COMET • Vol. 8, No. 32 – 12 December 2007

The California Mathematics Project (CMP) has a new Web site with a simplified address:  (“cmpso” stands for “California Mathematics Project Statewide Office). The URL for COMET’s new home page is

[] The CMP supports 19 regional sites located on University of California (UC), California State University (CSU), and independent college and university campuses to provide programs that strengthen teaching and learning in mathematics. The CMP is one of the nine subject disciplines that comprise the California Subject Matter Project (CSMP, The CSMP is supported by the state of California and is administered by the University of California Office of the President. All CSMP disciplines share common goals and program elements to further their mandate to provide professional and leadership development for K-12 teachers throughout the state.


(2) State Schools Chief Jack O’Connell Announces 251 California Teachers Receive Prestigious Certification

Source: California Department of Education
On Monday, December 10, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell congratulated 251 California teachers for receiving National Board Certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. This brings the total number of California teachers who have achieved this distinction to 3,878. The list of teachers is available at the above Web site, and a searchable directory of National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) is available at

“This certification is a great honor for educators because it means they went through a rigorous review process to determine they possess advanced teaching skills,” said O’Connell. “In our quest to narrow the achievement gap and to prepare all students for a challenging future, we need highly effective teachers who are passionate about their profession. I congratulate and thank these new board certified teachers.”

Sixty-three percent of these educators teach in schools that receive federal Title I funds designed to help socioeconomically disadvantaged students succeed academically.

“Like board-certified doctors and accountants, teachers who achieve National Board Certification have met rigorous criteria through intensive study, expert evaluation, self-assessment and peer review,” said National Board for Professional Teaching Standards President and CEO Joseph A. Aguerrebere. “Research demonstrates that National Board Certified Teachers consistently outperform their peers in knowledge of subject matter and ability to create challenging and engaging lessons.”

National Board Certification is a voluntary assessment program designed to recognize great teachers, reward them, and make them better. While state licensing systems set basic requirements to teach in each state, NBCTs have successfully demonstrated advanced teaching knowledge, skills, and practices. Certification is achieved through a rigorous, performance-based assessment that typically takes one to three years to complete.

As part of the process, teachers build a portfolio that includes student work samples, assignments, videotapes, and a thorough analysis of their classroom teaching, including evidence of fairness, equity, and access in meeting student needs. Teachers are also assessed on their knowledge of the subjects they teach.

All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and more than 700 local school districts recognize National Board Certification as a mark of distinction and excellence. These municipalities provide valuable incentives to keep the nation’s most accomplished teachers in the classroom. Information about how California school districts are supporting this process is available at (also see for a chart of district incentives).

For more information about the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and National Board Certification, please visit or contact its California staff members: Kay Garcia (916-428-2068) or Linda Manuel (703-350-7669).



(1) “Draft from National Math Panel Covers Broad Scope of Topics” by Sean Cavanagh

Source: Education Week – 5 December 2007

Students’ success in mathematics, and algebra specifically, hinges largely on their mastering a focused, clearly defined set of topics in that subject in early grades, the draft report of a federal panel concludes.

The long-awaited report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel is still very much in flux. Members of the White House-commissioned group staged their 10th, and what was supposed to be their final, meeting in a hotel [in Baltimore, MD on] Nov. 28, though they indicated that numerous revisions to the document are yet to come.

The panel spent most of a day debating and rewriting a 68-page draft of the report. The draft makes recommendations and findings on curricular content, learning processes, training and evaluation of teachers, instructional practices, assessment, and research as those topics apply to math in grades pre-K through 8.

“International and domestic comparisons show that American students have not been succeeding in the mathematical part of their education at anything like a leadership level,” the report says. “Particularly disturbing is the consistent finding that American students achieve in mathematics progressively more poorly at higher grades.”

Algebra’s Core

The 19-member panel has reviewed an estimated 18,000 research documents and reports as part of its work, which began in 2006. But its draft document also bemoans the paucity of available research in several areas of math–including instruction and teacher training. Government needs to do more, it says, to support research with “large enough samples of students, classrooms, teachers, and schools to identify reliable effects.”

