COMET • Vol. 8, No. 31 – 2 December 2007

(1) Special Issue of Educational Leadership on Mathematics Education

Source: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

The theme of the November 2007 issue of Educational Leadership is “Making Math Count.” Links to abstracts of this issue’s articles (see below for titles/authors) are available at the above Web site. In addition, articles indicated below with an asterisk (*) may be downloaded free of charge.

* “Speaking of Math” by Marge Scherer (Editor-in-Chief of Educational Leadership)
(Listen online at )

* “How Mathematics Counts” by Lynn Arthur Steen
What will it take for students–and adults–to really understand mathematics?

* “Nine Ways to Catch Kids Up” by Marilyn Burns
Essential strategies for boosting students’ foundational knowledge.

* “What’s Right About Looking at What’s Wrong?” by Deborah Schifter
Examining errors is not just for grading purposes.

“Singapore Math: Simple or Complex?” by John Hoven and Barry Garelick
The slogan for Singapore Math is “simple explanations for hard concepts.”

“Learning from Singapore Math” by Steven Leinwand and Alan L. Ginsburg
Lessons about focus versus fragmentation and alignment versus coverage.

* “Do We Need National Standards with Teeth?” by Zalman Usiskin
A single set of national standards ensures neither high student performance nor a healthy economy, this author asserts.

“Mathematics and Cognition” by Arthur Hyde
How to adapt reading strategies to teach mathematics.

* “Why Aren’t More Minorities Taking Advanced Math?” by Erica N. Walker
Ways to help black and Latino students succeed in higher-level math courses.

* “What We Can Do About Achievement Disparities” by Sarah Theule Lubienski
To reduce achievement gaps, schools need to help students move beyond the belief that math is memorization.

“When Students Choose the Challenge” by David Suarez
Tasks that are at just the right level of difficulty make learning interesting.

* “From Arithmetic to Algebra” by Leanne R. Ketterlin-Geller, Kathleen Jungjohann, David J. Chard and Scott Baker
A taste of algebra in elementary school helps students develop abstract reasoning.

* “Attitude Adjustments” by Lesa M. Covington Clarkson, Gay Fawcett, Elaine Shannon-Smith and Nancy T. Goldman
From using graphing calculators to reinforcing math at the zoo, educators share ways to boost the confidence of mathematics students.


(2) Mastery of Early Mathematics Skills Predicts Future Mathematics and Reading Achievement

Source: Northwestern University
URL (Journal Article):

A recent educational study finds that children who enter kindergarten with elementary mathematics and reading skills are the most likely to experience later academic success–whether or not they have social or emotional problems.

“We find the single most important factor in predicting later academic achievement is that children begin school with a mastery of early math and literacy concepts,” said Northwestern University researcher Greg Duncan. Attention-related skills, though more modestly, also consistently predict achievement.

The seeming lack of association between social and emotional behaviors and later academic learning surprised the researchers–a lack of association as true for boys as for girls and as true for children from affluent as for those from less affluent families.

“Children who engage in aggressive or disruptive behavior or who have difficulty making friends wind up learning just as much as their better behaved or more socially adjusted classmates provided that they come to school with academic skills,” said Duncan, primary author of the study. “We do not know if their behavior affects the achievement of other children.”

The study’s findings, which appear in the November issue of Developmental Psychology, are based on an analysis of existing data from more than 35,000 preschoolers in the United States, Canada and England.

“The paramount importance of early math skills–of beginning school with a knowledge of numbers, number order and other rudimentary math concepts–is one of the puzzles coming out of the study,” said Duncan, Northwestern University’s Tarry Professor of Education and Social Policy and a Faculty Fellow at the Institute for Policy Research.

Controlling for IQ, family income, gender, temperament, type of previous educational experience, and whether children came from single or two parent families, the study found that the mastery of early math concepts on school entry was the very strongest predictor of future academic success.

