COMET • Vol. 8, No. 04 – 10 February 2007


(1) CST Released Test Questions for 2003-2006 are Now Posted Online

Source: California Department of Education (via Susie Hakansson)

The California Department of Education has posted released test questions from the 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006 California Standards Tests (CSTs) for English Language Arts, Mathematics, History-Social Science, and Science. The items are available for download from the above Web site.


(2) Schools Chief Jack O’Connell Calls for Intensive Focus on Closing the Achievement Gap in 2007 State of Education Address

Source: California Department of Education – 5 February 2007

Last Monday, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell announced that he will lead an intensive effort to find ways to close the achievement gap that exists between successful students who are often white or Asian, and financially well off, and struggling students who are too often poor, Hispanic, African American, or disabled. O’Connell issued his call for action to close the achievement gap in his fourth annual State of Education address delivered in Sacramento.

“Real, measurable progress has been made since the institution of standards-based education,” O’Connell said, thanking the teachers, paraprofessionals, school administrators, school board members, parents, and students for all of their hard work.

“But, while improvement in our schools has been nearly universal, our across-the-board success has still failed to close an achievement gap that threatens the future of our diverse state. Groups of California children who have traditionally struggled–groups that in many instances make up the fastest growing portion of our society–continue to trail behind their peers, and the gap is not closing. Recognizing this is important. Addressing it is imperative.

“Too often, the struggles of the African American student, the English learner, the learning disabled student were hidden by overall school achievement gains. That day is past. Today we are holding ourselves accountable for the results of all children. And when we see significant groups of students falling far short of the goal of proficiency that we hold for all students we must act. Today, equipped with specific knowledge of those gaps, we must focus as never before on solutions.”

O’Connell announced that he will focus in the year ahead on finding ways to close the achievement gap by meeting with educators and researchers and visiting schools that are beating the odds and successfully closing the gap. He has directed his statewide P-16 Council to develop a comprehensive plan to narrow the achievement gap. The P-16 Council is comprised of a regionally diverse group of educators, business leaders, preschool experts, college presidents, parents, librarians, and others committed to effective school reform. O’Connell also announced that in November he will host a statewide summit focused on closing the achievement gap.

“All students must continue to improve, but to close the gap we need to find strategies to ensure that those who struggle the most actually learn and improve their achievement at an even faster pace,” O’Connell said. “I am calling for a renewed sense of urgency in finding solutions to closing the achievement gap. In today’s global economy we simply cannot afford to have any student unprepared to compete.”

O’Connell also announced that he will work with leaders in higher education to make sure that educational programs preparing new teachers for the classroom are better linked to California’s rigorous academic standards and the needs of California’s diverse student population. He also noted promising research that is showing connections between character education and service learning programs and improved student achievement, and announced that he will highlight the role of these concepts in the year ahead.

“The 21st century demands that students know how to work cooperatively, to learn and innovate in teams, to interact with, empathize with, and work with people from different cultures. What some consider old-fashioned virtues are essential for successful citizenship in a global economy,” O’Connell said. “Promoting development of good behavior and strong character has always been part of the mission of public schools. It has never been more important that we fulfill this mission, to prepare our students with the guiding principals for successful lives and successful communities. I will encourage and support character education and standards-based service learning over the next four years, and I will be sharing the results of these positive programs in our schools.”

Calling quality data critical to making decisions based on results, O’Connell called on Governor Schwarzenegger and the Legislature to include $32 million in the state budget, a sum of $5 per student, to help schools pay for costs associated with quality data collection and reporting.

“We need data to guide our schools and achieve results. I’m pleased that when fully implemented in 2009, our new statewide student identifier system, CalPADS, will at long last provide a clearer picture of dropout and graduation rates, and a clearer assessment of what’s working to help students succeed. I want to make certain that the data we collect meet the highest standards and I want every school and district to make data collection a top priority.”

