COMET • Vol. 9, No. 22 – 4 October 2008


(1) California Algebra Summit

URL (Brochure):

The Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) and School Innovations and Advocacy are hosting a one-day policy summit on Wednesday, October 8, at the Sacramento Convention Center to bring together state and local education leaders, curriculum experts, and policymakers to discuss the July 2008 State Board of Education decision to make Algebra I required for all 8th graders over the next three years.

The Summit is a chance to hear many of the key policy makers who were involved in the decision reflect on the action taken by the State Board, its policy underpinnings, and its future implications for students, teachers, and the system.

While ACSA has joined the California School Boards Association (CSBA) in filing a legal challenge to the Board’s action (, ACSA also believes that it can be helpful for all parties to find ways to have civil discussions about policy issues of great importance. (See below for more information regarding this lawsuit.)

Guest speakers include State Superintendent for Public Instruction Jack O’Connell, Ted Mitchell (President/CEO, New Schools Venture Fund, and President, California State Board of Education), Rae Belisle (President/CEO, Edvoice), Russlynn Ali (Executive Director, Ed Trust West), Margaret Gaston (President & Executive Director, Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning), Jean Treiman (Executive Director, California Subject Matter Projects, and Scott Plotkin (Executive Director, CSBA). Governor Schwarzenegger has also been invited to speak.

More information on the summit, including registration information, can be accessed by downloading the brochure from


(2) Update: Lawsuit Contesting 8th-Grade Algebra 1 Testing Decision

Source: California State Board of Education (SBE)
URL (Agenda):

A special meeting of the State Board of Education (SBE) was held late yesterday afternoon (Friday, October 3) for a vote among members to request legal representation from the California Attorney General’s Office re the Algebra 1 lawsuit filed by ACSA and CSBA (see Members of the SBE participated via telephone, while the SBE Chief Counsel and the attorney for the plaintiffs were physically present. After a short meeting, the motion passed.


(3) Nearly All Elementary Schools in California Will Fail to Meet Mandated Proficiency Requirements by 2014, UCR Study Finds

Source: University of California, Riverside

How well students and schools–from kindergarten through high school–succeed in mastering a curriculum that includes English Language Arts (ELA), mathematics, and the social and natural sciences, strongly influences how well the students fare in higher education.

In California, student mastery in ELA and mathematics is measured with the California Standards Tests (CST). To determine how the challenge of mastery is being met, a research team led by UC Riverside’s Richard Cardullo examined several years of CST data.

The researchers report in the Sept. 26 issue of Science that mathematical models they used in their analysis predict that nearly all elementary schools in California will fail to meet the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) requirements for proficiency by 2014, the year when all students in the nation need to be proficient in ELA and mathematics, per the “No Child Left Behind Act of 2001” (NCLB).

Under NCLB, AYP measures a school’s progress toward meeting the goal of having 100 percent of students meet academic standards in at least reading/language arts and mathematics. AYP constitutes a series of calculated academic performance factors for each state, local education agency, school, and numerically significant student subgroup within a school.

The UCR team examined data since 2003 from the California Department of Education’s accountability progress reporting system for more than 4,900 elementary schools. The data included information on the number of students tested and the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced within each school for the mathematics and ELA CSTs.

“For most schools, the greatest risk of failing AYP lies with ELA proficiency,” said Cardullo, a professor of biology. “It is the Socioeconomically Disadvantaged and English Language Learner subgroups within the schools that are most likely going to fail to meet AYP in California. Given the weakness of ELA progress, no doubt more emphasis needs to be placed on ELA. But what we emphasize in our paper is that schools are also in need of support in mathematics since the current data trends, if not altered, predict nearly 100 percent failure of all schools by 2014 in meeting AYP.” (See for a chart of projected trends.)

Cardullo and his colleagues call for reforms based on research that would tie educational experiences to instructional challenges of a particular school, while focusing each school’s resources to serve its own unique student population.

