COMET • Vol. 8, No. 22 – 21 September 2007


(1) “California Dreamer: The Golden State’s Champion of a New Education for a New Economy” by James Daily

Source: Edutopia (George Lucas Educational Foundation-GLEF) – 10 September 2007

California’s top education official met with Edutopia staff to discuss his thoughts about school reform. Here are his comments:

Q: How do you compare and contrast the way schools are with the way they ought to be? What’s the difference?

A: The bottom line is, we have to recognize it’s a new economy that requires higher-level critical-thinking skills, analytical skills, and problem-solving skills. We must all be better communicators and technologically proficient.

And that segues into the better use of technology. I have not seen a great use of technology in our schools. For the most part, schools have not changed much in the last fifty to one hundred years from the old one-room schoolhouse. I’m a big believer that students can learn 24/7. We can communicate with almost anybody at any time, in any place, and anywhere. No longer are students limited to learning between the hours of 8:30 A.M. and 3 P.M.

As I travel up and down the state, I talk about the three new Rs in education. First, we want more rigor — a challenging, rigorous curriculum. The second R is relevance. We need to make sure our coursework is relevant to the real world. Finally, the third R is relationships. We need to cultivate better relationships with our teachers, site administrators, and careers that our students might want to pursue.

Q:  Now, how do we get there from here? Is it a matter of money, restructuring the curriculum, or retraining the teachers we have in the system?

A: All of the above.

Q: Let’s talk about teachers. How do we attract and retain them?

A: We need to recruit the best and the brightest and keep the ones we have. There’s a new study that says money is not the biggest issue to teachers; it’s classroom environment. It’s making sure that teachers have a say and are heard. I’d like to see class-size reduction, for instance, paired with an increase in qualified teachers, a greater utilization of technology, and rigorous and relevant curriculum. That’s what the classroom of the future should look like.

Q: In your mind, what defines a highly qualified teacher, and how do we create more of them?

A: That’s difficult to quantify, but certainly we have more flexibility today under the No Child Left Behind Act than when it was first introduced four or five years ago. Now, being “qualified” is not defined exclusively by the type of degree you have. We now have options for observation. I also believe in some flexibility. Should the CEO of Xerox be allowed to teach business? I think so. Should George Lucas be allowed to teach arts and creativity? I don’t know whether he has a teaching credential, but I think he’d qualify to teach a high school class in business or in dramatic arts.

Q: Would you like to get more people in the business community involved in education?

A: I would. We need to create pathways into the classroom, and I don’t think we’re doing a good job of that.

Q: I’m guessing from your tone that we’re not where we should be with that.

A: We don’t do the job. The projections — and these numbers are not mine, but are from a study done last year — say we’re going to need 100,000 more teachers because of retirement. That’s about 30 percent of the current teacher workforce.

Forty percent of our current administrators will be gone in the next ten years, and we already have a shortage today, geographically. Some of our urban, more challenging schools are tough, and some of the rural areas are tough just by definition — these schools lack people in the right areas, such as science, math, and special education. But for the whole state, 100,000 teachers will be retiring in the next ten years, as will 40 percent of the administrators.

When I was talking with a group of teachers the other day and told them the projected percentage of retiring administrators, they all stood up and applauded. But a lot of our administrators will come from the teaching ranks.

Q: One solution for retaining teachers is to offer higher salaries to teachers at troubled schools. What’s your view on that?

A: I’m OK with that if the offer is made to all the teachers in that school. You shouldn’t make that offer only to new teachers simply to entice them to teach at a very challenging school, because that — especially if I were one of the teachers who had been working in that challenging school already — would be a slap in the face. Perhaps it could be offered school by school or subject by subject.

We’ve done a little bit of that with the Quality Education Investment Act bill, presented by state senator Tom Torlakson last year and sponsored by the California Teachers Association. I sued Governor Schwarzenegger two years ago; he, by our definition, shortchanged public education. We settled last September — I’m sure the fact that it was two months before an election was just a coincidence.

We settled for almost $3 billion over the next seven years, and all that money is going to decile one and decile two schools, which will really help. [California schools are divided into ten deciles, or ranges of ten percentage points, according to ratings.] And that money can be used to lower class size, employ more school counselors, and get more resources into the classrooms. I also think it will have the net effect of helping us better compensate the teachers in those areas.

Q:  What role does online learning play in this?

A:  I think it’s going to play an increasingly important role. Will it ever replace that personal relationship with a teacher? No. But can it help supplement educational opportunity? Yes.

Q: What is the relationship between public school and home-schooled children?

A: I’ve always encouraged home-school communities to work with local school districts. Home schoolers need to know what kind of financial aid is available, when the college entrance exams are offered — those kinds of things.

