COMET • Vol. 8, No. 25 – 13 October 2007

State Schools Chief Jack O’Connell Names New Members to Statewide P-16 Council

Source: California Department of Education

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell recently announced the appointment of six new members to the Superintendent’s California P-16 Council. The P-16 Council includes educators, parents, elected officials, business leaders, researchers, librarians, and students that represent all segments of public education from preschool through college. O’Connell has charged the P-16 Council with the development of a specific and ambitious plan that will hold the state of California accountable for creating the conditions necessary for closing the achievement gap.
The following are the newly appointed members of the P-16 Council:

– Carlos Garcia, Superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District
– Debra Watkins, President of the California Alliance for African American Educators
– Horace Mitchell, President of California State University, Bakersfield
– Patricia Rucker, Legislative Advocate for the California Teachers Association
– Saundra Bishop, Director of the Compton Adult School in Compton
– Philip Halperin, President of the Silver Giving Foundation

“Since I appointed a statewide P-16 Council in 2004, the members have been meeting regularly to identify strategies aimed at creating a culture of rigor and relevance in high school classrooms, and also to identify strategies for teacher recruitment, retention, and professional development for all levels of educators. In the past year, the Council has focused on the critical challenge of closing the achievement gap between students who are African American or Latino and their peers who are white or Asian,” said O’Connell. “I look forward to working with these new members and commend them for their drive and passion in making education in California the very best that it can be.”

O’Connell announced the establishment of the P-16 Council in December 2004, during his first term in office. The Council was charged with examining ways to improve student achievement at all levels and eliminate the achievement gap; link all education levels, from preschool, elementary, middle, high school, and through higher education to create a comprehensive, seamless system of student learning; ensure all students have access to caring and qualified teachers; and increase public awareness of the link between an educated citizenry and a healthy economy.

While the P-16 Council remains focused on these four general issue areas, O’Connell has made closing the achievement gap a top priority during his second term, and earlier this year he called on the Council to play a leading role in this effort. The Superintendent also formed a special P-16 Unit within the California Department of Education to offer further support to the P-16 Council. The P-16 Council’s work toward closing the achievement gap is based on the premise that major factors inhibiting the learning of all students can be grouped into four themes known by the acronym, ACES:


How do all students gain access to what they need? This could include rigorous curriculum and instruction; highly effective teachers; counselors; extra learning options that supplement the education provided in a typical school day; and health and social services.


How can schools offer the best learning environment for all students? Is it a safe place for students to learn? Is it an en environment that promotes learning and a sense of belonging for students and school staff? Does it offer culturally relevant and responsive instruction? Do effective school-family-community partnerships exist?


Are high expectations for teachers and students truly held? Is it evident in the curriculum, instructional practices, student assignments, and the school’s communication to students, parents, and school staff? Is student progress measured using data and effective instructional strategies?


What practices have proven effective (or are promising) for closing the achievement gap? Strategies should address improving the quality of instruction, differentiated instruction, increasing instructional time, teacher collaboration time, reconsidering how to differentiate schools by grade span, etc.

“Each member of the P-16 Council and I believe strongly that we all have a moral, social, and economic stake in providing every single child in California with the opportunity to succeed,” O’Connell said. “The work of this Council always has been important, but even more so now as we work to tackle the achievement gap.”

For more information about the Superintendent’s California P-16 Council, please visit



(1) Ninth Meeting of the National Math Panel

Source: Jennifer Graban – Jennifer.Graban@ED.GOV

The Ninth Meeting of the National Math Panel will be held on 23-24 October 2007 at Arizona State University.

On October 23, there will be a one-hour public comment period (3-4 p.m.) followed by a session from 4:15-6:00 p.m during which the Panel will discuss the structure and key messages of the Final Report.

On October 24, there will be a four-hour open session (8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.) for the Panel to continue its discussion about the structure and key messages of the Final Report. The detailed agenda is available at

If you wish to provide public comment on the Executive Order and/or the Panel’s work, please note that there are limited time slots available, and individual commentators or those representing an organization will be allotted 3-5 minutes to speak.

If space is not available or if you cannot attend and would still like to provide input, please email written comments plus your contact information by Monday, October 15.