“A state as large as California, with a diverse population, provides a comprehensive data set for these kinds of analyses,” Cardullo said. “Although each state has its own specific assessments and cutoff scores for determining proficiency, what is happening in California is possibly a good indicator of what is occurring in other states, and perhaps the entire nation.”

In their analysis, the researchers looked at the distribution of schools in terms of the percentage of students meeting proficiency standards, rather than just the mean scores, to identify patterns in student performance.

“Most states–and the federal government–have been reporting gains in the state-wide percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on standardized tests to suggest that accountability measures are effective at increasing student learning,” Cardullo said. “What is being lost, however, is the information in the distributions. By focusing attention on average scores of the highest performing students we risk ignorance of the progress of the lowest performing students, potentially leaving behind those that were to be served by NCLB.

California, along with 22 other states, has legislated a two phased trajectory. Since 2003, the legislated target growth rate has been modest. However, starting in 2009, schools in the state must post much higher levels of proficiency each year, as measured by AYP, in order to meet the 100 percent proficiency target by 2014.

Schools that receive federal Title I funds and have not made state-defined AYP for two consecutive school years are identified as needing school improvement before the beginning of the next school year.

If the school does not make AYP for three consecutive years, it remains in school improvement and its district offers public school choice to all students.

Schools that remain in improvement for additional years are subject to corrective action and restructuring, including a takeover or complete reorganization of the school.

The research was supported by a Math and Science Partnership grant from the National Science Foundation.


(4) Foundational-level General Science Credential Authorization Hearing

Source: California Commission on Teacher Credentialing

The proposed Title 5 (Ed Code) amendments pertaining to the Single Subject Teaching Credential Authorization to include an authorization for Foundational-Level General Science will be presented for public hearing at the October 7 meeting of the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

The amendments are contained as an Item Attachment in the Meeting Agenda and can be viewed at the Web site above; they are also excerpted below:

Section 80004. Single Subject Teaching Credential Authorization for Service.

(a) The Single Subject Teaching Credential authorizes the holder to teach the subject area(s) listed on the document in grades twelve and below, including preschool, and in classes organized primarily for adults…

(d) The holder of a Single Subject Teaching Credential in Foundational-Level General Science authorizes the holder to provide the services described below in the following grade levels.

(1) Grades twelve and below, including preschool, and in classes organized primarily for adults:
(A) Introductory and general science,
(B) Introductory life science, and
(C) Introductory physical science.

(2) Grades preschool, and kindergarten through eight:
(A) Integrated science.


Note: LIVE AUDIO STREAMING: Real-time audio of the Commission meetings are available for listening live via the Web. To listen during the meeting, click on the link at the top of the page above or on the following link:


(5) Curriculum Commission Seeks Applicants to Fill Vacancy

Source: California State Board of Education

The Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission (Curriculum Commission) consists of 18 members, 13 of whom are appointed by the State Board of Education (State Board) upon the recommendation of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction or the members of the State Board. The State Board makes its appointments so as to ensure that, at any one time, at least seven of the public members are current classroom teachers, or mentor teachers, or both assigned to teach kindergarten or any of grades 1 to 12, inclusive. In making the remaining appointments to the Curriculum Commission, and in establishing advisory task forces or committees, the State Board considers the role of other representatives of the education community in the development of curriculum and instructional materials, including, but not limited to, school administrators, school governing board members, and parents and guardians who are reflective of California’s diversity.

The Curriculum Commission is responsible for advising the State Board on matters related to curriculum and instruction. The Curriculum Commission (1) develops and recommends curriculum frameworks; (2) develops and recommends criteria for evaluating instructional materials submitted for adoption; (3) evaluates instructional materials that have been submitted by publishers and makes recommendations to adopt or reject each submission; and (4) recommends policies and activities to the State Board, California Department of Education, and local education agencies regarding curriculum and instruction.