I want to discourage the home-school community from shutting out the public schools. I’ve always said that home-school communities need to let us know if they need books, materials, or information in general. We want to encourage them to attend various school events, such as an open house, to see what the school has to offer. I don’t want an us-versus-them situation.

Q: How are you feeling these days about the California exit exam? It’s been very controversial.

A: You know who wrote the law, right?

Q: You.

A: Yes. And I’m the guy who frequently gets sued over it — more often than my wife wants to know. I defend it wholeheartedly. It’s the capstone of our accountability system. I believe in accountability, and I think it’s helped us prepare our students for this new economy.

I’m much more into students being prepared than I am into handing them a piece of paper that’s basically a certificate of seat time and then passing them on to graduation, just to see them fail in the real world. And right now, the standards we have are not that high for high school graduates. I’m told that eighth-grade math and tenth-grade English and language arts is the minimum you need to survive in this new economy.

Q: Any reaction to NCLB as it’s debated and up for renewal?

A: Sure. My biggest concern is that I want to have a fair methodology for a school’s portrayal. I’ll give you an example: Schools use an arbitrary status bar. It would be like getting a B. We could drop our B down to a C and we’d have more schools over the bar, but the bar would be much lower. I believe that would be a mistake. We have to keep pushing the system, maintaining high standards, and holding ourselves accountable.

But the federal government says today that 25 percent of your kids must be proficient or above; that’s assuming the starting line is the same for all students. And that’s assuming you have a somewhat homogeneous population. Our population is the most diverse on the planet. So I believe a much more accurate way of trying to assess how well a school is performing is by growth. I think growth is a fair indicator, because the starting line is not the same for all kids. The California education system, under the Academic Performance Index, is based on growth.

I use a sports analogy: The long jump is about improving — are you doing better this year than last year? NCLB is a high jump; it’s an arbitrary-status high jump bar, and by 2013 it expects 100 percent of your kids to get over that bar. Yet we’ll have kids that year, I assume, learning the English language. In a way, you’re setting schools up for failure in 2013. That has to change.



(1) “Women, Girls, and Math” — NPR Broadcast TODAY

Source: Mathematical Sciences Research Institute (MSRI)

Tune in NPR’s “Science Friday” today, September 21, from noon to 1:00 PM PDT for a special hour on girls, women, and math.  The second hour of the Talk of the Nation’s “Science Friday” will feature the team of eight high school girls that MSRI sent to China in August to represent the United States, for the first time, at the China Girls Mathematical Olympiad (CGMO).  Speaking about the trip to China, which began with three weeks at a summer math camp, will be girls team member Jennifer Iglesias from Aurora, IL, and one of the team’s coaches, Melanie Wood, who is currently a Princeton graduate student in mathematics and the first female to make the U.S. International Math Olympiad team.

Also appearing on the show with host Ira Flatow will be MSRI Trustee, Dr. Maria Klawe, President of Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, CA. In addition, mathematician and actress, Danica McKellar will talk about her new book, Math Doesn’t Suck, which aims to encourage middle school girls to overcome any aversion and learn to excel at math.

Listeners of all ages are invited to call in during the hour program (800-989-8255) with questions or comments for Ira and the four guests.  If you are not close to a radio, you can listen at your computer through the website of an NPR station that carries the second hour of the show.  If you are not able to listen to the live broadcast, the audio podcast and the video Web cast will be posted on the program’s website — at — by 6 PM EST on Friday.

To view the on-line travelogue the girls team members and coaches wrote about their journey to the China Girls Math Olympiad, please visit

(2) Biographies of Contemporary Women in Mathematics: 2007 Essay Contest

Source: Cathy Kessel –

To increase awareness of women’s ongoing contributions to the mathematical sciences, the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) is sponsoring an essay contest for biographies of contemporary women mathematicians and statisticians in academic, industrial, and government careers. The essays should be based primarily on an interview with a woman currently working in a mathematical career.

This contest is open to students in the following categories: Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12, and College Undergraduate. At least one winning entry will be chosen from each category.

Winners will receive a prize, and their essays will be published online at the AWM Web site. Additionally, the grand prize winner will have his or her entry published in the AWM Newsletter.

For more information, contact Dr. Victoria Howle (contest organizer) at or visit the contest web page:  The submission deadline is November 2.

(3) Results of NAEP 2007 Mathematics and Reading Assessments

Source: IES Newsflash–National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) – 18 September 2007

Results from National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) assessments in reading and mathematics are scheduled to be released on Tuesday, September 25 at 7:00 a.m. (PDT). “The Nation’s Report Card: Reading 2007” and “The Nation’s Report Card: Mathematics 2007” will provide national results and state-level data on student performance at fourth and eighth grades for all 50 states, the District of Colombia, and the Department of Defense Schools.

