COMET • Vol. 8, No. 11 – 29 March 2007


(1) California K-8 Mathematics Adoption Training is Being Held This Week

Source: Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission (Curriculum Commission)

This week, members of Instructional Materials Advisory Panels (IMAPs) and Content Review Panels (CRPs) for the 2007 Mathematics Primary Adoption are meeting in Sacramento for training. The agenda for this week’s training is available at the above Web site. Publisher presentations are occurring today. As of today, 55 programs from 33 publishers being considered for adoption.

A list of candidates appointed by the State Board of Education for service on an IMAP or CRP is available at


(2) Governor Schwarzenegger Appoints David Long Secretary of Education

Source: Office of the Governor, State of California
URL: (Press releases):

Yesterday Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced the appointment of David Long as secretary of education.

“David will add tremendous knowledge and skill to our great education team and I know he will work in a bipartisan effort to make sure our kids come out on top,” said Governor Schwarzenegger.  “I am excited to work with David on improving student achievement, bringing up low-performing schools, hiring and keeping quality teachers, building new facilities, promoting career tech, increasing accountability and helping kids pass the high school exit exam…

Long has more than 40 years of experience in the field of education and for 21 of those years he taught in a classroom.  Since 1999, he has served as the superintendent of schools for Riverside County where he oversees 23 school districts and more than 400,000 students.  Long previously was the superintendent for the Lake Elsinore Unified School District from 1992 to 1999 and held the same position with the Banning Unified School District from 1989 to 1992.  Prior to becoming superintendent, Long was assistant superintendent for Mason City Community Schools in Mason City, Iowa from 1987 to 1989 and principal of Roosevelt Middle School from 1985 to 1987.  He also served as associate principal for Mason City High School from 1982 to 1985.  Long began his teaching career in 1961 as an instructor at Sheffield High School in Sheffield, Iowa where he also was the athletic director and coach for several of the School’s sports teams.

He serves on the Board of Directors for the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association, where he is also immediate past-president.  Long also serves as chair of the Federal Education Safe and Drug Free Schools and Community Advisory Committee, which reports directly to U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.  In addition to his career affiliations, Long has been deeply involved in his community.  He currently serves as a commissioner for the First 5 Commission of Riverside and chair of United Way Educational Countywide.  Long also initiated an annual Educational Summit in Riverside County, which last year drew more than 450 educators, legislators and community leaders together to address key issues facing Riverside schools.

“”I am privileged to be able to continue to serve the many students of California through this new position as secretary of education,” said Long.  “I look forward to working with the Governor to ensure every Californian receives the best possible education and every teacher and faculty member is provided the tools and resources needed to make that happen.”

Long, 67, of Canyon Lake, earned a Doctorate degree in educational administration from Iowa State University, a Master’s degree in physical education from Missouri State College and a Bachelor of Arts degree in physical education from the University of Northern Iowa.  This position does not require Senate confirmation and the compensation is $175,000.  Long is a Republican.

The Office of the Secretary of Education is the primary education advisor to the Governor and is committed to creating, promoting and supporting the Governor’s policies that ensure access to quality education for all Californians.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell  praised Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s selection of David Long, Ph.D. as Secretary of Education.

“Dave Long is an outstanding educator and a longtime friend,” O’Connell said.

“Dave has a keen understanding of the important link between the success of our economy and the success of our schools. He has been a leader on implementing effective intervention programs for challenged schools and has also been a champion of improving school facilities. I know that Dave shares my deep concern about the need to close the achievement gap in California, and I look forward to working with him on this critical issue…”


(3) State Schools Chief Jack O’Connell Releases 2006 Base API Results, Growth Targets, School Rankings

Source: California Department of Education

On Tuesday (March 27), State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell released the 2006 Base Academic Performance Index (API) report for 9,400 California schools that were given targets for improvement. O’Connell also announced the release of school rankings based on comparisons to schools statewide and to schools of similar characteristics. The annual report once again reflects the consistent rise in median API scores since the API, a numeric index from 200 to 1000, began in 1999.

