COMET • Vol. 8, No. 33 – 18 December 2007

This is the final issue of COMET until Spring Semester commences next month. May the upcoming holidays provide you with opportunities to reflect on your goals and priorities for 2008, as well as time to connect/reconnect with family and special friends.  ~ CFB


(1) General Science Foundational Credential Proposed

Source: California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CCTC)

At the December meeting of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, a “Proposal to Establish a Single Subject Teaching Credential in General Science (Foundational)” was presented as an informational agenda item by Teri Clark. Excerpts of this item (available for download from the above Web site) follow below. An audio recording of the discussion of this item is available at (Click on “Listen” for Item 3H.)

Proposed New Science Credential: General Science (Foundational)

When the specialized science credential was developed in 2003, a Foundational Mathematics credential was also developed.  The Foundational Mathematics credential authorizes an individual to teach mathematics courses up through Algebra and Geometry. [It was clarified in the presentation that holders of this credential could teach Algebra II.]

The implementation of the Foundational Mathematics credential has led to discussion of an additional science credential and raised a number of questions.
— Would a foundational science credential be a possibility?
— Which science courses would an individual with a General Science (Foundational) be authorized to teach?
— Would a foundational science credential allow additional individuals to earn a science authorization?
— With the narrow authorization of the foundational science credential, would employers still find this credential to be helpful?

A General Science (Foundational) credential could be developed and awarded to an individual who has passed the two CSET General Science subtests [(118 and 119)] and completed an approved teacher preparation program. [(A waiver program–science coursework rather than tests–is not being proposed.)] This level of knowledge would allow an individual to teach general science, introductory science, and integrated science up to grade 8 [(including departmentalized science at the elementary level)] but not Biology, Chemistry, Geology, or Physics courses…

Teachers who are credentialed via this route and who teach courses within this authorization would be considered “Highly Qualified” for the purpose of No Child Left Behind as they would have been required to demonstrate subject matter competence through examination.

Next Steps

In a meeting with the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) the administrators present provided positive feedback about the usefulness of a General Science (Foundational) credential and believed that there would be individuals who would earn this authorization. If the Commission supports the concept of a General Science (Foundational) credential, the Certification, Assignments and Waivers division could begin the Title 5 regulatory process.


(2) Applications for Mathematics and Reading Professional Development Program Review Panel Members are Currently Being Accepted

Source: California State Board of Education

Applications for service as a reviewer for Mathematics and Reading Professional Development Program (SB 472) training curricula are available for download at the above Web site. (Refer to the following websites to access the law and regulations: and

Applications for this committee will be accepted until the committee is filled. However, for the State Board of Education to make a January appointment to the committee, applications will need to be received by January 2, 2008.


(3) “President Bush Honours Pallavi Shah–Twice by Aziz Haniffa

Source: Rediff India Abroad – 13 December 2007 via Rick Hashimoto

It was yet another feather in her cap for Pallavi Shah, an accomplished math teacher and coach in northern California, who has been honored twice by President George W. Bush in the Oval Office when her students took first place and were the top individual scorers in the MATHCOUNTS National Competition. [See]

The Silicon Valley Engineering Council (SVEC) also honoured Shah with its prestigious Keeper of the Flame Award recently.

SVEC recognizes and honors heroes of middle and high school education who have distinguished themselves by maintaining high standards in mathematics and science instruction in the face of significant resistance. Thus, the award is not intended just to recognise outstanding teaching ability alone.

Shah told rediff India Abroad that she was touched and honoured, and pointed out that “declining enrollment in math and science in the United States is a major concern.”

She said she was “thrilled that organisations like the SVEC and its member societies encourage and recognise teachers who go the extra mile to enrich their students’ learning in math and science.”

Shah, who has spent countless number of hours working after school with students on the MATHCOUNTS team, acknowledged that “competing in MATHCOUNTS at the local, state, and national levels has given me broad experience.”

However, she acknowledged that MATHCOUNTS “is limited to the top eight students in the school. Therefore, my current focus is to provide the opportunity to a greater number of students to participate in math competitions.”

Shah said “my latest contribution is the Miller Math Marathon, which is designed to include many students from each school, and by hosting the competition at my school, Miller teachers, parents, students, and alumni are giving back to the community.” [See]

After the successful participation of 17 schools and 300 students in the last school year, she intends to make this an annual mathematics competition.

“I am always looking for ways to increase students’ enjoyment of math,” Shah said, and added, “It is this quest to keep students engaged in and excited about mathematics that keeps me going”…

[Visit for a related piece, entitled “The Beauty of Mathematics: An Interview with Mrs. Pallavi Shah.”]



