COMET • Vol. 8, No. 26 – 20 October 2007

County Offices of Education throughout the state are currently offering workshops on the “Mathematics Adoption Toolkit” for members of mathematics textbook adoption committees. The sessions provide information on using data to develop a “district lens” through which to assess the various mathematics instructional materials that have been recommended by the Curriculum Commission to the State Board of Education for adoption approval consideration later this year.

Released by the Curriculum and Instruction Steering Committee (CISC), the Mathematics Adoption Toolkit materials are available online from a number of County Office of Education Web sites. A PDF version of the Toolkit is available at the above Web site.


(2) State Schools Chief Jack O’Connell Announces Governor Signs Key Legislation to Help Students Pass High School Exit Exam

URL (Governor):

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell praised Governor Schwarzenegger for signing legislation sponsored by O’Connell to help students pass the high school exit exam. The measure, AB 347, by Assemblymember Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara), ensures that students who complete all other graduation requirements yet fail to pass the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) may receive an additional two years of academic assistance from their school districts. This new law enacts terms of a settlement agreement in the case of Valenzuela v. O’Connell et al., a lawsuit challenging the California High School Exit Exam.

“I thank the Governor for signing this important bill,” said Nava. “The high school exit exam graduation requirement means that we now expect more from our students. Now, a high school diploma signifies that students have mastered the critical reading and math skills they will need to succeed in life. AB 347 will ensure that students are provided the extra assistance they need to meet this higher bar.”

“The California High School Exit Exam is an important tool to ensure that students who graduate have mastered critical basic skills they will need to succeed in college or the workforce,” O’Connell said. “With the court’s approval of a settlement in Valenzuela v. O’Connell, a powerful message was sent: the exit exam is here to stay. I thank Assemblymember Nava for carrying the legislation to ensure that students who don’t pass the exam before the end of their traditional senior year can receive the instruction and support they need so that they can master the skills and knowledge measured on the test. And, I deeply appreciate Governor Schwarzenegger’s approval of AB 347 to uphold the settlement agreement and for his support through the budget process for programs to help students pass the Exam. I now strongly urge our school districts to reach out to students in the classes of 2006 and 2007 who have not passed the CAHSEE so they can benefit from additional education services as soon as possible.”

The Governor’s 2007-08 budget includes $72.4 million for supplemental instruction and $188.1 million for after-school and summer instruction to help students pass the CAHSEE.


(1) “Making the Grade–How Do You Grow a Bumper Crop of Math and Science Teachers?” by Jeffrey Mervis

Source: DISCOVER – October 2007

In 2001, Carl Wieman won the Nobel Prize for creating a state of matter known as a Bose-Einstein condensate, using lasers to manipulate individual atoms. Now the 56-year-old physicist is trying to manipulate the pieces of a much larger, far more rigid system: higher education in the United States. His goal is to improve the teaching of undergraduate science and math, and he knows he’ll need every watt of his renowned laserlike concentration to get the job done.

“Yes, I think that you can teach old dogs new tricks,” says Wieman, who began working with other science educators several years ago at the University of Colorado at Boulder, before moving this year to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver after being promised $12 million in support of his education endeavors. “But it’s not going to happen overnight.”

Taking on this challenge has required Wieman to set aside his first love–research, a passion that he says was nurtured by his seventh-grade science teacher in rural Oregon. Instead, he is staking out a position in the middle of a growing but often uncoordinated movement to improve the current system of American science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education (often abbreviated as STEM).

Signs of deficiencies abound. U.S. students may be holding their own in math and science at the elementary level, but international comparisons indicate they are falling behind most of their global peers as they progress through the system. And what they do know is often inadequate. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, sometimes called the nation’s report card, reveals that nearly one-third of eighth graders don’t possess even the most basic math skills, a fraction that rises to nearly two-fifths for high school seniors. The staggering number of teachers with STEM class assignments outside their field of expertise certainly doesn’t help: In middle schools, 51.5 percent of math teachers and 40 percent of science teachers lack a major or minor in the subject.

