COMET • Vol. 9, No. 02 – 26 January 2008

Source: California Department of Education
URL (Speech Text/Audio and Support Materials):
On Tuesday, January 22, Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell delivered his fifth annual State of Education Address and unveiled a comprehensive plan aimed at closing California’s pernicious achievement gap between students who are white and students of color, as well as those who are English learners, students living in poverty, and students with disabilities.

O’Connell also released a new report by his statewide P-16 Council that outlines what the state can do to create the conditions necessary to close the gap. O’Connell’s new initiatives are based on his P-16 Council’s recommendations.

For the complete text (including podcast) of O’Connell’s 2008 State of Education Address and accompanying materials, vist

A summary of O’Connell’s plan follows:

Holding Schools Accountable for Closing the Achievement Gap

O’Connell announced the development of a set of Achievement Gap Intervention Benchmarks, which will contain key indicators that research shows are highly correlated with closing gaps in student achievement.

“To help me identify these benchmarks and ensure they measure what works best, Christopher Edley, Jr., a national leader in civil rights law and Dean of the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, has agreed to co-chair a Superintendent’s advisory committee to develop such a system,” O’Connell said. “I’ve also directed my staff to ensure that, starting in 2009, to earn the California Distinguished School award, schools will have to not only meet the current criteria but they will also have to narrow their achievement gap.”

Streamlining and Improving Prekindergarten in California

“I am sponsoring legislation that will consolidate all of the current Title 5 programs serving preschool-aged children to create the largest state-funded pre-Kindergarten program in the nation,” O’Connell said. “This will make our pre-K delivery programs more streamlined and efficient and within this new streamlined program, I’m going to focus on delivering preschool of the highest quality.”

To guide the quality and effectiveness of preschool programs, O’Connell released new “Preschool Foundations.” These foundations are grounded in the best research on socially and developmentally appropriate benchmarks for learning as well as on how to reach English learners. They will provide the framework to guide the state’s early childhood educators in providing the playful, enriching early learning experiences that create both kindergarten readiness and a love of learning.

Pilot Partnership for School District Success

In talking about the need for greater flexibility so schools and districts are able to raise student achievement and close the achievement gap, O’Connell stated: “The time for action is now; we needn’t wait for further study or legislation. I intend to bring before the State Board of Education a pilot program allowing Long Beach and Fresno Unified School Districts–the third and fourth largest districts in the state–significant new flexibility in how they allocate their resources. This flexibility will allow them to be more innovative in designing programs to close the achievement gap. In exchange for the increased flexibility, the two districts have agreed to form a partnership to learn together, model, and replicate effective practices. Long Beach, which has been a national model for successful urban district management, will receive more flexibility, while Fresno, a district that greatly has improved but is still in transition, will receive a little less. Both districts, however, will commit to specific benchmark progress goals as a result of their partnership and increased flexibility.”

Aligning Systems

“At my request and with the agreement of the Governor, all four systems of public education in California–K-12, community colleges, California State University, and the University of California, joined by private colleges, the business community, and career technical education community–have agreed to join 30 other states in the American Diploma Project. This endeavor will help to ensure that when a student graduates from a California high school, they will be fully prepared with the necessary skills to enter the world of work or higher education.”

Using Data and Building a Continuous Learning Environment

The California Department of Education (CDE) is in the process of building an information system to track student achievement over time. But there is additional data the state can and should be collecting that would help educators make more informed decisions about effective programs and interventions. In his speech, O’Connell said that collecting and using such data effectively are key to creating a continuous learning system that leads to improved student performance.

“I am pleased to announce today we’ve been awarded a generous grant of more than $2 million from the Gates and Hewlett foundations to help create a vision and roadmap for the kind of data our state needs to truly improve teaching and learning as well as decision making at both the state and local level. I am also pleased to be joined by Governor Schwarzenegger as a full partner in this process. The grant we have received will allow us to partner with highly regarded strategic management advisors, McKinsey and Company, to help guide this project. Together we will create a document by this summer that clearly lays out what additional information the State of California needs to collect and how much it will cost us to do it. This roadmap will then serve as the basis for the data commission I’m serving on with Governor Schwarzenegger, a commission that has the charge of turning our work into a reality.”