(2) Science Education that Makes Sense

Source: American Educational Research Association

The American Educational Research Association recently published “Science Education that Makes Sense” in its Research Points series. An excerpt follows below:

Demand for students with a solid foundation in science continues to grow. By 2010, jobs in science and engineering nationally are expected to increase by 2.2 million. Equally important, science education needs to ready citizens who do not pursue careers in science to handle dilemmas they will face in their lives, such as selecting treatments for diseases, evaluating messages about climate change, or using new technologies…

More than 30 years of research on science learning offers sound recommendations for making needed changes…

Instruction that invites students to make sense of science by explaining complex ideas, uses the power of technology to provide a window on scientific processes, guides students to explore compelling problems, and focuses on key ideas can sustain interest in science and promote lifelong learning.

Loading students down with too many facts and insufficient connections to appreciate the power and potential of science has deterred students and frustrated teachers. This unfortunate situation results from textbooks that lack coherence, science projects that lack conclusions, and tests that emphasize recall of isolated ideas…

Research indicates that slowing learning by requiring students to explain their ideas and connect scientific events can improve outcomes… By carefully guiding scientific investigations, teachers can help students explore complex phenomena, develop confidence in their abilities to make sense of science, and extend scientific ideas beyond the classroom…. By making sophisticated use of technology, science courses can [promote] visualization of complex phenomena that help students connect school science to everyday situations.


(3) “Federal Rule Yields Hope for Science” by Sean Cavanagh

Source: Education Week – 10 October 2007


Some proponents of science education say they have faced no greater foe over the past few years than federally mandated tests in reading and mathematics, which have forced teachers to devote increasingly bigger chunks of class time to building students’ skills in those two subjects.

But if testing has squeezed science out, can testing also bring science back?

That’s the hope of teachers, scientists, and others who believe that a provision of the No Child Left Behind Act requiring states to begin testing students in science in elementary, middle, and high schools this academic year could compel schools to carve out more time for the subject.

The attention paid to science in classrooms, particularly in elementary and middle schools, has eroded over the nearly six years since the federal education law was enacted, critics say. They say schools were forced to cut back on science lessons in their attempts to raise achievement in reading and math, which must be tested annually in grades 3-8 and once in high school.

Stands on AYP

States will have to test students once a year in science within three grade spans: 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12… Some observers suggest the scrutiny generated by the tests could spark at least a modest scientific rebirth…

“We’ve hit a bottom,” said Ms. Froschauer, a former president of the 55,000-member National Science Teachers Association, of the time devoted to science. “I’d like to say that once we see test scores, we’ll see an increase.”

Meanwhile, the NSTA is one of several organizations that are not content with the current status of science in the No Child Left Behind Act. A number of scientific, education, and business groups are asking Congress, as it debates reauthorization of the law, to demand that states include science scores in judging whether schools make AYP. President Bush also supports such a change.

The NSTA, in Arlington, Va., and the 160,000-member American Chemical Society, in Washington, planned to send a letter this month to House education leaders in both parties, asking them to add science to the mandatory mix for judging annual progress.

Upping the Stakes

That letter also has been signed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Business Roundtable, a Washington-based association of chief executive officers.

The business and science lobby played an active role in supporting the America COMPETES Act, which authorizes an estimated $43 billion in spending on federal programs in math and science education and research over the next three years…

“Including science as a required component of the No Child Left Behind accountability system is a critical element in ensuring U.S. competitiveness,” the letter says. But even backers of such a change acknowledge they face resistance from some state and local education officials, who are wary of heaping more of a testing burden on schools and districts…

In addition to establishing science tests this year, states will be required to report publicly the results of those exams, as they now do in reading and math. So far, only five states have had their science tests approved by the U.S. Department of Education, said Patrick A. Rooney, a senior policy adviser in the office of elementary and secondary education.

States can voluntarily use science test scores as part of determining whether their schools make AYP by selecting science exams as the “other academic indicator” for judging elementary and middle schools, alongside reading and math.

So far, the Education Department knows of six states that have included science in some fashion in calculating AYP: California, Georgia, Kentucky, New York, Virginia, and Wisconsin. In Virginia, for example, schools have the option of using science as the other academic indicator.