“I am proud of our students, parents, and educators in California whose continued work toward academic excellence is reflected in the steady academic progress in our schools’ API scores,” O’Connell said. “The API is a powerful, comprehensive tool that holds our schools publicly accountable for progress made by all of our students. It supports California’s rigorous standards and ambitious definition of what constitutes ‘proficiency.'”

The 2006 median Base API for elementary schools is 758, up 8 points from 2005. Middle school and high school median scores show similar gains of 10 points and 7 points respectively.

Also, the percentage of elementary schools at or above 800, the statewide performance target adopted by the State Board of Education, is 34.6 percent, up from 31.8 percent in 2005; middle schools is 23.9 percent, up from 20.6 percent; and high schools is 13.6 percent, up from 11.9 percent.

The API reports include school API ranks that allow the public to compare performance at an individual school to all others (statewide ranks) as well as to others with similar educational opportunities and challenges (similar schools ranks). The ranking shows where a school’s 2006 API falls on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the highest).

Because API scores across the state have been steadily improving, the decile spectrum has moved significantly since 1999. For instance, an API score of 655 in 1999 would have given an elementary school a respectable statewide rank of 6, but today that same score would place them in the lowest rank or in the bottom 10 percent of all California’s public schools.

While the 2006 API results reflect solid academic gains over the last eight years, they also highlight what  O’Connell considers the overriding issue facing California education today–the achievement gap that exists between traditionally higher- and lower-scoring subgroups of students. Student subgroups are defined by ethnicity, socio-economic, and disability status as well as whether or not a student is an English learner.

“While our schools are showing steady overall progress, I am deeply concerned that significant gaps exist between the API results for different subgroups of students,” O’Connell said. “I have begun an intensive effort to find ways to close the gap that exists between successful students who are often white or Asian, and financially well off, and struggling students who are too often poor, Hispanic, African American, English learners, or with a disability.”

Since the API system originated in 1999, schools have been expected not only to meet schoolwide academic growth targets but also student subgroup targets. However, this year the API will focus schools more intensely on narrowing achievement gaps. In May 2006, the State Board of Education adopted O’Connell’s recommendation to increase the API growth targets for subgroups. Subgroup targets had been set at 80 percent of the schoolwide target. Beginning with this API report, growth targets are now calculated separately for each student subgroup within a school and set at 5 percent growth toward an API of 800. Also, schools and subgroups will be expected to make a minimum improvement of five points up to the performance target of 800.

“Holding all students to the same high standards ensures a culture of high expectations for everyone,” O’Connell said. “As a state, we have a moral, ethical, and economic obligation to address the needs of every group of students.”

These reports reflect a recalibration of the API results previously reported in August 2006 based on the addition of results from new 2006 science assessments. The new assessments include the California Standards Test (CST) in science in grade eight and the CST in life science in grade ten. Added emphasis was given to science in the high school API calculation.

“This mid-year adjustment in the API occurs every year,” O’Connell said. “In this instance, it enables us to add indicators to the 2006 API and still be able to compare performance from 2006 to 2007. It also allows us to rank schools with as rich a set of indicators as possible.”

The API reflects a school’s composite academic achievement from a variety of statewide assessments. Student test results that are part of the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program, plus results from the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE), are used in API calculations and encompass the content areas of English-language arts, mathematics, science, and history.

The 2006 Base API results, growth targets, and school rankings are posted at Academic Performance Index (API):   This site also includes detailed information about changes to the 2006 Base API in the “Highlights of the 2006 Base API Reports” in the 2006 Base Academic Performance Index Report Information Guide.

Information about the API as an agent of change in California education is described at Academic Performance Index –Hot Topics:


Related Article:

“State Sets Same Test Goal for All Kids”



(1) “The Year of Mathemagical Thinking” by Lev Grossman

Source: Time – 15 March 2007

When I was growing up, there was a book in our house that my brother and sister and I all read. It was a very odd book, a rattlebag of art, mathematics, music, philosophy, symbolic logic, computers, genetics, paradoxes, palindromes and Zen koans among many, many other things. Most of it went way over my head–my precocious older sister, who later became a mathematician, and even later a sculptor, was the real target audience–but it was playfully written and deeply weird and off-the-charts smart and generally just the thing for a household of pretentious, alienated adolescents to chew on. My siblings and I weren’t especially close, but we always had that book in common: it was our secret shared nerd bible.