The 2007 NAEP mathematics assessment was administered in more than 14,860 schools between January and March of 2007. Approximately 197,700 4th-graders and 153,000 8th-graders participated.

A live webcast on September 25 of the release of the 2007 Reading and Mathematics Report Cards can be viewed at   NCES Associate Commissioner Dr. Peggy G. Carr will host an online chat about the results at 11 a.m. (PDT) that day. You can submit questions for the chat at

For more information on the assessments, visit the following Web sites: and


(4) “The Expert’s Advantage” by Beth Azar

Source: Monitor on Psychology – September 2007

Break out the board games: Two new studies suggest that aging may be kinder to chess champions and competitive Scrabble players.

The first study, appearing in the June issue of Psychology and Aging by Florida State graduate student Roy Roring and Florida State psychologist Neil Charness, PhD, shows that top players’ skills decline slower with age than those of less accomplished players.

But chess isn’t the only game in town. Another more preliminary finding published in the June issue of Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied finds that Scrabble experts may also age more gracefully on some cognitive tasks. That study, conducted by Claremont McKenna College psychologist Diane Halpern, PhD, and graduate student Jonathan Wai of Vanderbilt University, found that Scrabble playing taps cognitive skills that chess playing does not, including the need to speedily access verbal, visuospatial and mathematical abilities…

Charness has studied aging and chess for decades. In this new study, he gained access to a database of his dreams: information on the International Chess Federation ratings of 5,011 chess players over time, created by University of Newcastle, Australia, psychologist Robert W. Howard, PhD…

The study showed that competitive chess players top out around age 43–up to 10 years later than calculated by the most recent comprehensive study of this kind, conducted in 1986 by Arpad Elo.

Charness’s finding supports mounting evidence for the theory that skills that rely on speed, such as sprinting and tennis, may peak earlier than skills where speed is less important, such as golf and chess, says Charness. What’s more, the best players showed the slowest rate of decline with age.

“Age is slightly kinder to the initially more able,” concludes Charness.

Scrabble scores points for research

Competitive Scrabble players may escape some of the ravages of aging as well, concludes Halpern. In several studies, she and Wai compared the cognitive skills of competitive Scrabble players–whose average age was 41–with those of a group of high-achieving college students with an average age of 19.

The Scrabble players had better memory for shapes, words and letters as well as placement of words and letters on legitimate and transformed Scrabble boards. They also reacted more quickly on a task that required them to visualize what a piece of paper would look like after it was folded in a certain way. These results suggest that decades of intensive Scrabble playing may have positive effects on some cognitive abilities, say Halpern and Wai.

But the findings are preliminary. In fact, the main goal of the study was to establish Scrabble as a viable research tool for studying cognitive skills. Like chess, competitive Scrabble provides researchers with a convenient dataset, including standardized ratings and demographic information. But it also taps into several cognitive skills not captured by chess. Inparticular, unlike “living room” Scrabble, the competitive game is one of speed, requiring players to quickly access words and calculate scores based on placement on the board’s grid.

“Scrabble is a game that requires math, verbal and spatial ability, so it’s very interesting from a cognitive perspective,” says Wai…



(1) 11th International Congress on Mathematics Education – ICME-11


Between 3000 and 4000 professionals from 100 countries are expected to attend the 11th International Congress on Mathematics Education (ICME-11), which will be held in on 6-13 July 2008 in Monterey, Mexico. As stated on its Web site, the goals of ICME are the following:

– Show what is happening in mathematics education worldwide, in terms of research as well as teaching practices.

– Provide information regarding the problems of mathematics education around the world.

– Provide a venue for professionals to learn and benefit from recent advances in mathematics as a discipline.

Visit the above Web site for more information about the conference, session types, and venue.


(2) International Study Group on the Relations between the History and Pedagogy of Mathematics: Meeting to be Held in Mexico City

Source: Bob Stein, Chair, HPM Americas –

The seventh quadrennial meeting of the International Study Group on the Relations between the History and Pedagogy of Mathematics (informally known as the HPM Group) will be held in Mexico City on 8-14 July 2008. HPM is affiliated with the International Congress on Mathematical Education (see above article). HPM meetings are organized as “satellite” meetings of the ICME meetings, so that people who travel to one of the meetings can attend the other at relatively little additional cost.

In contrast to ICME meetings, HPM meetings are small (only around 200 participants). The atmosphere at HPM meetings is very welcoming to newcomers and very collegial. According to Bob Stein, “The HPM meetings are the most interesting meetings I have ever attended, allowing me to gain interesting and useful knowledge about mathematics education and its relation to historical and cultural factors. In addition, the meetings are great fun, usually involving opportunities to get acquainted both with colleagues from around the world and with the local culture.”

For detailed information about this meeting, visit