In addition, O’Connell pledged to continue to fight for inclusion of science in intensive teacher professional development programs so that California’s neediest students have access to quality instruction in science. He also is committed to continue working to ensure that career technical education programs across the state maintain quality and academic rigor, and, at the suggestion of his P-16 Council, to expand California Partnership Academies from 290 to 500 statewide. These rigorous career-oriented models have proven to be effective in improving the achievement of students at risk of failing or dropping out of school.

(3) Commission on Teacher Credentialing Appoints Executive Director


The Commission on Teacher Credentialing voted today to appoint Dale Janssen as its Executive Director.  Mr. Janssen has served as the Interim Executive Director since August, 2006.

“The Commission is very pleased that Mr. Janssen has agreed to accept the Executive Director position,” stated P. David Pearson, Chair of the Commission.  “He has demonstrated his ability to effectively lead the Commission staff as it accomplishes its important work serving the educators and public school children of California.  Mr. Janssen brings a new vitality to the work of the Commission.”

Janssen, 56, has been employed at the Commission for fifteen years, nine of those in a management role.  Prior to his appointment as Interim Director, he served as the Director of the Certification, Assignment and Waivers Division which is responsible for granting professional education credentials, issuing credential waivers and monitoring teaching assignments across the state.

As Interim Director, Mr. Janssen significantly improved the Commission’s internal and external communications, resolved long-standing budget issues and promoted a fresh image for the agency.

Before joining the Commission staff in 1991, Mr. Janssen was the managing partner of a small business in Sacramento.  Currently Mr. Janssen is a member of the technology committee of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC).  He earned his master’s degree in communications and public administration and a bachelor’s degree in communications, both from California State University, Chico.  He also holds a Professional Clear Teaching Credential in Social Science and a Community College Credential in Communications.


(4) “Schwarzenegger Names an Acting Education Secretary” by Howard Blume

SourceLos Angeles Times – 10 January 2007

The governor appointed an acting secretary of education [last month], choosing a loyal insider who is likely to lower the profile of the office, while pushing an agenda that includes improved vocational education and more transparency on school performance.

Scott Himelstein, 49, follows two strong and sometimes controversial personalities: former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and former San Diego schools Supt. Alan Bersin.

No fireworks are expected from Himelstein, a Republican who made generally positive impressions over 18 months as Bersin’s deputy and chief of staff.

Himelstein, who will earn $121,920 a year, pledged fidelity to Schwarzenegger’s ongoing education goals.

“Parents should have user-friendly, easy-to-access data for their local schools,” he said, echoing the governor in [his] State of the State address.

Himelstein also spoke of a need to “reinvent and rebuild career technical education.” He said that last November’s bond included money to build or modernize vocational classrooms. “And we’re working on ways to better recruit and retain teachers and to streamline the teacher credentialing process,” he said.

The education secretary advises the governor and also represents him on education-related issues and legislation. But the office doesn’t run the state’s Department of Education.

Himelstein came to Sacramento with Bersin, following their long association in San Diego.

In San Diego, Himelstein, at Bersin’s behest, chaired San Diego Reads, a public-private, communitywide initiative that raised more than $4 million to provide more than 1.5 million books to San Diego schools.

California Teachers Assn. President Barbara Kerr offered no comment on Himelstein, but said it was important to fill the job because of pressing ongoing issues, including distributing money from Senate Bill 1133, which provides $2.9 billion over seven years to low-performing schools. This funding settled a lawsuit over school funding between the CTA and the Schwarzenegger administration.


Regarding the appointment, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell said, “I applaud Governor Schwarzenegger’s selection of Scott Himelstein as acting Secretary of Education. Scott is a man of high integrity, a passionate advocate for public education, and a thoughtful leader and advisor to the Governor. I have worked closely with Scott for several years on a number of key initiatives, including efforts to encourage federal consideration of California’s school improvement model of accountability. Scott has a unique ability to bring differing people together and form consensus. I am looking forward to continuing to work with him to improve student achievement in his new role as Secretary of Education.”