“Mastery of early math skills predicts not only future math achievement, it also predicts future reading achievement,” Duncan said. “And it does so just as reliably as early literacy mastery of vocabulary, letters and phonetics predicts later reading success.” The opposite–reading skills predicting math success–does not hold up.

The study’s conclusions about the importance of early academic and attention skills are consistent with recommendations from expert panels of early mathematics and literacy professionals. The study’s authors did not look at curricula.

“Certainly we’re not suggesting that preschool programs abandon play and impose dull ‘drill-and-practice’ curricula,” Duncan said. “Play-based curricula designed with the developmental needs of children in mind can foster the development of academic and attention skills in ways that are engaging and fun.”

Using six longitudinal studies, the authors of “School Readiness and Later Achievement” measured school readiness skills and behaviors when a child entered school (at around age 5) and measured for later academic achievement between ages 7 and 14.

[The journal article is available online at the above Web site.]


(3) “Students Mostly Not Ready for Math, Science College Courses” by Melissa Ludwig

…It’s no longer news that the American science juggernaut is losing ground to India, China and other countries busy churning out computer scientists and engineers, or that Texas is failing miserably in its goal of handing out more degrees in these fields. But a recent report by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board shows that the state is continuing to fall behind despite warnings from educators and business leaders eager to hire skilled workers that something must be done.

According to the “Closing the Gaps” report, the number of undergraduates at public schools earning a degree in science, technology, engineering or math–often called STEM fields–has declined in the past three years, from 14,600 to 13,000. With the target of 24,000 STEM degrees by 2010, the trend line is headed in the wrong direction, and it’s raising alarms.

Government, nonprofit organizations and private donors are throwing money at universities and programs that aim to entice more kids, and K-12 teachers, into STEM fields. Lawmakers in Texas have mandated tougher high school curriculum, and some of the state’s most eminent scientists, business moguls and policymakers have made it a banner issue. Attention is also being focused on rethinking the way science is taught in college…

Raising standards

Part of the trouble is that kids are scared of science and come to college with weak academic preparation. And those who do take science courses in college often fail so-called “weed out” courses and wind up switching majors.

“The bottom line is that we need scientists. And teachers, good teachers. These things go together,” said Waldemar Gorski, interim head of the chemistry department at UTSA.

Programs such as UTeach, founded at the UT-Austin, have helped boost teacher recruitment by putting freshmen science and math majors in K-12 classrooms–an effort to bolster the shortage of math and science teachers at the secondary level.

But finding teachers is not the only hurdle. Like Spencer’s intern, many high school students skip the tough science and math classes, stopping at geometry. That’s what John Tracy Kuzmich II did. Now a junior at UTSA, the 22-year-old geology major from Mount Carmel, Ill., ended up in remedial math his first year of college.

“Parents think, ‘Oh, they are all getting their high school diploma, everyone is going to be on the same level,'” he said. “Well, that’s not true. A lot of these Advanced Placement courses that are offered in the sciences and math will put you years ahead.”

Until recently, Texas students were also allowed to blow off math and science in their senior year. No more. This year’s freshmen must take four years of math and science–the result of a new mandate passed last year by Texas legislators.

The change is part of a larger effort to beef up the state’s high school curriculum and graduate deeper-thinking, more well-rounded students…

Role models lacking

Once students get to college, the situation isn’t much better. Science and math departments are notorious for weeding out students, and some professors even boast about keeping the bar high.

At UTSA, Janusz said the range of students’ abilities is wide, and most professors at least try to bring along those who are lagging behind. Still, in organic chemistry–a typical “weed out” course–more than half of students on the nursing track and 28 percent of science majors either failed or withdrew last year, according to the university’s data.

On a recent Monday, about half of the 140 students in Janusz’s earth-science course showed up for a lecture on the Big Bang theory and the creation of the moon. One student played a video game and a few yawns broke out.

Part of the problem is the big lecture format, some educators say.