But knowing what’s wrong isn’t the same as agreeing on what to do about it. Current reform efforts range from individual labors of love to huge multistate collaborations. Although most reformers say that they want to raise student achievement, many projects focus on interim targets, like attracting more students into STEM fields, training more and better math and science teachers or improving the skills of those already in the classroom, and strengthening curricula. A recent litany of reports laud all those approaches, but most put better teachers at the top of the listŠ

One downside to local control is that it’s harder to scale up programs on a national basis. As a result, districts can find themselves reinventing the wheel, or worse. As one educator puts it, “sometimes we end up reinventing the flat tire.”

That slow progress angers Susan Traiman of the Business Roundtable, a group of top CEOs that has pushed hard for improving STEM education. “None of this is rocket science, nor is it new,” she says. “So the question is, Why aren’t we doing these things already? The answer, I guess, is that it’s easier not to.”

A cadre of educators like Wieman are determined to develop strategies to get science education where it needs to go.

As a lifelong academic, Wieman is concentrating on the culture he knows best. Unfortunately, it’s one in which many professors still take pride in weeding out those students deemed unworthy and where the job of teaching science to nonmajors is often assigned to those on the bottom of the totem pole. “These people [faculty members] have succeeded under a system that has existed for hundreds of years,” he says, “and they assume that everybody else thinks like they do and learns in the same way.” Studies have shown that many liberal arts majors finish their science courses less interested in the subject matter than when they began the semester, a consequence of teaching practices that fail to engage the students.

To change that outcome, Wieman and others employ a variety of educational tools. One popular device is a portable interactive teaching technique pioneered two decades ago by Harvard University physicist Eric Mazur. Instead of waiting until the final exam to find out what students know, professors repeatedly interrupt each lecture to pose a question about the topic being discussed. Students answer via handheld electronic “clickers,” and the professor then uses the answers to home in immediately on any problems.

“I’ve looked at how to improve the quality of K-12 teachers,” says Wieman, who also chairs the Board on Science Education for the U.S. National Academies, “and I think that we have to fix the universities first. Our goal is to get to the point where people start asking universities: How come you’re not doing it this way?”

The Boulder campus is also home to a complementary effort to turn STEM majors into math and science teachers. Faculty from the half-dozen science departments on campus have joined with the university’s school of education to employ undergraduates as peer tutors in large introductory courses. The program whets their appetite for teaching and, once they’re hooked, blends pedagogy with content knowledge. This fall six new graduates will enter the classroom. In the meantime, preliminary results show that both the tutors, called learning assistants, and the students learn more science than those in a regular class.

The University of Texas at Austin is a leader in this movement. Its UTeach program has nearly quadrupled the number of science and math majors headed into the classroom in the past decade (from 21 in a 1996 graduating class of 12,000 to last year’s total of 74), and there are nearly 500 undergraduates in its pipeline. Begun in 1997, UTeach is also making STEM faculty rethink their traditional view of precollege teaching as a second-rate career. “Other deans of science at major research universities would tell me: ‘Our students are better than that. Teaching is not a job for our graduates,'” recalls Mary Ann Rankin, the moving force behind UTeach. “We’ve exploded that myth.”

In middle schools, half of math teachers and 40 percent of science teachers lack a major or minor in the subject.

UTeach’s track record so impressed the Texas-based ExxonMobil Foundation that in March it launched a $125 million National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) to scale up the program at dozens of universities. (Part of the NMSI money will also be spent on expanding a model program begun in Texas in the 1990s that trains teachers for advanced placement courses and pays students who pass those rigorous tests.) Each grant-winning university will receive up to $2.4 million over five years if it adheres closely to the Texas model.