Most states have chosen attendance rates as their other academic indicator, Mr. Rooney said. States are required to use graduation rates as a measure of AYP for high schools. But they can also use science as an additional measure at that level if they choose, he said…

Many state officials worry about their ability to craft meaningful science assessments, which will gauge students’ overall understanding of scientific thinking and processes and promote good teaching. Multiple-choice tests are easier and cheaper to develop than exams that require short or extended answers, but they provide relatively little information about students’ scientific competence.

Richard N. Vineyard, Nevada’s assistant director for assessment and curriculum, outlined those worries in a paper earlier this year for the state schools chiefs. Nevada now tests students in grades 5 and 8 in science and is adding a high school exam this year.

If science tests are made a mandatory part of AYP, “there will have to be enough flexibility provided for the states to develop assessments that will reliably and validly measure progress in science,” Mr. Vineyard wrote. “They must be reflective of the ways that the standards encourage science to be taught using a hands on, inquiry-based approach.”

Gauging the exact impact that No Child Left Behind has had on instructional time in science is difficult. Many science educators were concerned about neglect of their subject during the school day long before the law took effect.

A study released this year, however, by the Center on Education Policy, a Washington research and advocacy organization, found that 28 percent of districts surveyed reported having reduced the amount of time devoted to elementary school science since the law’s enactment, while 8 percent said they had increased that time. Of those that reported a decrease, instructional time in science dropped an average of 75 minutes a week.

By contrast, nearly 60 percent of districts reported having increased the time spent on elementary English language arts, and 45 percent said they had boosted time devoted to math.

Effect on Teaching

If states devise high-quality tests, and continually refine them, those exams could end up helping teachers who are weak in science, said Iris R.Weiss, the president of Horizon Research Inc., a Chapel Hill, N.C., company that studies curriculum, teaching, and testing in math and science. But poorly designed tests, she added, could stymie better science teachers, who might feel compelled to teach the subject in a rote manner.

Too many students are taught scientific vocabulary in isolation, without understanding that those terms are a type of shorthand for broader, essential scientific concepts, Ms.Weiss said.

“If we get the measures right, it could really take it in the right direction,” Ms.Weiss said of science instruction. “We might gain some focus on science, which would be a good thing–if [tests] could go deep”…

Nebraska allows districts to design their own tests in different subjects, which must later be approved by the state. In the 32,000-student district, students take four one-hour science tests a year.

Most of the questions are multiple-choice, but students are also asked to answer open-ended questions structured around a lab, which include coming up with relevant questions and hypotheses. Testing those scientific skills is harder than simply quizzing students on terminology, Ms. Smith said, but it’s necessary.

“It’s holding teachers accountable,” Ms. Smith said. “You can’t always do your favorite project. You have to make sure you’re doing all the relevant content around science and not missing anything.”


(4) Subcommittee Looks at National Science Board’s Action Plan for STEM Education

Source: Committee on Science and Technology, U.S. House of Representatives

As part of ongoing investigations into improving the country’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education system for students and teachers, members of the [U.S. House of Representative’s] Science and Technology Committee’s Research and Science Education Subcommittee heard from educators and other experts this past Wednesday (October 10) on how to guarantee students are receiving the best education possible.

On October 3, the National Science Board released a report, “A National Action Plan for Addressing the Critical Needs of the U.S. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education System,” that includes steps on how STEM subjects are taught and on how to ensure teachers are qualified to teach these subjects. (See The plan proposes a series of steps that the Board believes will bring greater coherence to the nation’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education system and ensure that students are taught by highly effective STEM teachers.

“Congress, the Administration, and business and industry all agree that bolstering STEM education is key to fostering innovation and discovery, and ensuring the nation’s economic development and ability to compete in the global marketplace,” Subcommittee Chairman Baird (D-WA) emphasized. “This effort is going to take collaboration and creativity as we support math and science education and our math and science teachers.”

The hearing provided an opportunity for a range of stakeholders to give their response to the NSB recommendations, including the Board’s proposal to create a congressionally chartered National STEM Education Council to help foster and guide STEM education improvements.