“Unfortunately, this lecture and sitting quietly approach is just not effective with many students,” said Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

At Hrabowski’s campus, a switch from lectures to group work raised passing rates in large, introductory chemistry classes from 70 percent to 87 percent, he said.

Mentoring is another way to keep students in STEM fields, especially underrepresented minorities and women, he said.

“You have to have a role model, and you don’t get a role model in a class of 500,” said Lorne Davis, head of the physics department at Texas Lutheran University, a small, private university in Seguin.

At TLU, more than half of student growth in the past few years has been in the physics and pre-engineering department.

The difficulty of finding diverse role models may be the heart of the problem, said Elaine Mendoza, a scientist and founder of Conceptual MindWorks, Inc…


(4) U.S. Awards Record Number of Science and Engineering Doctorates

Source:  National Science Foundation – 20 November 2007

URL: from=news

U.S. institutions awarded a record number of science and engineering (S&E) doctorates in the academic year ending in June 2006, charting their fourth consecutive annual increase and a 6.7 percent increase over 2005.

According to new data released by the National Science Foundation (NSF) from the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED), institutions awarded 29,854 S&E doctorates with biological sciences, computer sciences, mathematics, chemistry, social sciences and engineering reaching all time highs. A total of 15,742 doctorates in non-S&E fields were awarded in 2006, an increase over the 2005 count but a slight decline from the record number of 15,848 in 2004.

>From 1997 to 2006, awards of S&E doctorates grew by 9.6 percent, with increases concentrated in the last four years. During the same 10-year period, doctorates awarded in all fields grew by 7.2 percent. But awards in non-S&E fields remained relatively level; thus, increases in S&E fields account for most of the growth in doctorates awarded.

In 2006, 15,947 doctorates were awarded to non-U.S. citizens, including 1,829 individuals who were permanent residents and 14,118 who were in the U.S. on a temporary visa. Awards to non-U.S. citizens constituted 45.2 percent of awards to those in S&E fields who reported citizenship status.

“While the overall number of S&E doctorates is going up, the rate of increase in doctorate awards in the last 5 years is higher for non-U.S. citizens than for U.S. citizens, 44.1 percent vs. 7.6 percent,” said Jaqui Falkenheim, SED project manager at NSF.

The survey was sponsored by six federal agencies: NSF, the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The SED has been conducted continuously every year since academic 1957-58, collecting data on the number and characteristics of individuals receiving research doctoral degrees from all accredited U.S. institutions. The results are widely used to assess characteristics and trends in doctorate education and degrees.

“This information is vital for educational and labor force researchers within the federal government as well as in academia,” said Falkenheim.

Additional data for all fields of study will be available in the interagency report Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: Summary Report 2006 at The full set of detailed tables about S&E doctorates from this survey will be available in the report Science and Engineering Doctorate Awards: 2006 at


(5) Children and the Internet:  “It’s Fun, but Does it Make you Smarter?” by Erika Packard

Source: Monitor on Psychology – November 2007

…87 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds are now online, according to a 2005 Pew Research Center report. That’s a 24 percent increase over the previous four years, leading parents and policymakers to worry about the effect access to worlds of information–and misinformation–has on children.

Psychologists are only beginning to answer that question, but a study led by Michigan State University psychologist Linda Jackson, PhD, showed that home Internet use improved standardized reading test scores. Other researchers have found that having the Internet at home encourages children to be more self-directed learners.

“We had the same question for television decades ago, but I think the Internet is more important than television because it’s interactive,” says Jackson. “It’s 24/7 and it’s ubiquitous in young people’s lives.”

The positive effects of Internet use appear especially pronounced among poor children, say researchers. Unfortunately, these children are also the least likely to have home computers, which some experts say may put them at a disadvantage….

