, where he oversaw the supply chain for equipment, fuel and ammunition for U.S. forces worldwide. He was in charge of more than 8,000 military and civilian personnel and about 120 ships.

“I’m honored and humbled to be selected as the next superintendent of L.A. Unified and look forward to working with all the stakeholders in the city for the children of Los Angeles,” said Brewer, who spoke briefly when reached by phone. The school board intends to introduce him at a morning news conference.

Despite broad management experience, Brewer has never run a school district, let alone one which is the scene of a rhetorical and legal war between Villaraigosa and the school board.

The mayor, who is in Asia on a trade mission, said he hoped that the new superintendent would be an advocate for change in the district but that he was disappointed with the board’s selection process.

Members of the committee that turned over the names of five finalists for the job predicted that the admiral would have the skills and experience to take charge.

Running the Los Angeles Unified School District is about “managing a complex organization with limited resources. That’s what it comes down to,” said Scott Plotkin, executive director of the California School Boards Assn. “That and inspiring, leading people. Brewer will be a true leader for the district and a force in the community on behalf of the district, which is something they badly need.”

After meeting all day in closed session, members of the school board unexpectedly announced their unanimous decision just before 7 p.m. Thursday in a brief public session before a virtually empty boardroom.

Board President Marlene Canter called Brewer “a giant of a man” who has “education in his DNA”–his mother was a teacher for more than four decades. His wife is a middle school teacher with a doctorate. Canter predicted that Brewer, who will move from the Washington, D.C., area to take the job, would become a civic leader in Los Angeles.

“His leadership capabilities, his intellect, his experience led us to believe, without really any doubt, that this man will be able to take on the second-largest school district and represent every single kid,” Canter said.

She said Brewer could take control of the district in as quickly as a month. The length of Brewer’s contract and his salary remain to be negotiated. Canter indicated, however, that she expected the board to offer Brewer a multiyear contract…

Before he departed, Villaraigosa insisted that the board should await his return and include him in the selection process. He wanted to review the entire list of potential candidates.

But Villaraigosa and the school board were unable to agree on a role for the mayor. The school board’s last and best offer was to let Villaraigosa interview finalists and provide input, much like a school board member–provided that he ultimately supported the board’s choice.

The mayor declined, insisting on a role more consistent with new powers he would have as of Jan. 1, when a law giving him substantial authority over local schools is scheduled to take effect.

Under the Villaraigosa-backed legislation, the mayor would be able to veto the hiring and firing of superintendents through a council of local mayors that he would dominate. The fate of the law itself is in limbo because of a legal challenge filed Tuesday by the school district and others.

Canter said she notified the mayor’s office immediately after the board’s decision.

The reaction from City Hall and district critics was immediate.

“I am deeply disappointed that the school board would move ahead with selecting a superintendent without the participation of the council of mayors, parents and the Los Angeles community,” Villaraigosa told The Times. “I’m hopeful that I will have the opportunity to meet with Mr. Brewer and discuss his qualifications and philosophy about education reform. I’m looking forward to working with him, parents and teachers to improve our schools”…

(3) California Online Voting Guide

Source: The California Voter Foundation (CVF)

The California Online Voter Guide is an award-winning clearinghouse of election information and Web site links produced by the California Voter Foundation (CVF). Now in its 14th edition, the 2006 guide provides nonpartisan information on the statewide propositions and all of the congressional, legislative, and statewide constitutional office candidates in this election. The voter guide will be updated throughout the election season.

About This Election

On Tuesday, November 7, millions of Californians will head to the polls to cast ballots in hundreds of contests. Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. Voters who aren’t sure they can make it to the polls should sign up to get an absentee ballot to vote by mail [deadline: October 31]…

What’s on the Ballot?

Across the state, voters will choose candidates in 7 statewide Constitutional Office races [including Governor], one U.S. Senate race, 53 contests for the House of Representatives, and 100 state legislative contests… Also on the ballot are 13 statewide propositions. [These include (a) Proposition 1D–Education facilities: Kindergarten-University Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 2006 and (b) Proposition 88–(K-12) Education Funding. Real Property Parcel Tax ($50).]…

CVF’s California Online Voter Guide includes information about all state candidates and measures; for information on local candidates and ballot issues, CVF recommends


Information about the education platforms of the Democratic and Republican candidates for Governor of California is available at the following Web sites:

(1) Phil Angelides:

(2) Arnold Schwarzenegger:>


(1) National Center for Education Statistics’ Student’s Classroom

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) is the primary federal entity for collecting and analyzing education-related data [(e.g., TIMSS, PISA)]. NCES fulfills a Congressional mandate to collect, analyze, and report statistics on American education; conduct and publish reports; and review and report on education activities internationally.

NCES also hosts a Web site for students (as well as their teachers and parents) called Students’ Classroom. The site offers information about K-12 schools and colleges across the nation; assistance in locating a public library; graphing games and math/probability quizzes; information about mathematicians; a glossary; a graphing tool; and more. A page called “Explore Your Knowledge” ( presents sample test items from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Civic Education Study (CivEd).

(2) “Science Educators Happy Over Nobel Sweep” by Jeff Donn

Source: USA Today – 5 October 2006

The American sweep of Nobel Prizes in science this year has filled the nation’s science educators with pride over what’s done well in labs and classrooms–and angst over what’s not.

“We are the best in the world at what we do at the top end, and we are mediocre–or worse–at the bottom end,” said Jon Miller, of Michigan State University, who studies the role of science in American society.

A total of five Americans won Nobels in medicine, physics and chemistry [last] week, the first all-American club of science laureates since 1983.

The U.S. dominance reflects decades of excellent research and training at this country’s universities and strong public financing of basic research, said scientists. But they stressed that younger students need more than inspiring role models.

“This is great that we had so much success this year, but I’m actually worried about the future,” added Judy Sandler, who runs the non-profit Center for Science Education in Newton. “I think it should be science for all. I don’t think it should be just science to produce scientists.”

Science advocates said the American public shows a poor grasp of science when they engage important issues like stem cell funding or global warming. They said there aren’t enough qualified American technicians to help turn basic science into marketable products.

A 2002 survey by the National Science Foundation found that half the public didn’t know that electrons are smaller than atoms or that dinosaurs and humans never walked the earth together.

That’s because science education for most children is second-rate, especially between kindergarten and 12th grade, said science advocates. Below-average students study “pond biology and old science,” Miller said…

Some research has indicated that American science students rank worse than students in many other countries. Foreign universities in Europe and elsewhere are already challenging this country in attracting some of the world’s best scientists.

“If you look at the intellectual horsepower that is now becoming evident in places like China, Singapore, Australia… then we’re in for extraordinary competition,” said biochemist A. Stephen Dahms, who heads the Alfred E. Mann Foundation for Biomedical Engineering, in Valencia, Calif.

Some experts pointed out that much Nobel-quality American research already builds on the accomplishments of foreign nationals in laboratories here and abroad.

Engineer Charles Vest, a former president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said future American leadership will be harder to maintain with the weakening of basic scientific research at U.S. industrial labs in recent years.

“I think that in science we’re still king of the hill, but we’re going to have a lot of challenges in the decade ahead,” said Vest, who has served on committees studying the quality of American education.

To compete well with other economies, the United States should improve training of science teachers, fund the curriculum more reliably, and perhaps require four years of science in all high schools, experts said.

“Our 53 million kids in this country are not suddenly going to jump up and pay attention because some scientist got a Nobel Prize in gene transcription,” said Gerry Wheeler, a nuclear physicist who heads the National Science Teachers Association.