Creating Culturally Responsive School Environments

O’Connell announced he has directed the CDE to include evaluations of racial and cultural issues within the existing California School Climate Survey or the California Healthy Kids Survey. This will cost schools no additional money or time, but it will provide valuable information to guide them in the important dialogue that must occur.

“Over the next year, I’m going to bring together experts from around the country to help develop world-class professional development on what it means to be culturally responsive in the classroom, principal’s office, and administration building,” O’Connell said. “This curriculum will help our educators provide a school climate in which students from all cultures and races feel equally supported in learning to high expectations.

“I also will be collaborating with the deans of California’s schools of education to work to imbed culturally responsive instruction in California’s teacher pre-service and professional development programs.”


(2) “Similar English Learner Students, Different Results: _Why Do Some Schools Do Better?” Summary Report

Source: EdSource
URL (Press Release):
URL (Summary):

[From the Summary] In Spring 2006, California released its first-ever school-level Academic Performance Index (API) scores for English learners (ELs). These EL-API scores were based on California Standards Tests (CSTs) in English language arts and math taken in the spring of 2005. The EL-API makes it possible to identify how well schools are doing with their English learner student population in the same way that the schoolwide API measures progress for all of a school’s students.

Identifying how well EL students in California are doing is vital to the state’s future because their numbers and the proportion of all students they represent has grown dramatically since 1980. [In the past 25 years, California’s K-12 EL population has grown from 8% to 25%.] Today, nearly 1.6 million pupils in California’s K-12 public education system–or one in four–are English learners. At the elementary level, EL students comprise 33% of the total. And California currently educates close to one-third of all the English learners in the nation, according to the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition. EL students are enrolled in almost every California district and in the vast majority of schools.

Although almost 100 languages are spoken in the homes of California students, approximately 85% of California’s EL students are Spanish speaking. That uniformity in regard to primary language, however, masks important variations in the family background, English language abilities, and academic readiness these students bring to their school experience. All of these factors influence EL students’ performance on state tests, which are given in English. Nevertheless, the EL-API offers the best information available for all regular public schools in California concerning the achievement of this important student population.

Elementary schools vary widely in their ability to help their English learner students meet the state’s academic content standards in English language arts and mathematics. Even schools that are relatively similar in terms of student ethnicity, parent education level, socioeconomic level, and concentration of EL students vary in their performance.

A collaborative research team from EdSource, Stanford University, and the American Institutes for Research (AIR), aided by consultation with WestEd, took a look at the first EL-API scores for a group of [237] elementary schools that educate similar students. The study was the first analysis of its kind of California elementary school practices and their relationship to the EL-API.

All of these schools have large proportions of low-income and Spanish EL students, yet they showed a range of 303 points on their EL-API scores out of 800 possible points. Relying on survey responses from principals and teachers, the researchers tried to answer the following questions:

(1) Why do these differences in achievement occur among California elementary
schools serving similarly high proportions of low-income and EL students?

(2) Are the explanations similar to or different from those found in a previous study by EdSource and its collaborative research partners of this same set of schools in relation to their schoolwide API?

(3) What, if any, specific instructional practices aimed at EL students might also be having an effect?

In addition to addressing the three questions above, the summary also reflects the researchers’ discussions of the findings and possible implications for both policy and practice in California…

[From the press release] Four broad, interrelated school practices proved significant when looking through the lens of California’s EL-API:

— Use of assessments and data to inform efforts to improve student achievement
— Sufficient resources–in particular adequate and appropriate textbooks for every student, well-maintained facilities, and the principal’s perception that the school’s teaching staff has strong teaching skills, academic content knowledge, enthusiasm about teaching, and the ability to raise student achievement;
— Coherent curriculum and instruction that is aligned with state standards; and
— Prioritizing of student achievement by both principals and teachers.