Despite the spread of such programs, the vast majority of the nation’s annual supply of new teachers graduate from more traditional programs that offer less rigorous instruction in science and math. For them, and for the more than 3 million teachers already in the K-12 workforce, learning more math and science means in-service professional development or a graduate degreeŠ

Many academic scientists are working with both populations–enhancing the skills of existing teachers and training those not yet in the classroom. At the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, for example, mathematics educator Jim Lewis has developed The Mathematics Semester–a concentration of pedagogy and mathematics courses for undergraduates preparing to be elementary school teachers–as well as Math in the Middle, a graduate program for middle-school math teachers.

“Some argue that a master’s degree in math education should only be offered to those who majored in math,” Lewis says. “But I think that sets the bar too high. Our goal is to offer a professional master’s degree for teachers, some of whom needed only two math courses to become certified, through courses that are beneficial and challenging and appropriate for their jobs.”

Both Gross and Lewis believe they are making headway. Gross cites an unpublished study that found a cohort of fourth graders in schools with Vermont Mathematics Institute–trained teachers performed significantly better in math four and six years later than a matched group attending schools without such teachers. Lewis is proud of graduates who have demonstrated improved mathematical understandingŠ

The self-guided professional development by the science faculty at Concord High School in New Hampshire has never been formally evaluated. But Thomas Crumrine’s students have benefited from techniques he’s learned during his 7 a.m. meeting with colleagues every other Friday for the past five years. While using interactive clickers during a unit on the conservation of matter, Crumrine found that 86 percent of his students incorrectly thought that the mass of a pile of iron nails in an open container would remain the same as the nails rusted, failing to take into account the additional oxygen. “In the past, if that question had been asked on a test, I would have been saddened but probably would have moved on to the next unit,” he says. Instead, he stopped the lesson, inserted a discussion about rusting and oxidation, and then continuedŠ

School officials in Richardson, Texas, wanted a math program that could lift up low-performing middle schools and close a yawning achievement gap across racial and socioeconomic lines when they asked for help from the city’s largest employer, Texas Instruments (TI), in 2004. After considering several models, TI developed its own program. Tapping national experts in math education, the company provided professional development for teachers. They also supplemented the existing curriculum with lessons that incorporated technology–much like the interactive clicker system that Wieman and others use with undergraduates–and trained teachers to use it. For its part, the district doubled the amount of time spent on math and gave teachers shared planning time to prepare additional lessons.

The new program, called Math Forward, draws upon the work of Deborah Ball, dean of the School of Education at the University of Michigan, who believes that effective math teachers have an understanding of their subject that goes beyond what they have learned in course work and what they are required to teach in the classroom. This mathematical knowledge for teaching, as she calls it, allows them to resolve, for example, student misconceptions that aren’t addressed by the textbook. But training teachers in the concept isn’t enough, says Ball: “Interventions have to affect what happens in the classroom. Otherwise, they don’t do any good.”

Richardson officials say they have such tangible results. A program at one Richardson middle school in 2005 and 2006 helped one-third of the students who had failed the state math assessment the previous year pass the test the next spring. Last year the program was expanded to five middle schools and an algebra 1 component was added, and this fall its monitors will follow the original cohort into high school. Meanwhile, TI plans to go national. “We’ll offer it to any school district willing to make the necessary commitment to implement it with integrity,” says TI’s Lisa Brady GillŠ

Bev Marcum, a biology professor at California State University in Chico, is more optimistic about prospects for improvement. Marcum directs the Hands-On Science Lab, a campus facility for elementary school children that features experimental stations staffed by undergraduates. The lab is a tool to train future teachers, a site of professional development for teachers, and a fun place to learn science.

In fact, the teachers at one school in this hardscrabble farm community have revised their entire science curriculum to make use of the concept. Last year Citrus Avenue Elementary School began offering Science Fridays, during which the school’s fourth, fifth, and sixth graders spend 90 minutes rotating among a half-dozen stations, just as they would at the university lab. “Our biggest problem is finding time to do lab-based science,” says Richard Aguilera, a former principal who four years ago decided to return to the classroom, “and our large ethnic population [the Hmong of Southeast Asia] poses a special challenge. So the hands-on lab approach is just great.”

