COMET • Vol. 9, No. 18 – 6 September 2008


(1) The California Algebra I Success Initiative: A Comprehensive Plan to Help Schools Prepare All Students for Success in Algebra I in Eighth Grade

Source: California Department of Education
URL (Press Release):
URL (Algebra Initiative):
URL (Algebra I Testing Requirement):

On July 9, 2008, the State Board of Education voted to implement Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal to require that all eighth graders be tested in Algebra I within three years, effectively requiring every eighth-grade student to take Algebra I.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, education organizations, and educators from throughout the state expressed serious concerns with this decision. O’Connell specifically raised doubts that despite the efforts of dedicated educators, the new Algebra I mandate must be matched with significant investments to help schools prepare all students to succeed in Algebra I at the eighth-grade level.

On August 12, O’Connell outlined the California Algebra I Success Initiative that he developed to ensure that all schools and all students have the resources necessary to prepare for and meet the new eighth-grade Algebra I mandate.

“We cannot demand that students meet this challenge without making the substantial changes to our entire system that will help students be successful in Algebra I in eighth grade,” O’Connell said. “I would have preferred a broader conversation about the best way to invest in our schools and reform our system to ensure our students graduate with the skills necessary to succeed in the competitive global economy. But, given the State Board’s decision, I believe it is imperative we focus on ensuring our students are now given the resources they need to successfully reach this mandate.

“I have outlined a comprehensive plan to give our schools the support they need to help all students meet the Algebra I challenge. If implemented, the Algebra I Success Initiative will improve mathematics instruction and prepare all students for success in Algebra I in eighth grade. Since the Governor’s Algebra I requirement takes effect in just three years, we must make the investments in our school system now in order to meet this extremely tight timetable for public education.

“It is now up to the Governor to keep his commitment by fully funding the Algebra I Success Initiative. If he is not willing to provide the full funding necessary to support our students and teachers in reaching this mandate, then it is incumbent on him to instruct the State Board to reconsider the Algebra I requirement for all eighth graders.

“Governor Schwarzenegger’s administration has publicly acknowledged that it would take billions of new dollars specifically targeted to make the changes in schools that will enable all eighth graders to succeed in Algebra I. The proposed $3.1 billion needed to fund the Algebra I Success Initiative is aimed at helping teachers and administrators directly improve student instruction. It calls for a comprehensive approach that expands programs which support student learning, improves curriculum and professional development for teachers, and enhances math teacher recruitment and retention programs.

“This is by no means an exhaustive list of what is required, but all of these components are crucial to set in motion right now if the mandate is to be met.”



Visit the California Algebra I Success Initiative home page at for more information. The major Initiative categories are the following: Student Support; Professional Development and Instructional Materials; and Recruitment, Retention and Preservice.

Also visit the Algebra I Testing Requirement home page at for detailed information related to this requirement. Information available on this page includes the following: correspondence (letters from Supt. O’Connell and Governor Schwarzenegger), press releases, news articles, reports, stakeholder comments, SBE agendas regarding the General Mathematics Blueprint, and curriculum/testing resources.


(2) Lawsuit Filed by ACSA and CSBA Challenging Decision Mandating Algebra I Testing for All California 8th-Graders

Source: Association of California School Administrators (ACSA)
URL (Lawsuit Text):

On September 4, the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), the California School Boards Association (CSBA) and CSBA’s Education Legal Alliance filed a lawsuit against the State Board of Education (SBE) regarding its recent decision to mandate Algebra I end-of course state testing for all eighth graders in California.

The lawsuit states that the notice and agenda for the July 9 SBE meeting failed to adequately inform the public that the SBE was contemplating such a fundamental change in state policy, thus violating the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act. The Act allows a court to set aside an action as null and void if it finds non-compliance with notice and agenda requirements.

“Prior to making their decision, the SBE didn’t provide the public with an opportunity to express how such a change in policy will have significant ramifications for all aspects of the educational system,” said CSBA Executive Director Scott P. Plotkin. “These concerns include the teacher credentialing process, allocation of instructional time, professional development, instructional materials, and areas in which our existing K-7 math standards must be strengthened.”

