COMET • Vol. 9, No. 06 – 23 February 2008


(1) California Sees Little Success with Struggling Schools–Faces Restructuring Under No Child Left Behind

Source: Center on Education Policy – 8 February 2008

Because of its long history of school accountability dating back to the mid-1990s, California is one of the first states to see a significant number of persistently low performing schools face restructuring–the No Child Left Behind Act’s ultimate sanction for struggling schools. As a result, education officials and policymakers nationwide are monitoring the state’s experience in working to lift achievement in the struggling schools.

That experience, however, has been largely frustrating, according to a new report from the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Education Policy (CEP), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that has tracked the impact of the No Child Left Behind Act since it became law in 2002.

The number of California schools in restructuring, which have missed adequate yearly progress (AYP) targets for five or more consecutive years, has increased by over 150 percent since 2005-06–about 300 schools per year over the last two years. The total number now stands at 1,013, representing about 11% of all California public schools and by far the largest number in any state nationwide. While urban schools are still the majority of the 1,013 schools in restructuring (60%), the proportion of suburban schools among all of California’s schools in restructuring has risen to about 35%.

By entering restructuring, the schools are subjected to a number of major, school-wide reform strategies intended to dramatically boost their performance. However, the report indicates that few schools have raised achievement enough to exit the improvement status.

Based on 2006-07 testing, only 33 schools, or 5% of schools in restructuring that year, raised test scores enough to exit improvement. In 2005-06, just 10 schools, or 3% of those in restructuring, exited improvement. Overall, several hundred schools have been in restructuring for six years or more, having failed to meet performance targets after years of restructuring.

“California’s experience shows how difficult it is to turn around schools facing so many challenges,” said Jack Jennings, president and CEO of the Center on Education Policy. “We should all have a sense of humility about the complexity of this task, and not go rushing off looking for simplistic solutions.”

The study, Managing More Than A Thousand Remodeling Projects: School Restructuring in California, finds that among the five restructuring options in federal law, a large majority of California schools implementing restructuring in 2006-07–90%–used the “any-other option,” which allows schools and districts to take any major action aside from the other four options to produce fundamental change in the school’s governance structure. Actions taken under this option varied widely, from adding district employees to guide each restructuring school to dividing schools into several smaller schools. In contrast, far fewer schools elected to turn school management over to an outside organization (10%) or reopen as a charter school (1%).

Meanwhile, the report finds that no single federal restructuring option, based on statistical analysis, has proved to be more effective than the others in helping schools meet overall AYP targets overall or AYP targets in English language arts or math separately.

As part of its report, CEP conducted in-depth case studies of four California school districts with schools in restructuring–Grant Joint Union, Oakland Unified, Palmdale Elementary, and Tahoe-Truckee Joint Unified–and of nine restructuring schools within those districts. In its case studies, CEP found that in their efforts to boost achievement:

* Schools have employed multiple strategies beyond federal restructuring options, including using data to inform instructional decisions; increasing teacher collaboration and team planning time; adding teacher or principal coaches; and changing schedules to allow more time for special instruction for struggling students.

* Non-academic factors appear to compromise efforts to raise achievement. Interviews with district and school officials revealed that many believe that efforts to improve student achievement are compromised in part by the challenges of working with students who arrive at school unprepared to learn, lack support for homework, are influenced by gangs, or face other problems often found in low-income communities.

According to the report, federal and state officials can take several steps to assist California districts and schools in the restructuring process, including:

– Provide more guidance on how to raise achievement and additional monitoring of the effectiveness of ongoing restructuring efforts;
– Examine non-academic supports, given the impact of factors in students’ lives outside of school on their achievement; and
– Expand funding for school improvement to overcome the situation in California and other states that have improvement efforts undermined by declines in available resources and sharp increases in the numbers of schools that need funding.

The Center on Education Policy has conducted a series of analyses of the school restructuring efforts in California, Maryland and Michigan as part of its comprehensive, multiyear study of the No Child Left Behind Act. In 2008, NCLB school restructuring efforts in Ohio and Georgia and will also be studied. The restructuring reports and other CEP NCLB publications are available at


(2) Teacher Professional Development Grant Competition planned for March 2008

Source: Natalie Sidarous (

The California Postsecondary Education Commission (CPEC) plans to release a Request for Proposals in early- to mid-March 2008 for Improving Teacher Quality (ITQ) grants. These grants, funded through Title II-A of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, will go to postsecondary education institutions to provide high-quality teacher professional development in partnership with California Local Education Agencies.