What is the effect on student learning? The only research on the lab has shown that it improves teacher confidence and increases their knowledge. A rigorous study documenting the lab’s impact on student achievement awaits another day. “I don’t have enough resources to do [anything] credible,” Marcum admits. “And without it, I don’t want to make any elaborate claims.”

Coming up with that evidence is the challenge facing Marcum, Wieman, and other reformers. They agree it’s the only way to achieve the system of science education that the nation needs.


(2) Math and Science Ventures to Be Scaled Up” by Sean Cavanagh

Source: Education Week – 17 October 2007

A pair of Texas mathematics and science education programs that have received widespread acclaim are now being promoted on a national scale, with the help of a new nonprofit organization and a major corporate contribution.

The National Math and Science Initiative (, a new nonprofit based in Dallas, has begun giving out grants to states to replicate the two programs, with plans to distribute a total of $125 million in the near term.

All that initial financing–an amount larger than the budget for many federal education programs–is being provided by ExxonMobil Corp., the worldwide oil and gas company.

The goal is to spawn efforts modeled on UTeach (, a program to train mathematics and science teachers at the University of Texas at Austin, and on Advanced Placement Strategies Inc. (, a program to increase student participation in college-preparatory courses through cash incentives and teacher training. Seven states have been awarded grants so far to create AP Strategies programs, and more grants to launch teacher training are expected to be announced this fall.

The long-term goal of the initiative, which was launched earlier this year, is to establish 20 AP programs at schools and 50 UTeach-style programs on university campuses around the country.

A key player in the initiative is a former Bush administration education official, Thomas W. Luce III, who serves as its chief executive officer. The organization’s staff also includes John Winn, the former state education commissioner of Florida, and Sarah Dillard, who served as an adviser to Mr. Luce at the U.S. Department of Education.

The organization wants to channel private-sector money toward programs that have a record of success, Mr. Luce said. It intends to create programs that have the financial and political backing in states to last, he added, in contrast to the many pilot projects that begin with a flourish and then wither away.

To that end, grant recipients will be expected to seek private-sector and state funds when the initial financing runs out–a feasible goal, Mr. Luce believes, once businesses and policymakers gain confidence in the programs in their communities.

“The goal here is to have a national impact,” Mr. Luce said. “We want to sustain it. Š You can’t impact this problem on a large enough scale with pilot projects.”

Seeking Partners

A state’s governor must sign off on the venture before any application will be considered. Thus far, the initiative has drawn strong interest. Twenty-eight nonprofits have applied for AP grants, and 52 universities have sought funding to start teacher-training programs.

Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Washington have received grants to establish AP programs. Each will be awarded $13.2 million over six years. Another round of grant awards to establish university teacher-training programs is likely to be announced this month, Mr. Luce said.

Both the AP Strategies program and UTeach have won praise from elected officials and business leaders in recent years. They have touted those programs as innovative, unorthodox approaches to improving teaching and learning in math and science…

UTeach, established in 1997, is run jointly by the University of Texas’ colleges of natural sciences and of education, in what observers say is a successful partnership between an academic department and a teacher education program.  Unlike some teacher-training programs, UTeach offers education courses that place a heavy emphasis on math and science content, as well as on classroom-teaching strategies that are tailored to those subjects.

The year before it was established, only four science and 19 math majors at the university’s Austin campus were pursuing teacher certification, out of 8,300 total majors in those subjects. Today, UTeach enrolls about 450 students. While the teaching profession has long been plagued by high turnover rates in math, science, and certain other subjects, 75 percent of UTeach students who graduated in 2001 or earlier have stayed in the field, university officials say.

Sustained Effort?

Michael Marder, a co-director of UTeach and a physics professor at the university, is optimistic that the grant program can contribute to the nation’s teaching workforce because of its ability to reach so many universities.

He said he hoped UTeach has shown other institutions one approach to fostering “a strong, supportive environment for teachers, so that they’ll stay in the classroom.”