The lawsuit also challenges the SBE’s authority to change the standards: “This determination is a de facto change in the content standards for mathematics previously approved after a lengthy public process which specifically allowed school districts the flexibility to accommodate individual student readiness for Algebra I. The content standards are the basis of the state’s educational program and the SBE has no authority to modify them in the absence of new legislation.”

The complaint quotes the 1997 mathematics content standards document: “To allow local educational agencies and teachers flexibility, the standards for grades eight through twelve do not mandate that a particular discipline be initiated and completed in a single grade…” The 1999 Mathematics Framework states, “Local educational agencies may choose to teach high school mathematics in a traditional sequence of courses (Algebra I, geometry, Algebra II, and so forth) or in an integrated fashion in which some content from each discipline is taught each year. [The previous sentence is italicized for emphasis in the Framework.] However mathematics courses are organized, the core content of these subjects must be covered by the end of the sequences of courses, and all academic standards for achievement must be the same” (p. 153).

Bob Wells, ACSA Executive Director, asserts, “We support high standards, including an Algebra requirement, for our students. This lawsuit targets the State Board of Education for overstepping its authority. The State Board of Education certainly has no authority to mandate that Algebra be taken in the eighth grade rather than high school.”

The entire complaint is available online at



(3) New Foundational-Level General Science Credential Designed to Ease Teacher Shortage

Source: California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC)
URL (Coded Correspondence):

The Commission on Teacher Credentialing’s approval of a Foundational-Level General Science Credential promises to ease the current shortage of science teachers in California’s middle schools.  The Commission approved the new authorization at its August 7-8 meeting in San Diego.

An analysis by the Commission revealed that 20% of all science teachers are currently underprepared to teach science in California classrooms (see Of the 80,000 science courses taught in the public schools in 2006-07, over 43,000 courses were at the foundational level.  An individual with a General Science Credential would be prepared to teach these courses, allowing teachers with full science authorizations to teach more advanced courses.

The holder of a Foundational-Level General Science credential would be authorized to teach the content area of general or introductory science in preschool, in grades K-12, and to adults. In addition, the holder would be authorized to teach integrated science in preschool and in grades K-8. (They could not teach departmentalized Biology, Chemistry, Geosciences, 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 (e.g., CSET) or an approved program.

An individual with a Multiple Subject teaching credential would be able to earn a Single Subject credential in Foundational-Level General Science with verification of subject matter competency and a Single Subject teaching methods course. Individuals with a Single Subject teaching credential (mathematics, social science, English, art, etc.) would be able to add the authorization to their credential.

In 2003, the Commission developed a Foundational-Level Mathematics credential that authorizes an individual to teach mathematics courses through Algebra (I and II) and Geometry. Prior to the Foundational-Level Math credential, the Commission was awarding approximately 950 single subject credentials in mathematics annually.  This figure increased by 50% after the Foundational-level Math credential was implemented.

Visit to view the notice of proposed changes to the state Education Code to accommodate this new authorization. The public is invited to comment either at the public hearing on October 7 (1:30 p.m. at CTC in Sacramento) or by submitting a written statement to CTC by 5 p.m. on October 6.


(4) State Schools Chief Jack O’Connell Announces Focus Groups to Update Science Framework

Source: California Department of Education

Four focus group meetings will be held across California to gather public input on the update of the Science Framework for California Public Schools Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve.

“Curriculum frameworks provide guidance to teachers, administrators, and parents on what the curriculum should look like in the classroom,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction O’Connell said. “The updated Science Framework will be a tool for expanding implementation of the Science Content Standards for California Public Schools and making connections between the learning of science and fundamental skills of reading, writing, and mathematics to support student achievement. This will also be an opportunity to incorporate environmental principles and concepts in the framework. The public’s input in this matter is vital to ensure the state provides students the education they need to compete in a more global economy that requires a firm foundation in science education.”

The focus group meetings will be held in Riverside on October 23, in Orange County on October 24, in Stockton on October 27, and in Hayward on October 28.

More information about the focus groups is posted on  All of the focus group meetings will be open to the public, and any interested individuals are welcome to attend.