The draft attempts to define the core features of a legitimate school algebra course as opposed to one, the panelists said, that presents watered-down math under that course title. Topics in an algebra course should include concepts such as symbols and expressions, functions, quadratic relations, and others, it notes.
The working report also spells out specific concepts in math that are too often neglected in pre-K through grade 8 math instruction generally, such as fractions, whole numbers, and particular elements of geometry and measurement.

“We don’t spend enough time on them and we don’t assess them,” panel member Camilla Persson Benbow, an educational psychologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., said of fractions. “[They’re] really not well mastered by schoolchildren.”

In arguing in behalf of a more focused curriculum in elementary and middle schools, the panel lists several “benchmarks for critical foundations” in prekindergarten through 8th grade math, leading to algebra. The goal is to develop fluency with fractions, whole numbers, and other topics.

Panel Expanded

The panel drew from a diverse assortment of documents, including the 2006 “Curriculum Focal Points,” published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, as well as Singapore’s national standards and a number of U.S. state math standards.

The meeting’s tone was collegial, with many disagreements centering on whether enough extensive research supported particular recommendations and language in the report. At the same time, the draft document also touches on the sources of recent prominent debates in K-12 math.

For instance, the draft report says certain high-quality computer software in math “can facilitate student achievement” and build student problem-solving skills. But it also finds that a review of research–most of it dated–indicates that calculators have shown “limited to no impact on calculation skills, problem-solving competencies, or conceptual development.”

President Bush appointed members of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel in May 2006. He charged its members–who include mathematicians, cognitive psychologists, and those with K-12 teaching experience–to identify promising and effective instructional strategies in mathematics, particularly when it comes to preparing students for algebra, a subject typically taught in 8th or 9th grade.

Originally the panel had 17 members, but it now includes 19 individuals, in addition to five ex-officio members from the federal government. One of the original panelists, Nancy Ichinaga, a former California principal, resigned from the panel, and three others have joined the group: Douglas H. Clements, a professor of early childhood, mathematics, and computer education at the University of Buffalo, State University of New York; Susan E. Embreston, a professor of psychology at the Georgia Institute of Technology; and Bert Fristedt, a distinguished teacher of mathematics at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.

The panel is supposed to deliver a final report to the White House by Feb. 28. Larry R. Faulkner, the chairman of the panel and a former president of the University of Texas at Austin, said White House officials have indicated they will give the panel more time, if necessary, though he hopes to meet the original deadline. In order to accomplish that, and allow for revisions and printing of the document, the panel would probably have to make final revisions by Dec. 15.
Mr. Faulkner said it was possible that the panel could have one more meeting or simply circulate final changes to the document by e-mail in the weeks ahead.

Bush administration officials have compared the math panel’s mission to that of the National Reading Panel, an expert group that produced recommendations on reading practices that have had a broad impact on federal policy in that subject-most notably in the awarding of grants through the federal Reading First program. Specifically, administration officials have said the math panel’s advice could guide Math Now, a federal grant program approved by Congress this year, which has not yet been funded.

Policy Guidance

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who addressed the panel at the Nov. 28 session, said she believed the group’s report would not only help guide policies within the U.S. Department of Education, but also across other federal agencies that sponsor math programs and research, such as the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

The secretary noted that a panel she chaired, the Academic Competitiveness Council, found in a report this year that while the federal government spends about $3 billion a year on math and science education programs, few of those have proved effective through research.

“When we know what works, when we know what’s [stated] in research, it is our responsibility to align our resources with those effective practices,” Ms. Spellings said in an interview outside the meeting. “I would expect that [other agencies] would honor this work.”


(2) Eleventh Meeting of the National Math Panel

Source: U.S. Department of Education

The Eleventh Meeting of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel will be held on December 14-15, 2007 at the Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) Airport Marriott in Baltimore, MD.
On Friday, December 14, the Panel will discuss the draft of the Final Report from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. during an open session.

On Saturday, December 15, the Panel will continue its discussion of the draft Final Report during a morning (8:30-11:30 a.m.) and an afternoon (1:00-3:00 p.m.) session.

If you would like to provide comments to the National Math Panel, please email written comments, including your contact information to by TODAY–Wednesday, December 12, 2007.