In her research, published in a 2006 Developmental Psychology…special section on Internet use, Jackson studied 140 urban children as part of HomeNetToo, a longitudinal field study designed to assess the effects of Internet use in low-income families. Most of the child participants were African American and around 13 years old; 75 percent lived in single-parent households with an average annual income of $15,000 or less. The children were also underperforming in school, scoring in the 30th percentile on standardized reading tests at the beginning of the study.

Jackson and her colleagues provided each family with a home computer and free Internet access. The researchers automatically and continuously recorded the children’s Internet use, and participants completed periodic surveys and participated in home visits.

They found that children who used the Internet more had higher scores on standardized reading tests after six months, and higher grade point averages one year and 16 months after the start of the study than did children who used it less. More time spent reading, given the heavily text-based nature of Web pages, may account for the improvement. Jackson also suggests that there may be yet-undiscovered differences between reading online and reading offline that may make online reading particularly attractive to children and teenagers.

“What’s unique about the Internet as compared with traditional ways of developing academic performance skills is that it’s more of a fun environment,” she says. “It’s a play tool. You can learn without any pain. Beneficial academic outcomes may just be a coincidental effect of having a good time.”

What’s more, online reading may enhance skills that traditional book reading doesn’t tap, says Donald Leu, the John and Maria Neag-Endowed Chair in Literacy and Technology at the University of Connecticut and director of the New Literacies Research Lab. He’s found no substantial association between online reading comprehension performance and performance on state reading assessments, as described in a 2005 report submitted to the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory/Learning Point Associates (available online at That’s because online reading takes different skills than traditional book reading, he says. Online reading relies heavily on information-location skills, including how to use search engines, as well as information-synthesis and critical evaluation skills.

“The studies that just look at learning fail to recognize that you have to have these online reading comprehension strategies in place before you can really learn very much with Internet information,” says Leu.

Leu is looking for ways to improve adolescents’ Internet reading comprehension through a three-year, U.S. Department of Education-funded research project, co-led by reading education expert David Reinking, PhD, Eugene T. Moore Professor of Teacher Education at Clemson University…

Other researchers have found that children go online to clarify what they’re being taught in school.

“Instead of waiting for a tutor or someone to help them, they are very proactive in seeking help for themselves,” says Kallen Tsikalas, director of research and learning services for Computers for Youth (CFY), a national educational nonprofit organization.

Home Internet use during the middle school years appears to empower students and reengage them in learning at an age when their academic achievement traditionally drops, adds Tsikalas.

Indeed, 70 percent of students in CFY’s program consistently say that having a home computer helps them become more curious and feel more confident, and nearly two-thirds of students report working harder in school because they have a home computer, the organization reports.

Though researchers have found encouraging evidence that Internet use can help children stay interested in school and develop reading skills, it’s not an easy area to study, say experts.

“A big challenge to researchers here is that we are dealing with a major generational gap–we are still struggling to catch up with evolving technology and how young people are using it,” says Elisheva Gross, PhD, of the Children’s Digital Media Center at the University of California, Los Angeles.

The publication lag of scholarly research is also at odds with a technology that’s changing and expanding by the day.

“Especially when you talk about books published on this topic, they are historical documents at this point,” says Gross.

Is America lagging?

Although the challenges of studying Internet use abound, Leu argues that America needs to catch up with other countries that are harnessing the Internet for educational purposes. In Finland, for example, teachers take five weeks of paid leave to complete professional development training on teaching online reading comprehension and Internet-use skills. In Japan, the government provides 98 percent of its households with broadband access for only $22 a month.

“The government knows that kids read more out of school than they do in school, and they want to make certain that kids are reading online when they are at home,” says Leu. “Most developed nations…know their kids will have to compete in a global information environment and they are trying to prepare them for that.”

By contrast, America’s “report card,” the National Assessment of Educational Progress, just defined its framework for the 2009-19 assessment and chose not to include a measure of online reading skills.

“This is supposed to be the gold standard of our performance on reading, and until 2019 we are not going to have a handle on how our kids are doing on the most important information resource we have available,” says Leu.