The study also analyzed a small subset of questions about specific EL instructional practices and teacher qualifications. Although not a comprehensive look, the results raise some intriguing questions about what matters most when it comes to improving the achievement of English learners. Some of the findings support oft cited recommendations for EL instruction, and some don’t…
The summary report is available for free download from
Also available is a 2-page parent guide entitled “Successful Approaches to Helping Students–Including English Learners–Succeed in Elementary School,” which discusses some instructional practices common in high-performing elementary schools serving large numbers of low-income and English Learner students. It also suggests ways parents can learn more about how their school approaches teaching and learning.


(1) Lessons Learned: What International Assessments Tell Us about Math Achievement–Panel Discussion by Authors

Source: The Brookings Institution
For more than four decades, international assessments conducted by the International Association for Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA; have measured how well students are learning mathematics around the world. In Lessons Learned: What International Assessments Tell Us about Math Achievement, the authors utilize the wealth of data collected from these assessments to address several pressing questions about school policy and educational research. How do U.S. math curricula compare to those used overseas? Is the effect of technology in the classroom uniform across nations? How do popular math reforms fare abroad? Does school size really affect learning? By evaluating these questions and others, Lessons Learned moves beyond the competition for international ranking to find strategies, both in and outside the classroom, to improve student achievement in mathematics.

Tom Loveless, Director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings and a member of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel, served as the book’s editor. On January 23, he hosted a discussion with some of the book’s authors at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. Panelists at the event included Ina V.S. Mullis and Michael O. Martin of Boston College and authors of “TIMSS in Perspective: Lessons Learned from IEA’s Four Decades of International Mathematics Assessments,” Jeremy Kilpatrick of the University of Georgia and co-author of “U.S. Algebra Performance in an International Contest,” and William Schmidt of Michigan State University and co-author of “Lack of Focus in the Mathematics Curriculum: Symptom or Cause?” Francis “Skip” Fennell, President of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, commented on the chapters.

An audiocast (mp3) of the entire discussion (including question and answer session) is available online at


(2) “A New Physics Superstar” by Kim Clark

Source: U.S News and World Report – 10 January 2008
URL: physics-superstar.html
URL (Lewin’s Web site):

He swings around a college lecture hall on a long rope to show how pendulums work. He demonstrates velocity by firing a rifle. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Prof. Walter Lewin has become a global Internet star now that anyone with access to a computer can watch his tough but fun Physics 1, 2, and 3 lectures free of charge. They can even do the homework he assigns his Cambridge techie students (though they won’t get the grades or credit). [In an interview,] the Netherlands-born Lewin, 71, told U.S.News‘s Kim Clark that putting his courses online took a lot of work and cost about $100,000–but was worth it.

Q: Now that your lectures have already been recorded, do you think it’s necessary to give them in person anymore?_

A: I hope I will be doing [Physics 3] again this year. The students might as well just watch my lectures on the Web, but they will come anyhow because they want to see me…. But many other physics professors [at other colleges] use these lectures as their physics course, which is perfectly fine. They write me notes, saying “Why should we prepare lectures when we cannot compete with the quality of your lectures? We show them in class and use them as a starting point to have discussions with the students,” which I think makes sense. But at MIT, we could not do that…. It’s a tradition. There has to be a live person in the lecture hall.

Q: Have you watched any of the other online courses?_

A: I think Professor [Gilbert] Strang [whose Linear Algebra is also atop MIT’s most-viewed lists] is doing a very good job lecturing mathematics…

Q: MIT says its free courses don’t offer access to its professors; you’ve been contacted by fans around the world._

A: I have about a thousand E-mails, and some of them make me cry, because they are so immensely moving. There was an incredibly moving one from an Iraqi, who said, “Look, you know, your country invaded my beloved Iraq, but we love you, Walter Lewin, we love MIT, so we must love the United States.” I mean, that’s an incredible statement.

Q: You’re 71. How long do you think you’ll keep teaching?_

A: As long as I’m healthy, mentally and physically. I will teach until I die in the classroom.