To pre-register to attend the open session portion of this meeting, please send your name, title, organization, address, phone number, and email address to by 5 p.m. today. Please note: There will be no public comment session at this meeting as the Panel is nearing completion of its report and time will be devoted to this task. You will receive a confirmation email with more information before the meeting. (On-site walk-in registration will be available at the meeting.)

The twelfth meeting of the National Math Panel will be held in Washington, DC in February 2008.


(3) U.S. Middle School Math Teachers are Ill-prepared Among International Counterparts_

Source: National Science Foundation – 11 December 2007
URL (Report):

A new study funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) found that middle school mathematics teachers in the United States are not as well prepared to teach this challenging subject as are many of their counterparts in five other countries. The findings of this study, Mathematics Teaching in the 21st Century (MT21), conducted by Michigan State University (MSU), were presented yesterday at a news conference at the National Press Club.

“Our future teachers are getting weak training mathematically and are just not prepared to teach the demanding mathematics curriculum we need for middle schools if we hope to compete internationally in the future,” said William Schmidt, MSU distinguished professor, who directed the study.

This inadequate teacher preparation joins deficiencies in mathematics curriculum as reasons contributing to lower scores for American middle-schoolers.

MT21 studied how well a sample of universities and teacher-training institutions prepare middle school mathematics teachers in the United States, South Korea, Taiwan, Germany, Bulgaria and Mexico. Specifically, 2,627 future teachers were surveyed about their preparation, knowledge and beliefs in this subject area.

“The MT21 study extends the international perspective from students to teachers, and provides new approaches for conducting such a study,” said Wanda Ward, deputy assistant director for NSF’s education and human resources directorate. “It also offers valuable comparisons about the outcomes of teacher education programs across the participating nations.”

The length of time needed to complete teacher preparation requirements varied among the countries studied. While some of the requirements could be completed within four years, others involved five to seven years of training.

“The real issue is the courses they take and the experiences they have while in their programs,” Schmidt said. “Basically, what we have found is that it’s not just the amount of formal mathematics training they get. It also involves training in the practical aspects of teaching middle school math and of teaching in general.”

In comparison to other countries in the study, U.S. future teachers ranked from the middle to the bottom on MT21 measures of mathematics knowledge.

“What’s most disturbing is that one of the areas in which U.S. future teachers tend to do the worst is algebra, and algebra is the heart of middle school math,” Schmidt said. “When future teachers in the study were asked about opportunities to learn about the practical aspects of teaching mathematics, again, we rank mediocre at best.”

The MT21 findings support previous international research, including the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), also conducted by MSU, which showed low U.S. achievement in mathematics compared to other countries at seventh and eighth grades. Another finding from TIMSS indicated that one of the major factors related to this low performance was a U.S. middle school curriculum that was unfocused, lacking coherence and not particularly demanding or rigorous.

“We must address this,” Schmidt said. “We can make our mathematics curriculum more demanding, instead of a mile wide and an inch deep, but we also need teachers that are well prepared to teach it to all children.”

Other MT21 findings include the following:

— Future U.S. middle school teachers’ mathematics knowledge was generally weaker than that of future teachers in South Korea, Taiwan, Germany, and (in some areas) Bulgaria. Taiwanese and South Korean future teachers were the top performers in all five areas of mathematics knowledge.
— The best subject area for future teachers in the U.S. was statistics knowledge, where they performed near the international average.
— Taiwanese and South Korean future teachers typically covered about 80 percent or more of advanced mathematics topics in their training, while those in Mexico and the U.S. covered less than 50 percent.
— In the practical aspect of teaching, the extent of coverage for U.S. future teachers was also substantially less than that provided by Taiwan and South Korea.
— Future U.S. middle school mathematics teachers in the study are trained in three kinds of programs: secondary programs, elementary programs and those that directly prepare middle school teachers.
— Those that prepare as secondary teachers have a stronger mathematics preparation. Those that prepare as elementary teachers have stronger teaching skill preparation. Those that prepare as middle school teachers seem to have the worst of both of these programs.