(1) 2008 Presidential Candidates’ Education Statements

Source: American Association of School Administrators

With the 2008 Presidential Campaign kicking into gear, the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) has gathered the education position statements from 17 presidential candidates. The statements were collected from each candidate’s homepage. This is the first presidential campaign since 1928 where there is neither an incumbent president nor an incumbent vice president running for his party’s presidential nomination and thus not running in the presidential election.

Position statements for the following presidential candidates are included on the above Web page:
Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Christopher Dodd, John Edwards, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Gravel, Mike Huckabee, Duncan Hunter, Dennis Kucinich, John McCain, Barack Obama, Ron Paul, Bill Richardson, Mitt Romney, Tom Tancredo, and Fred Dalton Thompson

The American Association of School Administrators, founded in 1865, is the professional organization for more than 13,000 educational leaders across the United States. AASA members range from chief executive officers, superintendents, and senior level school administrators to cabinet members, professors, and aspiring school system leaders.


(2) “Poverty’s Effect on U.S. Scores Greater Than for Other Nations” by Sean Cavanagh

Source: Education Week – 7 December 2007
URL (PISA Highlights and Report):

Not only did many industrialized countries outperform the United States in science on a recent international exam, but American students’ academic achievement was also more likely to be affected by their wealth or poverty and family background than was their peers’ in higher-scoring nations.

That was one of several sobering findings for the United States included in the results of the 2006 Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, released [earlier this month]. The program showed U.S. students lagging behind a majority of participating developed nations in both science and mathematics.

American students ranked lower in science–the subject tested in the most depth on this PISA–than their peers in 16 other industrialized nations, out of 30 countries in that category.

In math, which was tested less extensively, U.S. students fared even worse, finishing statistically behind a group of 23 of the 30 developed nations that took part. In both science and math, Finland, South Korea, Canada, and Japan produced scores well above U.S. and international averages.

But test results and the accompanying study also appeared to show another trait of the U.S. education system, one that, in theory at least, seeks to provide equal opportunity for all students, regardless of economic circumstances.

The results of the test, given to 15-year-olds in 57 countries, including 5,611 U.S. students, show that an estimated 18 percent of the variation in Americans’ science scores were related to students’ socioeconomic circumstances, as measured by the PISA.

That proportion was significantly higher than the average–about 14 percent–among industrialized countries. And the socioeconomic variation was more than twice as high as that of several of the highest-performing countries in science, such as Finland and Canada, where it hovered at about 8 percent.

The fact that socioeconomic factors appeared to be less of a factor in higher-scoring nations is no accident, say the authors of the report, from the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which oversees PISA.

“PISA suggests that maximizing overall performance and securing similar levels of performance among students from different socioeconomic backgrounds can be achieved simultaneously,” they write. “Quality and equity need not be considered as competing policy objectives.”

Nor can the United States’ socioeconomic difficulty be explained simply by its having a more economically diverse pool of students, said Andreas Schleicher, the head of the indicators and analysis division of the OECD. Citing Finland as an example, he noted that PISA data show that, contrary to popular impressions, some top-performing countries with relatively homogeneous racial and ethnic compositions serve students from fairly diverse economic backgrounds.

Finland “is able to [lessen] the impact of socioeconomic background,” Mr. Schleicher said in a Dec. 4 presentation in Washington on the PISA results…

When the public looks for clues about high-scoring nations’ education systems, Mr. Schleicher said, too much emphasis is sometimes put on their having uniform, national academic standards–an idea that has periodically been discussed in the United States.

High-achieving countries like Finland tend to combine national standards with a strong emphasis on making sure those standards are clearly understood in local schools, he said. Finland, he added, also gives teachers and schools considerable autonomy in instruction aimed at meeting standards…

Unlike some large-scale tests, PISA measures learning that may occur outside, as well as within, formal academic settings. The test measures scientific literacy, which includes skills such as the ability to identify scientific questions, gain new knowledge, explain scientific phenomena, and draw evidence-based conclusions.

Overall, the United States scored an average of 489 on science, below the international average among industrialized nations of 500, on a scale of 1 to 1,000. Finland notched the top science score of 563, followed by Canada, Japan, and New Zealand. In 2003, the last time PISA measured performance in science, the results were similar, with U.S. students tallying an average of 491, 9 points lower than the industrialized average of 500.

In math, Finland also scored at the top, recording a 548, followed by South Korea and the Netherlands. The Americans’ average score was 474, 24 points below the average among industrialized countries of 498. In 2003, the United States was only 17 points below that average score….