Visit for more information about Scott Himelstein


(5) Mathematics Conference in Los Angeles: Constructing the Building Blocks For Teaching Mathematics–Connecting Knowledge With Practice

Source: Ivan Cheng –

The Los Angeles City Teachers’ Mathematics Association (LACTMA) is holding its 30th annual conference on March 2-3 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Featured speakers include Randy Charles, Peg Smith, Marcy Cook, Megan Franke, Rusty Bresser, Michael Serra, Christine Losq.  The conference will also feature a Texas Instruments T^3 Regional Conference, as well as many exhibitors and vendors.

The conference program booklet and registration forms are available at the above Web site.


(1) “Report Urges Improvements in Teaching of Science [and Mathematics]” by Jeffrey Brainard

SourceChronicle of Higher Education – 2 February 2007

America needs a new national council to coordinate efforts to improve the teaching of science and mathematics in schools and colleges, and higher education should play a key role in that undertaking, says a draft report requested by Congress.

The report also calls for new standards for training math and science teachers and an expansion of federal programs to encourage college students to pursue those careers.

The politically sensitive draft was approved in January by the Commission on 21st Century Education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, which reports to the National Science Board, the governing body of the National Science Foundation. The science board must sign off on the report before it becomes final, which is expected to happen by May.

Before then, however, one of the panel’s two chairmen says he expects the panel will revise the recommendations to make them bolder and stronger, to ensure that they get attention.

“We’ve made a start,” said Leon M. Lederman, director emeritus of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and a Nobel laureate in physics. However, “there’s very little that addresses in a sharp way some of the big issues” confronting science education.

Even so, some proposals already in the draft are likely to generate controversy in Washington. One is the call for a national coordinating council, which would work with federal agencies and the states to improve the consistency of science teaching across the country as well as the preparation of schoolteachers by universities.

Bush administration officials are likely to be cool to several of the proposals. They have preferred to give the Education Department the lead role in improving science education in schools.

The draft recommendations may find a more receptive audience in Congress, where the new Democratic majority has made it a high priority to maintain America’s lead in the global economy. Over the past two years, a steady drumbeat of reports has concluded that science education in American schools is inadequate to produce enough talented scientists and engineers who can help accomplish that end.

Offering Fresh Views

The National Science Board, most of whose members are academics, formed the commission in 2006. The science board last issued a report on science education in 1983, and the current board members thought it was time to weigh in again, given the renewed attention on the issue.

The science board was encouraged to prepare the report by members of both parties who sit on the House of Representatives appropriations subcommittee that oversees the NSF’s budget. The board also heard from scientists worried about cuts in the budget of the NSF’s education division in recent years.

These scholars hoped the new report could help build support for reversing the cuts and would help the agency remain active in federal policy discussions about how to improve mathematics and science instruction.

The science board asked the commission not to rehash previous critiques but to come up with a “bold action plan” and “specific mechanisms” to carry out “an effective, realistic, affordable, and politically acceptable long-term approach” to improving teaching in those subjects.

Mr. Lederman said the commission’s draft had a way to go before it met that goal. He said the commission had rushed to complete the document so that it might be ready early enough to influence Congress as lawmakers assemble spending bills for the 2008 fiscal year. The commission held only three business meetings before approving the draft released last week.

“We didn’t have enough time together,” he said.

The National Science Board is scheduled to discuss the draft in February and issue a final version for comment by the end of March.

Among the changes needed, Mr. Lederman said, is to flesh out the national coordinating council. One idea is that it be Congressionally chartered. Commission members could not even agree on a distinctive name for the council, he said: for now, in moments of levity during their meetings, they have taken to calling it only Yoda, after the tiny, wise Jedi in the Star Wars movies.

Other recommendations in the draft would also directly affect colleges.

The panel’s members realized that “unless we addressed the issues in higher education, nothing would happen,” said Shirley M. Malcom, the commission’s other chairman.

Ms. Malcom, director of education and human resources at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said the members felt “that the whole issue of preparation of teachers was something that higher education owned as an issue.”