Visit Professor Lewin’s Web site at for links to online videos of his lectures on topics such as the following:

– “The Birth and Death of Stars”
– “The Sounds of Music”
– “The Mystery of Light”
– “How to Make Teaching Come Alive”
– _”Polarization: Lightwaves, Rainbows, and Cheap Sunglasses”
– “The Wonders of Electricity and Magnetism”

MIT offers a list of the “Most Visited Courses” on MIT OpenCourseWare at  Included are numerous science and mathematics video courses, including Prof. Strang’s Linear Algebra course: 


(3) Project Testdrive: National Science Digital Library

URL (Announcement):

Project Tomorrow, a national education nonprofit group, is seeking teachers from fifty schools across the nation to participate in Project TestDrive with the National Science Digital Library (NSDL), a free online library for science, technology, engineering and math resources with links to 1 million resources from over 500 unique collections.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the K-12 education resources in NSDL include lesson plans, digital images, video, audio, animations, software, databases, and journal articles. Through Project TestDrive, K-12 educators will be able to implement the resources in their classroom, evaluate their effectiveness and provide valuable feedback to the National Science Digital Library. This is a fabulous opportunity for K-12 educators to share their insights about the classroom effectiveness of NSDL online resources.

During the 2007-08 school year, participants will:
– Learn about the resources available through the National Science Digital Library.
– Participate in structured “TestDrives” of resources aligned to specific grades.
– Provide feedback via online surveys about the classroom effectiveness of the resource.
– Solicit student feedback regarding the resources via online surveys.
– Collaborate with other K-12 educators through threaded discussions and webinars.

Participating K-12 educators will benefit by:
– Engaging students in learning through innovative science, technology, engineering and math resources.
· Developing students’ critical-thinking and problem solving skills.
· Taking a leadership role in identifying resources that align to your state’s content standards.
· Sharing best practices with peers across the nation via webinars and threaded discussion groups.
· Influencing the future direction of resource development in the National Science Digital Library.
· Participating in a national movement to bring student and teacher voices into the policy process.
· Receiving recognition for participating in this national project.

To learn more about the program and/or sign up to participate, please contact Laurie Smith, OC Programs Director, at lsmith@tomorrow.orgor (949) 609-4660 (Ext. 17).


(1) Announcement: CMC-Central Section Algebra Symposium

Source: Mike Lutz, President, California Mathematics Council-Central Section

The schedule and registration form are now available for the March 7-8 CMC-Central Section Algebra Symposium on the above Web site.

For the first time, Central California teachers are eligible to apply for a Margaret DeArmond Scholarship:

“The California Mathematics Council-Central Section supports two annual scholarships honoring Margaret DeArmond, who dedicated her career to supporting mathematics teachers and improving the quality of mathematics education. This award enables two CMC-Central Section teachers with fewer than six years of teaching experience to attend the annual Algebraic Thinking Symposium and banquet. The Margaret DeArmond Scholarship reimburses each of these teachers up to $500 for the Symposium and provides a one-year CMC membership, including a subscription to the ComMuniCator.”

The deadline for applying for the scholarship has been extended until January 31, so act quickly. Applications are now being accepted only by email ( or by fax (209-588-5104) to John Leamy. Information regarding the award can be found at  Please feel free to contact Mike Lutz at if you have any questions.


(2) Announcement: Annual Conference of the Los Angeles City Teachers’ Mathematics Association

Source: Ivan Cheng –
Contact: Saul Duarte, Conference Chair (

The Los Angeles City Teachers’ Mathematics Association (LACTMA)–the Los Angeles affiliate of NCTM and CMC–is holding its 31st annual conference on March 28-29 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Featured speakers include Catherine Fosnot, Alice Gill, Kyndall Brown, Karen Fuson, Sandra Kaplan, Ron Larson, Christine Losq, C.J. Mindenhoff, Chris Myren, Ruth Parker, Kathy Richardson, Janet Scheer, Michael Serra, Kim Sutton, and Lisa Usher.

For more information, please visit the above Web site.