The target initiative for the 2008 Improving Teacher Quality State Grants will be helping teachers to address the achievement gap in California elementary schools. The grants will focus on K-6 or K-8 schools, with the requirement that the project will serve one or more whole schools. In addition to providing intensive, sustainable professional development for teachers, successful applicants will be required to conduct scientifically-based evaluation research to demonstrate the effects of the project. These include changes in teacher practice and student achievement, as well as changes in the achievement gap the project intends to address. While funding parameters have not been finalized, prior grants have typically provided $250,000 to $1 million to each project over a three-to-four-year period.

It is definitely time to start planning if you wish to compete for a partnership grant. The required partners are:

(1) An Institution of Higher Education (IHE) School of Education, AND
(2) An IHE School of Arts and Sciences, AND
(3) A high-need Local Education Agency (school district that meets U.S. Census guidelines).

Additional partners are encouraged, including community colleges, additional school districts, county offices of education, and non-profit community organizations. However, all three of the required partners above must be represented in any proposal. Proposals may be submitted by existing partnerships or by new partnerships formed for the purposes of the grant.

Further information, including a list of qualifying school districts, is available at It is recommended that you bookmark this site and check back beginning in early March for posting of the online RFP, the announcement of technical assistance meetings in early April, and additional resources. For questions or requests to be added to the e-mail notification list, please send a message to



(1) National Mathematics Advisory Panel Update

Source: Ida Kelley, NMP Staff

Although the final report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel (NMP) was originally scheduled to be approved at a meeting this month in Washington, DC, the current goal is to hold the meeting in March (although it could conceivably be held as late as April). By the time of that meeting, the final report should be posted online and hard copies (plus preliminary supporting documentation) made available, most likely through ED Pubs (

Deborah Ball, a member of the NMP, together with her colleagues Hyman Bass and Mark Hoover-Thames, will be speaking on Monday, February 25, from 4-5:30 p.m. in the Oviatt (Library) Presentation Room on the California State University, Northridge campus. Their topic is “Developing a Knowledge Base for the Improvement of Mathematics Learning.” An abstract follows below:

“The National Mathematics Panel is about to issue a report responding to the charge: What is known about the teaching and learning of mathematics up to algebra that would enable more children to be successful in algebra? The report suggests that, although we have made substantial progress in some domains, we still have a long way to go in building the knowledge base we need to improve the quality of instruction and students’ learning. In this session, we will consider what would be involved in developing a robust knowledge base useful for effective instructional improvement. As illustration, we will describe one practice-based program of research and development that is responsive to this need and will distill several key principles for developing knowledge that will support systematic improvements in teaching and learning.”


(2) “How They Do It Abroad” by Linda Darling-Hammond

Source: Time – 14 February 2008

When school starts each year, the most important question on the minds of parents and children is, “Who will my teacher be?” The concern is well founded. Researchers have discovered that school’s deepest influence on learning depends on the quality of the teacher. Students lucky enough to have teachers who know their content and how to teach it well achieve more. And the effects of a very good (or very poor) teacher last beyond a single year, influencing a student’s learning for years. Put simply, expert teachers are the most fundamental resource for improving education.

This lesson has been well learned by societies that top international rankings in education. The highest-achieving countries–Finland, Sweden, Ireland, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada–have been pouring resources into teacher training and support. These countries routinely prepare their teachers more extensively, pay them well in relation to competing occupations and give them lots of time for professional learning. They also provide well-trained teachers for all students–rather than allowing some to be taught by untrained novices–by offering equitable salaries and adding incentives for harder-to-staff locations.

All teacher candidates in Finland, Sweden, Norway and the Netherlands, for example, receive two to three years of graduate-level preparation for teaching, at government expense, plus a living stipend. Unlike the U.S., where teachers either go into debt to prepare for a profession that will pay them poorly or enter with little or no training, these countries made the decision to invest in a uniformly well-prepared teaching force by recruiting top candidates and paying them while they receive extensive training. With its steep climb in the international rankings, Finland has been a poster child for school improvement. Teachers learn how to create programs that engage students in research and inquiry on a regular basis. There, training focuses on how to teach students who learn in different ways–including those with special needs. The Finns reason that if teachers learn to help students who struggle, they will be able to teach their students more effectively.

Singapore, top-ranked in math by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, treats teaching similarly. When I [Linda Darling-Hammond] visited Singapore’s National Institute of Education, the nation’s only teacher-training institution, nearly all the people I spoke with described how they were investing in teachers’ abilities to teach a curriculum focused on critical thinking and inquiry–skills needed in a high-tech economy. To get the best teachers, the institute recruits students from the top third of each graduating high school class into a fully paid four-year teacher-education program (or, if they enter later, a one-to-two-year graduate program) and puts them on the government’s payroll. When they enter the profession, teachers’ salaries are higher than those of beginning doctors.