The National Academies Rising Above the Gathering Storm report–upon which the Committee’s groundbreaking legislation and now law, H.R. 2272 was based–placed a major emphasis on the need to improve STEM education and made its top priority increasing the number of highly qualified STEM teachers.

Offering a state perspective, Judy A. Jeffrey of the Council of Chief State School Officers said, “The report rightly addresses state responsibility for STEM education and appropriately places emphasis on the critical need to recruit STEM teachers and develop their skills. I also agree with the report’s recommendation that better coordination is needed among all federal departments and agencies involved in STEM education research and programs.”

In the same period that the Gathering Storm report was being developed, the NSB initiated a process to explore how to improve STEM education throughout the nation. As part of this effort, the Board established a STEM education commission to advise it on how to accomplish this goal.

At present, there are no consistent STEM content standards in use among the states and no consistency in the sequence in which STEM courses are taught. A chronic shortage of highly qualified STEM teachers is a major impediment to improved student performance in STEM subjects.

“Providing our teachers with the education and tools they need to make sure our children are getting the best education possible is fundamental for our economy, our national security, and the future of our country’s workforce,” continued Baird.

Testimony from witnesses at the hearing is available for download:
 Dr. Steven Beering, Chairman, National Science Board –

 Ms. Judy A. Jeffrey, Director, Iowa Department of Education and Representing the Council of Chief State School Officers –

 Dr. Francis (Skip) Fennell, President, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and Professor of Education at McDaniel College –

 Ms. Chrisanne Gayl, Director of Federal Programs, National School Boards Association –

 Dr. Robert Semper, Executive Associate Director, The Exploratorium and Representing the Association of Science-Technology Centers –

Ms. Susan L. Traiman, Director, Education and Workforce Policy Business Roundtable –

For more information on this hearing or the Committee’s work with science and math education, please visit the Committee’s website at


(5) Einstein Fellows Bring Their Teaching Experience to the National Science Foundation

Source: National Science Foundation
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is host to eight math and science teachers from elementary and secondary schools around the country who are participating in the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program.
These teachers would like to bring to NSF a sense of “what the kids are thinking,” and a slice of life in the classroom where it can be challenging to attract kids to math and science and keep them developing their knowledge and competence as they get older. By the time their fellowships end, they would like to take back to their classroom and their colleagues a new perspective and new possibilities for bringing math and science to students.

“I want to be enthused and get my kids doing more and knowing more in math and science,” says Melvina Jones, who will work this year in the program office that administers the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. “That way, when it’s time to major, they’ll be able to make those choices.”

Launched in 1994, the fellowship program is intended to bring to Congress and appropriate branches of the federal government the extensive knowledge and experience of classroom teachers. The teachers have the means to provide practical insights and “real world” perspectives to policy makers and program managers developing or managing educational programs.

Among the fellows is Jones, who was herself a Presidential Award winner in 2004. Jones is taking leave from her position as a science teacher at John Burroughs Elementary School in Washington, D.C., where she teaches children at all levels, from the Head Start program through sixth grade.

Jones is sometimes amazed by the technical capabilities of her students, who she describes as “digital natives,” while her generation can be labeled “digital immigrants.”

The challenge, she says, is to keep them interested and engaged in math and science through hands-on activities and a meshing of formal and informal science education.

“For instance, I try to take my kids on a boat once a year so that we can be out on the river doing things like calculating percentages and measuring pH,” she says. Partnerships with nonprofit organizations have made it possible to do this from year to year.

Cherlyn Anderson is an eighth-grade science teacher and former technology coordinator who will work in the Informal Science Education program while at NSF.

“My eighth-graders still love “Bill Nye, the Science Guy,” says Anderson. “But science exhibits and television shows aren’t really stand-alone projects. They’re really a teaser to get kids interested in science, and teachers can work from there to take it a step further.”

Anderson has adapted for her classroom an experiment immortalized on YouTube where Mentos candy is mixed with Diet Coke, with dramatic results. Through the experiment, her students learned the importance of a careful scientific procedure–writing their plans in advance and accounting for variables such as size of bottles and brand of cola.

More information about the fellows and the program can be found at  The online application for 2008-2009 fellowships is now available at nagent