(1) Education Week Offers Coverage of Presidential Candidates’ Positions on Education Topics

Source: Education Week

Follow Education Week‘s print and online-only coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign to learn more about where the major candidates stand on education. Also read the blog, Campaign K-12, for more analysis of the candidates’ views (

Titles of recent articles include the following:

= “McCain Promises to ‘Shake Up’ Schools” (As the long race for the presidency enters its last two months, John McCain is offering positions on educational accountability and school choice that most of his fellow Republicans are likely to support. But those ideas don’t address the sharp divisions within his party over the No Child Left Behind Act, the centerpiece of President Bush’s agenda for K-12 education.)

= “Campaign Notebook: Democratic Convention” (Notes on Sens. Joe Biden and Barack Obama’s education policy, the future of the Department of Education in the ’08 campaign, and the future of No Child Left Behind according to House Education and Labor Committee Chair Rep. George Miller)

= “VP Choice Backed School Funding Overhaul” (In tapping Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate, John McCain has selected an official who has supported increased funding for schools across her rural, frontier state and voiced support for school-choice programs that appeal to many conservatives.)

= “Republicans May Waver Over NCLB” (It remains far from clear whether Sen. McCain–and other top Republicans–will continue to embrace the No Child Left Behind Act or whether the GOP will return to its role as a champion of limited government and local control of schools.”)

= “Top-Notch Education ‘A Moral Obligation,’ Obama Tells Throng” (Accepting the historic Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama sets an ambitious goal that members of his party don’t necessarily agree on how to reach.)

= “Poll Gives Obama Edge on Improving Schools” (The annual Phi Delta Kappa/ Gallup survey suggests Americans have more faith in the Democratic nominee for president than in Sen. John McCain on education issues.)

= “Candidates’ K-12 Views Take Shape” (As their education plans begin to crystallize, sharper differences are emerging between John McCain and Barack Obama.)

NoteEducation Week is offering free online access to every article on its Web site (usually reserved for subscribers) through tomorrow.


(2) National Mathematics Panel Forum

Source: U.S. Department of Education
URL (Federal Register Announcement):

For students to compete in the 21st-century global economy, knowledge of and proficiency in mathematics are critical. Today’s high school graduates need to have solid mathematics skills–whether they are headed to college or to the workforce. To help ensure our nation’s future competitiveness and economic viability, President George W. Bush created the National Mathematics Advisory Panel (National Math Panel) in April 2006. The Panel was charged with reviewing the best available scientific evidence and making recommendations on improving mathematics education with a focus on readiness for and success in algebra and mathematics education in grades K-8.

The National Math Panel’s final report, “Foundations for Success: Report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel,” was issued on March 13, 2008. During the course of two years, expert panelists, including a number of leading mathematicians, cognitive psychologists, and educators, reviewed more than 16,000 research publications and policy reports and received public testimony from 110 individuals. In addition, the Panel reviewed commentary from 160 organizations and individuals, and analyzed survey results from 743 active teachers of algebra before preparing the final report with policy advice on how to improve mathematics achievement for all students in the United States.

The report contains 45 findings and recommendations on numerous topics, including curricular content, learning processes, instructional practices and materials, teachers, assessments, and future research priorities. The report calls on the nation to improve the “delivery system in mathematics education–the system that translates mathematical knowledge into value and ability for the next generation.'”

The report states: “Positive results can be achieved in a reasonable time at accessible cost, but a consistent, wise, community-wide effort will be required. Education in the United States has many participants in many locales–teachers, students, and parents; state school officers, school board members, superintendents, and principals; curriculum developers, textbook writers, and textbook editors; those who develop assessment tools; those who prepare teachers and help them to continue their development; those who carry out relevant research; association leaders and government officials at the federal, state, and local levels. All carry responsibilities. All can be important to success.

“The network of these many participants is linked through interacting national associations. A coordinated national approach toward improved mathematics education will require an annual forum of their leaders for at least a decade. The Panel recommends that the U.S. Secretary of Education take the lead in convening the forum initially, charge it to organize in a way that will sustain an effective effort, and request a brief annual report on the mutual agenda adopted for the year ahead.”

In response, the U.S. Department of Education, in partnership with the Conference Board of Mathematical Sciences, is hosting a National Math Panel Forum on October 6-7 in Washington, DC, to bring together various organizations and other interested parties to discuss ways to engage their members or constituents in discussions about the National Math Panel’s findings and recommendations, as well as to discuss how the organizations and parties can collaborate and coordinate efforts to use the findings to improve mathematics education in the United States.