The Curriculum Commission holds a two-day meeting at least every other month, and the Commission’s Subject Matter Committees may meet more frequently. Sufficient preparation time is needed for all of these meetings. In addition, Curriculum Commission members are (in most years) called upon to make a commitment of two weeks (usually one week in March/April and a second week in July/August) to participate in the review of instructional materials submitted for adoption in California.

Members of the Curriculum Commission serve without compensation, except that they receive their actual and necessary travel expenses in attending Commission meetings and participating in other Commission activities…

The individuals appointed to full terms on the Curriculum Commission will serve for four years commencing January 1, 2009, and ending December 31, 2012. By law, individuals are limited to one full term on the Curriculum Commission.

The application can be found at the following website: Applications must be postmarked by Friday, November 14.



“Is the Universe Actually Made of Math?” by Adam Frank

Source: Discover
URL (Max Tegmark’s homepage):

Cosmologists are not your run-of-the-mill thinkers, and Max Tegmark is not your run-of-the-mill cosmologist. Throughout his career, Tegmark has made important contributions to problems such as measuring dark matter in the cosmos and understanding how light from the early universe informs models of the Big Bang. But unlike most other physicists, who stay within the confines of the latest theories and measurements, the Swedish-born Tegmark has a night job. In a series of papers that have caught the attention of physicists and philosophers around the world, he explores not what the laws of nature say but why there are any laws at all.

According to Tegmark, “there is only mathematics; that is all that exists.” In his theory, the mathematical universe hypothesis, he updates quantum physics and cosmology with the concept of many parallel universes inhabiting multiple levels of space and time. By posing his hypothesis at the crossroads of philosophy and physics, Tegmark is harking back to the ancient Greeks with the oldest of the old questions: What is real?

Tegmark has pursued this work despite some risk to his career. It took four tries before he could get an early version of the mathematical universe hypothesis published, and when the article finally appeared, an older colleague warned that his “crackpot ideas” could damage his reputation. But propelled by optimism and passion, he pushed on.

“I learned pretty early that if I focused exclusively on these big questions I’d end up working at McDonald’s,” Tegmark explains. “So I developed this Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde strategy where officially, whenever I applied for jobs, I put forth my mainstream work. And then quietly, on the side, I pursued more philosophical interests.” The strategy worked. Today a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tegmark travels among the world’s top physicists. Backed by this well-earned credibility, his audacious ideas are sparking fascination and taking flight.

These days Tegmark is a busy man. With his wife, the Brazilian cosmologist Angelica de Oliveira-Costa, he balances science with the demands of raising two young boys.

[Discover] interviewer, theoretical astrophysicist Adam Frank of the University of Rochester in New York, finally caught up with Tegmark as he made his way home to Winchester, Massachusetts, from a conference at Stanford University. [The extensive interview can be accessed at the Web site above. Below is a short excerpt]…

[Tegmark said,] “The physicist Eugene Wigner wrote a famous essay in the 1960s called ‘The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences.’ In that essay he asked why nature is so accurately described by mathematics. The question did not start with him. As far back as Pythagoras in the ancient Greek era, there was the idea that the universe was built on mathematics. In the 17th century Galileo eloquently wrote that nature is a ‘grand book’ that is ‘written in the language of mathematics.’ Then, of course, there was the great Greek philosopher Plato, who said the objects of mathematics really exist…

“Galileo and Wigner and lots of other scientists would argue that abstract mathematics ‘describes’ reality. Plato would say that mathematics exists somewhere out there as an ideal reality. I am working in between. I have this sort of crazy-sounding idea that the reason why mathematics is so effective at describing reality is that it is reality. That is the mathematical universe hypothesis: Mathematical things actually exist, and they are actually physical reality.

For most people, mathematics seems either like a sadistic form of punishment or a bag of tricks for manipulating numbers. But like physics, mathematics has evolved to ask broad questions. These days mathematicians think of their field as the study of ‘mathematical structures,’ sets of abstract entities and the relations between them. What has happened in physics is that over the years more complicated and sophisticated mathematical structures have proved to be invaluable…”