The book was called Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid–Gödel being the Austrian mathematician Kurt Gödel; Escher, the fantastical Dutch artist M.C. Escher; and Bach, the Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach. The extraordinary mind that braided these three figures together in one book belonged to one Douglas Hofstadter, a physics Ph.D. who was only 34 years old at the time. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1980 for Gödel, Escher, Bach, and it went on to become a cult classic that influenced a generation of thinkers. Since then Hofstadter has published on numerous subjects, but he never went back at length to the themes of his first book.

Until now. Later this month Hofstadter will publish I Am a Strange Loop, in which he expands and builds on the groundwork he laid in his earlier work. But Hofstadter has been through a lot in the past 28 years, including the tragic death of his wife, and I Am a Strange Loop goes to far darker and more personal places than the playful book I read as a teenager.

Hofstadter’s unique intellectual makeup is rooted in his childhood. His father was Robert Hofstadter, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1961. As a boy, Hofstadter was fascinated by visual and conceptual loops: feedback, self-reference, recursiveness, anything that curved back on itself in an unexpected way. He provides several examples in I Am a Strange Loop (which is, among many other things, an intellectual autobiography). In the comic strip Nancy, Sluggo has a dream about a dreaming Sluggo, who is also dreaming of Sluggo, and so on in an infinite chain. The girl on the Morton’s Salt box holds a Morton’s Salt box that has her own image on it, which in turn has a tiny salt box with another girl on it–the series would regress endlessly if her arm didn’t get in the way. Goofing around with a video camera, Hofstadter pointed it straight at the TV screen to create an infinite receding tunnel of video feedback.

Hofstadter might have grown up to be a straight-up physicist like his dad if it hadn’t been for his younger sister Molly. When Hofstadter was 12, it became clear that she had grave neurological problems–she never learned to speak or understand language. “I was very interested already in how things in my mind worked,” Hofstadter says. (He speaks very gently and deliberately, as if Mr. Rogers had been a super-intelligent rocket scientist instead of a Presbyterian minister.) “When Molly’s unfortunate plight became apparent, it all started getting connected to the physical world. It really made you think about the brain and the self, and how the brain determines who the person is.”

Those themes–recursive loops and the physical origins of consciousness–get braided together in I Am a Strange Loop in unexpected ways. The book returns to a theme that Hofstadter first sounded in Gödel, Escher, Bach: exploring the nature of the human mind through the work of Gödel, who demonstrated in 1931 that conventional mathematics, which we think of as a supremely logical and consistent system, is actually capable of making all sorts of strange, paradoxical, self-referential statements about itself. For example, Gödel discovered there are mathematical statements that, while true, can never be proved. How can something be both true and unprovable? This idea, loosely known as “incompleteness,” came as a logical bombshell to all right-thinking mathematical philosophers–you could compare it in its impact (a little glibly) to Heisenberg’s famous uncertainty principle. It turns out that mathematics isn’t a neat straight line; it’s a loop, and a deeply strange one at that.

Hofstadter sees in Gödel’s work a structural parallel to the mystery that is the human mind. The brain, which is merely a squishy agglomeration of madly firing neurons, shouldn’t by rights be able to think–it shouldn’t be able to wake up, twist around, become aware of itself, and in doing so become an “I,” but it does. Just like Gödel’s mathematics, the mind is a strange, self-referential loop–it’s a mirage, Hofstadter writes, but “a very peculiar kind of mirage … a mirage that perceived itself, and of course it didn’t believe that it was perceiving a mirage, but no matter–it still was a mirage.”

Hofstadter’s model of the self occupies a middle ground, hard won via logico-philosophical reasoning: it’s neither spiritual–he’s not a religious man–nor is it locked into the cold neurological materialism of cellular mechanics. To Hofstadter, the human mind is a bright, shimmering, self-sustaining miracle of philosophical bootstrappery: “vague, metaphorical, ambiguous, and sometimes exceedingly beautiful.”