This Forum will be the first in a series. Understanding that the panel’s findings are extensive and cover many areas, this initial Forum will focus on four of the seven National Math Panel recommendation topics. These topics include the following:
— Teachers and Teacher Education
— Learning Processes
— Instructional Materials
— Research Policies and Mechanisms

Other topics, including Curricular Content, Instructional Practices, and Assessment, may also be discussed during the Forum and will be addressed in future forums. The long-term goal of this effort is to improve the teaching and learning of mathematics in order to prepare students to succeed in algebra and higher-level mathematics by addressing the National Math Panel’s findings and recommendations. The ultimate goal is to ensure that U.S. children have the skills to pursue careers in mathematics and sciences, as well as to compete in the increasingly competitive global economy as informed citizens.

To read the National Math Panel’s final report and Reports of the Task Groups and Subcommittees, visit


(3) European Group Aims to Make Math Teaching More Rigorous and Inspiring

Source: European Science Foundation

An attempt to re-energize mathematics teaching in Europe is being made in a new project examining a range of factors thought to influence achievement.

Mathematics teaching is as vital as ever, both in support of key fields such as life sciences, alternative energy development, or information technology, and also through its unique ability to develop widely applicable problem solving skills. It should be highly relevant not just for the elite few but for all people in education.

The new project was discussed at a recent workshop, “The Relevance of Mathematics Education,” which was held in Cambridge, UK and was organized by the European Science Foundation (ESF; The workshop brought together experts in different areas of mathematics education.

“It was agreed that we would begin the process of developing a comparative project, involving between fifteen and twenty European countries, to examine the interrelatedness of the mathematics-related beliefs of teachers and students, teacher practices and student cognition,” said Paul Andrews, the workshop’s convener and Senior Lecturer in Education at the Faculty of Education of Cambridge University in the UK.

Andrews pointed out that the solution to the mathematics teaching conundrum was complex and multi-dimensional, just like many of the great problems in the field itself. On the one hand, enthusiasm needed to be balanced with rigor in order to motivate students while also teaching skills and knowledge worth acquiring.

“To assume that the development of enthusiasm is sufficient to guarantee achievement would be naive as there are countries in which students have little enthusiasm for mathematics but achieve relatively highly and, of course, vice versa,” pointed out Andrews.

There has also been a tension between immediate vocational objectives in response to the needs of employers, and the higher ideal of teaching logical thinking and deeper mathematical problem solving. European countries have to date resolved this tension in different ways, with the UK being at the vocational end of the spectrum, while Hungary has taken the purest approach with its traditions for mathematical rigor.

“One of the problems of English education is that students experience a fragmented and procedural conception of mathematics, due to underlying notions of vocationalism, and so rarely come to see the subject as a coherent body of concepts and relationships which can be worth studying for the intrinsic satisfaction it can yield,” said Andrews. “The situation in countries like Hungary is almost the complete opposite–all students experience an integrated and intellectually worthwhile mathematics taught by teachers with little explicit interest in the applications of the subject but an enthusiasm for logical thinking and the problem-solving opportunities that mathematics can provide.”

But the issue of mathematics teaching is not just about content, but also attitude, on the part both of pupils and teachers. One significant finding to emerge from the workshop was that the common practice of dividing pupils into sets defined by ability, which, in the UK context, is applied more for mathematics teaching than any other subject, can be counterproductive, even for the most able pupils.

“Where teachers do not necessarily expect to teach students in ability groups but expect to work with the full ability range, achievement is generally higher across the board,” said Andrews.

Another finding that perhaps contradicted common wisdom was that students often progressed best when taught to approach problem solving collectively instead of in isolation. This runs counter to the perception, manifested regularly in UK schools, that mathematics is a lonely endeavor pursued by individuals in competition rather than cooperation.

It remains to be seen whether the ESF project will lead to a radical shake up in mathematics teaching comparable to the introduction of the so called “new math” in the 1980s in the place of the previous more arithmetically based approach. More likely it will lead to rebalancing of teaching, bringing greater consistency and rigor to deliver a more wholesome curriculum.