(3) “New Report Recognizes Five School Programs That Effectively Prepare Students for College and Career”

Source: WestEd
URL (Report):

Five innovative school programs in diverse, underserved communities across the country are helping students succeed in high school and prepare for college and careers. According to a report commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, these programs share a common, effective framework of strong school leaders, rigorous coursework, and an emphasis on effective teaching.
(The report can be downloaded free of charge from the above Web site.)

Rethinking High School: Preparing Students for Success in College, Career, and Life is the fourth report in a series by WestEd, a non-profit education research firm. The report profiles programs serving predominantly low-income, minority students in Oakland, CA; Mabton, WA; Houston, TX; Bridgeton, NJ; and Portland, OR. Their approaches vary, but each has demonstrated early progress, including improved test scores, graduation rates, and college enrollment for students.

In addition, five programs previously examined in a 2005 Rethinking High School report ( are revisited and continue to show strong results. Together, they are part of a growing national movement of more than 1,800 schools and programs supported by the Foundation designed to ensure that all students graduate high school ready for the challenges of today’s global economy.

While the report highlights the programs’ innovative approaches and progress, it also underscores how they each address one or more of five common barriers facing low-income students:

— Inadequate preparation entering high school

— Perception that college is an unattainable goal

— Disconnected curriculum and low student expectations

— Inadequate preparation for college

— Insufficient educational opportunities for dropouts

“Communities across America face many of the same challenges in preparing students for success in high school and beyond,” said Tracy Huebner, senior researcher at WestEd and the lead author of the Rethinking High School series. “Through strong leaders, effective teachers, rigorous coursework, and personalized support for students every step of the way, the five schools featured in this report serve as models to other communities struggling with low graduation and college enrollment rates.”

These programs are addressing critical challenges in education today. Nationally, only 70% of U.S. high school students graduated on time in 2004, according toEducation Week’s 2007 “Diplomas Count” report. The graduation rate for Hispanic students is 58%. For African American students, it is 53%.

Too often, the students who do graduate are not prepared for college–only 23% of African American students and 20% of Hispanic students who started high school in the class of 2002 graduated eligible for college, according to the Manhattan Institute.  The report cites figures showing that only 10% of Hispanic males who enter elementary school finish college. This percentage is 13% for black males, 28% for white males, and 48% for Asian males.

“Innovative programs like [those profiled in the new Rethinking High School report] demonstrate that all students can overcome barriers to success and thrive in an environment that holds them to high expectations and gives them the necessary support,” said Vicki Phillips, Director of Education at the Gates Foundation. “Every student in every community deserves a high-quality education that opens up the doors of opportunity.”

Nationally, the foundation and its partners are focused on increasing graduation and college readiness rates by supporting the creation of new high-quality high schools and the transformation of existing low-performing high schools into more focused and effective learning environments. To date, the foundation has invested more than $1.7 billion to improve high schools, supporting schools in 47 states and the District of Columbia.

The Rethinking High Schools series of studies examines successful high schools throughout the country and provides analyses of high school reforms in action. The most ambitious project has been a review of the coherence of approaches to mathematics in districts and in managed networks of schools. This mathematics report began as an in-depth study and internal briefing for Foundation staff and is currently being revised into a summary piece for broad public distribution. Additional studies underway reexamine successful schools and explore the role of charter management organizations.


(4) The Cost of the “Twelve Days of Christmas” in 2007; Live Chat TODAY

Source: PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. (

The significantly higher price of gold and increased compensation for minimum wage workers will make Christmas more expensive this year, according to the PNC Christmas Price Index. The tongue-in-cheek economic analysis by PNC Wealth Management is based on the cost of gifts in the holiday classic, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

According to the 23rd annual survey, the cost of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is $19,507 in 2007, a 3.1 percent increase over last year. The rise in gift prices mirrored the U.S. government’s Consumer Price Index–a widely used measure of inflation calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  The Consumer Price Index is up 2.8 percent so far this year.

“Each year, the Christmas Price Index reflects trends in the broader economy,” said James Dunigan, managing executive of investments for PNC Wealth Management. “This year, increased commodities prices, concerns about the value of the dollar and the first minimum wage increase in 10 years were major factors in the increases to the Christmas Price Index”…

For a historical look at PNC’s Index, please visit Each year, educators across the country use the Christmas Price Index to teach economic trends to students of all ages. With that in mind, this year’s site has been updated to include interactive activities, annual results and trends, a Flash presentation, MP3 download, games and much more.  New this year, Dunigan will present a live chat about this year’s results on December 18, 2007.