In addition to the award from ExxonMobil, the National Math and Science Initiative has received contributions from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. The initiative will continue to seek private-sector and philanthropic support to keep the grant money flowing, Mr. Luce said…

A native of Texas, Mr. Luce said he was long an admirer of UTeach and AP Strategies, and was a vocal supporter of the latter program within the Bush administration, while serving as the assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development in the Education Department.

Mr. Luce moved to Dallas after resigning from his federal post last year. He had previously founded a nonprofit education organization in Texas, Just for the Kids, which is now a part of the National Center for Educational Accountability. When ExxonMobil officials told him they were interested in putting resources into effective math and science programs, Mr. Luce said AP Strategies and UTeach programs were logical choices…

Gerald W. McElvy, the president of the company’s foundation, said the $125 million gift–its largest contribution ever to education–reflects a long-standing attempt to improve K-12 math and science, which it has supported through teacher-training academies and other efforts. ExxonMobil was particularly impressed with AP Strategies’ and UTeach’s commitment to tracking their performance over time, he said.

This was an opportunity “to scale up proven programs to the national level,” Mr. McElvy said. “We believe substantial action needs to be taken,” he said. “These programs are not cheap.”


(3) Cultivating Math and Science Teachers for High-need School Districts:–The Noyce Scholarship Program

Source: National Science Foundation – 19 October 2007
URL: from=news

Like doctors in training, future math and science teachers in New York University’s (NYU) Teaching and Learning Residency program get real-life exposure to the demands of their profession while learning their craft from a team of experts. Recruited from among undergraduate science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors, the prospective teachers are placed in exemplary New York City math and science classrooms in high-needs secondary schools and also attend weekly seminars designed to introduce them to the content and pedagogy involved in teaching math and science.

The NYU program is one of 16 projects funded in 2007 through the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Robert Noyce Scholarship program (see list of grant recipients at Successful completion of the residency make STEM majors eligible for a $10,000 undergraduate scholarship, plus a $15,000 scholarship for a fifth-year program leading to teacher certification and a master’s degree in science or math education.

The residency includes recommendations from the New York City teacher and the NYU teacher educator who mentored the student in the residency ,and from an NYU STEM faculty member who agrees to provide continuing content mentoring to the student.
“Through the Noyce program math and science teachers are inducted into the profession early on,” says NSF Program Manager Joan Prival. “They’re put in touch with excellent teachers and given a real picture of some of the challenges they’ll face.”
This approach recognizes that beyond the financial incentives, future teachers need to be part of a community that mentors and supports them. While the Noyce program requires that they teach for two years in a high-need school district for each year of financial support they receive, the goal is to develop excellent teachers who will make a career out of teaching math or science.

With the Noyce Scholarship Program, grants are awarded to colleges and universities to offer scholarships to prospective science and mathematics teachers. The scholarship recipients are both undergraduates majoring in STEM disciplines who are preparing to become K-12 math and science teachers and STEM professionals who are making a career change to go into teaching. Recipients may receive scholarships or stipends of at least $10,000 annually, limited by the cost of attendance at their institution…

Recent STEM graduates and career changers are sought for Noyce scholarships through the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program at Clemson University, which offers initial teacher certification for middle grades education. For each of four years, 10 participants are being recruited from industry, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU), and Clemson itself. The program has partnered with a national program, Call Me MISTER (Men Instructing Students Towards Effective Role Models), that is placing African-American males in elementary classrooms in South Carolina. This provides another “pipeline” to increase the number of math and science teachers from underrepresented groups.

“We are trying to interest people who are not typically going into teaching, and by providing scholarships of at least $10,000 we are trying to elevate the status of teaching,” notes Prival. “A student may have entered college not thinking about teaching as a career, but through the program this becomes an option for science, mathematics, and engineering students.”