I Am a Strange Loop scales some lofty conceptual heights, but it remains very personal, and it’s deeply colored by the facts of Hofstadter’s later life. In 1993 Hofstadter’s beloved wife Carol died suddenly of a brain tumor at only 42, leaving him with two young children to care for. Hofstadter was overwhelmed by grief, and much of I Am a Strange Loop flows from his sense that Carol lives on in him–that the strange loop of her mind persists in his, a faint but real copy of her software running on his neural hardware, her tune played on his instrument. “It was that sense that the same thing was being felt inside her and inside me–that it wasn’t two different feelings, it was the same feeling,” Hofstadter says. “If you believe that what makes for consciousness is some kind of abstract pattern, then it’s sort of a self-evident fact that whatever pattern exists in my brain could exist in other physical structures in the world.” I Am a Strange Loop is a work of rigorous thinking, but it’s also an extraordinary tribute to the memory of romantic love:  The Year of Magical Thinkingfor mathematicians…


(2) “Pi in the Sky


“Pi in the Sky” is a semi-annual periodical designated for high school students…with the purpose of promoting mathematics, establishing direct contact with teachers and students, increasing the involvement of high school students in mathematical activities, and promoting careers in mathematical sciences.

This journal has the following objectives:

* to promote meaningful and exciting mathematics;

* to influence teachers;

* to inform students and teachers about mathematical sciences;

* to increase participation of students in math related activities;

* to promote programs in mathematical sciences;

* to encourage girls to get involved in mathematical sciences;

* to establish a dialog between students, teachers and academics;

* to promote new and/or innovative teaching methods; and

* to change a negative stereotype image of math.

To peruse past issues of “Pi in the Sky,” visit

The latest issue is available at   See below for the Table of Contents:

The Draw of Mathematical Games and Puzzles

Games, Puzzles and Problems

Mathematical Haiku Contest Winners

Math Jokes

Seeking Solutions to Sudoku Squares

Monty Hall and Probability

Nim and Friends

Das Mathematikum

Asking the Right Question

Divisibility by Seven

Math Challenges – Solutions to Issue 9 Problems

Math Challenges – Problems


(3) “Engineering Field has Designs for Women” by Laura Devaney

Source:  eSchool News

To help encourage more girls to choose engineering as a career, female engineers from across the country reached out to students and educators March 22-23 during the “Global Marathon for, by, and about Women in Engineering,” a live, 24-hour webcast sponsored by computer manufacturer Lenovo. Most sessions will be available via a web archive.

Sally Ride, former NASA astronaut and the first U.S. woman in space, kicked off the event with her remarks. “I think it’s important for … all the women who are in science and engineering who love it and have had fulfilling careers to transmit that message to the girls growing up, to tell them this is really interesting stuff,” Ride said.

K-12 and college students, along with teachers, counselors, and parents, participated in the webcast and had a chance to ask questions of professional women engineers around the world, from the United States to locations such as Egypt and Germany.

Sessions featured topics such as “Live Your Life, Love What You Do: Talking to High School Girls About Engineering,” “Why Engineering is Fun,” and “Advancing the Pipeline of Women in Engineering: What You Can Do to Help Recruit and Retain Female Undergraduates.”

A common theme throughout the webcast was the need to change girls’ perceptions of what they can do–and what engineering is all about.

During her half-hour session, Heather Johnston Nicholson, director of research for Girls Inc., discussed findings from “The Supergirl Dilemma: Girls Grapple with the Mounting Pressure of Expectations,” a follow-up to Girls Inc.’s 2000 survey on girls and society.

“Girls don’t get less smart; once you know you’re good at math and science and like it, that’s going to be the way it stays,” she said. “Math, science, technology, and engineering are not closed to girls–they can find [an interest in these subjects] later as well as earlier, but the earlier the better.”

The survey found that 35 percent of girls in grades 3-12 said they believe it’s true people don’t think girls are effective leaders. While that’s down from about 47 percent in 2000, it’s still too high, webcast participants said.