Among those recommendations is the development of a single, national standard for the certification of schoolteachers in mathematics and science. Local school districts would not be required to hire only teachers who meet the certification requirement, but the federal government would provide extra money to districts that voluntarily adopted the standard, the report says.

In turn, accreditors of college teacher-education programs should consider how well the programs prepare graduates to obtain the certifications, the draft recommends.

The document also calls for the development of a national set of standards for school curricula in mathematics and science, which the federal government would also promote through financial incentives. The No Child Left Behind Act requires each state to develop its own standards, and to begin testing students’ achievement in them, starting in the 2007-8 school year.

Colleges could support those efforts by ensuring that the schoolteachers they graduated were prepared to teach in accordance with the national standards, the report says.

National standards have been controversial because conservatives fear they usurp the authority of local school districts. However, Mr. Lederman said, he hopes the final draft of the report will encourage enough flexibility for schools to experiment with new approaches to improve science education.

Flexibility for Colleges

What’s more, the new standards would not spell out a single curriculum for universities to use, Ms. Malcom said. The 15 members of the commission (five of whom are academics) recognized the diversity of colleges and so left it to them to work out those particulars themselves, she said.

“It’s not the business of this group or some other group to say, You have to this course or that course,” she said. “But somewhere, we have to say, what does a highly qualified teacher look like? And are these people being graduated from our institutions?”

Promoting greater national consistency in school instruction is important, the draft says, because the existing educational system in mathematics and science is “fractured and disjointed both within school districts and from state to state, placing at risk the ability of students to learn to high levels.”

For example, “in our geographically mobile society, students who move from one location to another may miss learning a critical fundamental concept in one school system and never be exposed to that idea again,” the draft says. As a result, many students enter college without adequate preparation for course work in math and science, it says.

The draft also calls for expansion of existing federal efforts to help students attend college to become math or science teachers. One is the NSF’s Robert Noyce Scholarship Program, which awards up to $10,000 a year to college students studying math and science if they agree to become schoolteachers after graduation. The draft also suggests that the federal government forgive the college loans of those students.

Over all, the document estimates no price tag for its suggestions, although one will probably be added to the final draft, said Elizabeth Strickland, the commission’s executive secretary.

Members of the new Democratic majority in Congress have already filed bills to carry out some of the ideas contained in the draft. But tight constraints on new federal spending make prospects for passage uncertain.

Turning Students Off

Elaine Seymour, a research associate at the University of Colorado at Boulder who studies science education, said the draft recommendations are “on the right track” but do not deal “head on” with a stubborn, critical problem: Professors in mathematics and the sciences discourage students from becoming schoolteachers and expect them to become scientists.

To help counter this, she called for a sustained national advertising campaign to attract science majors who weren’t otherwise considering teaching.

Drawing public attention to the report will be a major job for the commission members once the final draft is done, Mr. Lederman said. He envisions himself and his colleagues becoming public advocates in Congress and, he hopes, television talk shows…


(2) String Theory in Two Minutes or Less–A Contest

Source: Discover Magazine

Just over a century ago, Albert Einstein published three groundbreaking scientific papers in one year, any one of which could have won him the Nobel Prize.

Taking a cue from The Great One, is now challenging armchair theorists to produce a similar feat of inspired–and speedy–brilliance.

Your goal is to create a video that quickly and clearly explains perhaps the most baffling idea in the history of the world: string theory.

And the best part is that you have just two minutes.

The winning video will be selected by Columbia University physicist Brian Greene, best-selling author of The Elegant Universe and The Fabric of the Cosmos, and broadcast via a prominent spot on the homepage of

The individual or team who submits the best video will be featured in an upcoming issue of Discover Magazine.

The video should present an accurate, basic understanding of string theory that will stick in the brains of relatively intelligent non-scientists.

You can use any teaching aids you like (props, animation, etc.)

Submissions will be accepted from individuals and teams (subject to the terms and conditions) and are due no later than March 16, 2007.


Visit for more information about String Theory.