To date 91 awards to institutions in 32 states have been made under the Noyce Scholarships. Next year, the results of ongoing program evaluation will be available, providing details about Noyce scholars since the program began in 2002–from the number who have started teaching, to the fields being taught, to the demographics of the individuals involved. These results should help guide the program as it fulfills a critical need into the future.

“Competitiveness in math, science and engineering requires a steady supply of scientists and engineers,” says Prival. “These people will come out of our schools. So we need excellent teachers with a good grounding in their field who are able to teach math and science to students of all backgrounds.”


(4) Interview with U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings on Science Education

Source: DISCOVER – October 2007

Wes McCoy, an award-winning teacher who is the chairman of the science department at North Cobb High School in Kennesaw, Georgia [was selected by DISCOVER to conduct an interview with] Margaret Spellings, the U.S. Secretary of EducationŠ [McCoy] was ultimately satisfied that he got some insights into the thinking of the person who, more than any other individual, is responsible for understanding and improving science education in this countryŠ

McCoy: Do you think it’s time for another kind of Sputnik-era push to develop new teacher development programs?
Spellings: I sure do, and there’s broad consensus in the Congress about the need to do just that. One of the things that is encouraging in the Congress–and the president talked about it at last year’s State of the Union–is the American Competitiveness Initiative. Sputnik and 1957–those are invoked all the time around this imperative. That’s good news. We also need to understand that we can’t wait till high school or junior high to start working on the problem. We have to recognize the capacity earlier, and I’m encouraged that Š there were some significant resources that Congress [recently] authorized to invest more heavily in our elementary schools in math and science education.

M: I’ve heard from my elementary teaching colleagues that sometimes they spend less time teaching science in order to have more time to teach reading. How can we help them increase the amount of time they can devote to science?_
S: I am a “what gets measured, gets done,” kind of person, as you might expect with my heavy involvement in No Child Left Behind. And I really believe that these new science assessments are going to cause more attention to be paid to science, and rightfully so.

M: Of course it’s not just a matter of attention-there’s also the problem of presenting science to the kids in ways that really lead to understanding. How does the Department of Education plan to support creative approaches to science teaching?_
S:  One of the best ways to strengthen science instruction is to get more scientists into the classroom to teach and share their real-world knowledge. President Bush has proposed an Adjunct Teacher Corps, which would provide an opportunity for talented and dedicated industry experts from outside the teaching profession to share their knowledge in middle and high school classrooms. On a recent trip to New Mexico, I visited a local high school where scientists from Sandia National Laboratories were teaching chemistry. We need to find ways to provide similar opportunities to students all over the country.

M:  Is there any way that your department can encourage families to push more kids into science and math?_
S:  One of the things that I’m working on–and it’s a collaborative effort with a lot of external organizations from the Girl Scouts to the Sara Lee Foundation–is engendering more enthusiasm about science in girls. Parents need to understand that their kids really need to know more than they do about science, and they shouldn’t be intimidated by that. [A parent will say,] “Well, I’ve done fine,” and Mom and Dad are lawyers, or Mom and Dad are bus drivers, or whatever, and they don’t see the importance of science in their experience. We have to overcome some of thatŠ

M: You helped develop No Child Left Behind, and recently I’ve heard you talking about a growth model for the program. How are you planning on changing it?
 _First let me say, because I think educators need to know this, the reason that we didn’t enact a growth model into the law five years ago when it was written in the first place is we didn’t have annual assessment in about half of the states. Only when you have benchmarks where you can chart growth is that possible. Now with annual assessment in every single state, that’s finally possible. I think it can provide teachers with better data, more accurate information, and likewise be a truer picture of a school’s accountability and a teacher’s performanceŠ

M: What would I see in your classroom if I came to watch you teaching science? What do you regard as good science education?_
S:  The ability to apply a problem to a real world, a relevant kind of example, I think you’d see that. I’m big on this because I think often our schools are isolated from the community broadly. I hope you’d find a veterinarian or a NASA scientist or a doctor or a pharmacist or people who were using those sorts of skills in fields successfully today