“Even today, society values beauty in girls over intelligence and talent,” said one ninth-grade girl quoted in the report.

Nicholson suggested that parents and adults listen to what their daughters and other girls around them are saying and to redefine notions of femininity and masculinity.

Lots of women in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] professions are fun, cool people,” she said. Adults not only should advocate for gender awareness in school systems, but also should help girls see math and science everywhere in their lives and debunk the myth that girls and boys are hardwired for different career paths and different academic strengths, she added.

Women are not “one size fits all” and can’t be treated as a single underrepresented group, said Julie Trenor, director of undergraduate student recruitment and retention at the University of Houston’s Cullen College of Engineering. Trenor gave a presentation on how to recruit and retain female engineering undergraduates. Other factors, such as ethnicity and generational status in college, play a role as well, she said.

Citing 2005 statistics from the American Society for Engineering Education, Trenor said only 17.5 percent of the undergraduate engineering students in the United States are women. If the U.S. is to remain competitive with other countries in the engineering field, it will have to find better ways to encourage women to join the profession, experts say.

A 2003 study by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender found that women choose other careers in part because they don’t see engineering as a way to help others. The study, conducted over 17 years, followed Michigan students from 6th grade through college and beyond.

Engineering provides “many opportunities for learning, and since technology is constantly changing, it keeps things exciting. There is much more to computer engineering than just sitting at a desk typing on a computer all day,” said software developer Tam Cummings, another webcast contributor.

Cummings offered hints about how to gain engineering skills and experience outside of the classroom. “To get a sense of a more realistic engineering environment and have fun along the way, you might want to become involved in projects that exist beyond your [college] classes,” she said. “Many postsecondary institutions support various student engineering projects.”

Many schools offer organizations dedicated to engineering students, in addition to engineering department student clubs. Here, Cummings said, students can develop “soft skills,” such as working with academics and others in the engineering industry, organizing engineering-oriented events, and communicating with other universities.

To be successful in STEM fields, technical skills aren’t the only things students will need, she explained. “Once in the workforce, communication and people skills prove to be essential,” Cummings said. “Engineering organizations are a good way to acquire and hone such skills.”

Verizon Business hosted the 24-hour event via its global information network.

“Lenovo is focused on cultivating a diverse and talented pipeline of engineers. By reaching students early, we can help them overcome the subtle social obstacles that often turn school-age girls away from technical professions,” said Fran O’Sullivan, senior vice president of the Lenovo Product Group. “This is our way of inspiring the next generation of women engineers by exposing them to a wide showcase of role models who have built distinguished careers in technical fields.”



Global Marathon for, by, and about Women in Engineering

Connecting Educators to Engineering /


(4) NCTM Annual Meeting Webcasts

Source: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)

The 2007 annual meeting of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) was held on March 21-24 in Atlanta, GA.

The daily newspapers published during the conference are available at the above Web site. Webcasts of the following four keynote presentations are also available for viewing:

*  “Improving Achievement and Closing Gaps between Groups: Lessons from Classroom Practices” – Kati Haycock

*  “Shades” – Lee Stiff

*  “So You’re a Math Teacher” – Francis “Skip” Fennell

*  “Lessons from Advertising on How to Teach Math to Every Student” – Cathy Seeley



(1) COME-ON Summer Workshops for Teachers

Source:  Jim Short (

The COME-ON group (California Outstanding Mathematics Educators Ongoing Network) is again offering a variety of workshops this summer.  These National Science Foundation-sponsored institutes are appropriate for middle school and high school mathematics teachers.  They will be held June 25 – June 29 at the Beach Resort in Monterey.

There are 7 different workshops being offered this year: Interactive Math Program (IMP) Year 1, IMP Year 2, IMP Year 3, IMP Year 4, Meaningful Algebra, Meaningful Geometry, and Designing Groupwork.  Each workshop lasts the full 5 days and emphasizes engaging mathematical tasks that build student understanding of the mathematics they are learning.

More information can be found at the above Web site. For more information, contact Margaret DeArmond at  or Jim Short at