The full MT21 report is available at

An excerpt from the “Policy Implications” section of this report follows below:

“We do recommend that discussions should be begun having to do with the amount of mathematics required in the training of middle school teachers. However, just as importantly, the belief that the preparation of future teachers might be done without any preparation in practical pedagogy seems unwise and should certainly be reconsidered. The fact that none of the five countries prepare their teachers in this way tells us somethingŠ. It is quite revealing that the countries whose students continuously perform well on the international benchmark tests have the teachers who have been trained with extensive educational opportunities in mathematics as well as in the practical aspects of teaching mathematics to students in the middle grades.”


(4) $100,000 Winners of 2007-08 Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology Announced-Females Win the Top Prizes

Source:  Siemens (
URL: tional_winners.pdf

Last week, females swept the top prizes in America’s premier high school science competition for the first time in its nine-year history in the 2007-08 Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology. These science superstars will ring The Closing Bell at the New York Stock Exchange in February.

The prestigious Siemens Competition, a signature program of the Siemens Foundation, is administered by the College Board.  The ninth annual awards were presented on December 3 at New York University, host of the Siemens Competition National Finals.

Isha Jain, a senior at Freedom High School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, won the
$100,000 scholarship in the individual category for research on bone growth and our ability to treat bone injuries and disorders. Janelle Schlossberger and Amanda Marinoff, seniors at Plainview-Old Bethpage John F. Kennedy High School in Plainview, New York, won the $100,000 prize in the team category, which they will share equally, for a drug discovery project that could lead to the first new tuberculosis treatment in 35 years.

The national finals were judged by a panel of nationally renowned scientists and mathematicians headed by lead judge Dr. Joseph Taylor, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics and James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Physics, Emeritus, Princeton University.  Twenty national finalists competed in the national finals, including six individuals and six teams.  The finalists previously competed last month in a series of regional competitions held at six leading research universities: California Institute of Technology; Carnegie Mellon University; Georgia Institute of Technology; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; University of Notre Dame; and the University of Texas at Austin.

The Siemens Foundation

The Siemens Foundation, established in 1998, is a national leader in math and science education, providing more than $2 million in scholarships and awards annually.  Based in Iselin, New Jersey, the Foundation’s signature programs–the Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology, the Siemens Awards for Advanced Placement, and the Siemens Teacher Scholarships–recognize exceptional achievement in science, math and technology.  By supporting outstanding students today, and recognizing the teachers and schools that inspire their excellence, the Foundation helps nurture tomorrow’s scientists and engineers.  For more information, please


Related article:

“Girls Make History by Sweeping Top Honors at a Science Contest” by Amanda Millner-Fairbanks
Source: New York Times – 4 December 2007


…The Siemens competition was first held in 1998 and is distinct from the Westinghouse Science Talent Search, which was founded in 1941 and is now known as the Intel Science Talent Search. Many high school students enter both.

This year, more than 1,600 students nationwide entered the Siemens competition. After several rounds of judging, 20 finalists were chosen to present their projects at N.Y.U. and to vie for scholarships ranging from $10,000 to $100,000. Eleven of the finalists were girls. It was the first year that girls outnumbered boys in the final round. Most of the finalists attend public school…

Three-quarters of the finalists have a parent who is a scientistŠ


(5) Mathworks Wins the Siemens Foundation Founder’s Award for 2007-08

URL (Mathworks):

The Siemens Foundation Founder’s Award is an annual monetary award of $15,000 given in recognition of an individual or school for efforts to encourage students to participate in math, science or technology research programs and to provide support consistent with the Siemens Foundation’s mission of enhancing math and science in American high schools.

The 2007-08 winner of the Siemens Foundation Founder’s Award is Mathworks, which is a center for innovation in mathematics education at Texas State University. The mission of Mathworks is to develop model programs and self-sustaining learning communities that engage Texas K-12 students from all backgrounds in doing mathematics at a high level. Summer math camps and after-school programs include undergraduate counselors mentored by more experienced math teachers, who themselves are being trained as teacher-leaders for their districts.

From 2001-2004, Mathworks sent the first U. S. teams ever to compete in the Primary Math World Contest in Hong Kong.  Mathworks teams again participated in 2006, and won the Po Leung Kuk Cup as the top non-Asian team for the 4th time. Fifty-six Mathworks students have been named Siemens-Westinghouse semi-finalists over the past six years and 6 students (2 teams) were named national finalists.

Visit for more details about Mathworks and its programs.