Expert teachers are given time to serve as mentors to help beginners learn their craft. The government pays for 100 hours of professional development each year for all teachers. In addition, they have 20 hours a week to work with other teachers and visit one another’s classrooms. And teachers continue to advance throughout their career. With aid from the government, teachers in Singapore can pursue three separate career ladders, which help them become curriculum specialists, mentors for other teachers or school principals. These opportunities bring recognition, extra compensation and new challenges that keep teaching exciting and allow teachers to share their expertise.

Most U.S. teachers, on the other hand, have no time to work with colleagues during the school day. They plan by themselves and get a few hit-and-run workshops after school, with little opportunity to share knowledge or improve their practice. In a study of mathematics teaching and learning in Japan, Taiwan and the U.S., James Stigler and Harold Stevenson noted that “Asian class lessons are so well crafted [because] there is a very systematic effort to pass on the accumulated wisdom of teaching practice to each new generation of teachers and to keep perfecting that practice by providing teachers the opportunities to continually learn from each other.”

With these kinds of investments, it is possible to ensure that every teacher has access to the knowledge he or she needs to teach effectively and that every child has access to competent teachers. Such a goal is critical for the U.S. if it is indeed to leave no child behind.


(3) “Science Debate 2008” by Greg Ross

Source: Business Week – 8 February 2008
URL (Science Debate 2008):

With the U.S. presidential election less than a year away, the candidates have participated in literally scores of debates across the country and online. But science and technology–so central to modern public policy–have been addressed only in passing and for the most part in brief, 90-second responses.

“Right now we have a confluence of issues facing candidates: embryonic stem cell research, global warming, science and technology education, biotechnology and energy policy–it’s just becoming an avalanche,” Case Western physicist Lawrence Krauss told Wired magazine. “I think at some level, you have to get some insight into what the candidates know, or what they’re willing to learn.”

Krauss, science journalist Chris Mooney and other concerned citizens hope to do just that with Science Debate 2008, a grassroots movement that proposes a dedicated presidential debate in which the candidates discuss in detail their ideas about health and medicine, science and technology policy, and the environment.

“As advances in science and technology continually transform our world, policymaking will inevitably depend more and more on accurate scientific and technical information,” wrote Krauss and Mooney in announcing the project in a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece on December 12. “Which means that in order to be a successful world leader today, a politician must have an effective means of accessing and applying the latest science.”

To date the proposal has attracted [scores of] eminent signatories, including [25] Nobel laureates… [See]

It remains to be seen how the candidates will respond, but the groundswell has already earned widespread attention among mainstream media and science bloggers, and signatories are continuing to join [].


From :

The below invitation was sent to the viable candidates for president as of February 7, 2008. “Viable candidates” is defined as candidates who have a mathematical chance of becoming president, and who show a minimum 15% support level in the most recent national poll averages as published by… The invitation was therefore sent to the following candidates (in alphabetical order): Hillary Clinton, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, and Barack Obama.


Dear Candidates for President of the United States:

We invite you to participate in Science Debate 2008, a presidential candidates debate about issues in science and technology policy that are vital to the future of America.

WHO WE ARE: We are a non-partisan organization of leading universities, industry associations and other organizations, together with thousands of concerned citizens. Our members include leaders from the American education, science, medical, engineering and business communities. Our group includes Nobel Laureates and other leading scientists and engineers, university presidents, business leaders, labor leaders, economists, Members of Congress, current and former presidential science advisory committee members and science advisers and other government leaders, as well as the heads of America’s major scientific and engineering organizations, and the editors of America’s major science and technology publications. We are, in short, much of the American scientific and technological community.

 Together, we represent tens of millions of American voters who are concerned about the future of our nation.

WHY THIS DEBATE AT THIS TIME: Science and technology are responsible for half our nation’s growth in GDP over the last half century, and have changed every aspect of our lives, our economy, our health, and our environment.

 The next president of the United States will face unprecedented scientific and technological policy challenges and opportunities, three classes of which poll at the top of voter concerns: the economy and economic competitiveness; healthcare; and the environment. Candidates should have ideas about what kinds of policies will best address these issues, and should inform the voters of their views.

THE DEBATE: The debate may include such policy issues as: American economic competitiveness and support for scientific research; policy approaches to climate change; clean energy; the healthcare crisis; science education and technology in schools; scientific integrity; GM agriculture; transportation infrastructure; immigration; the genome; data privacy; intellectual property; pandemic diseases; the health of the oceans; water resources; stem cells; conservation and species loss; population; the space program, and others. This is a policy debate. It is not intended to be a science quiz. Nor are we interested in state-level battles such as the evolution versus creationism/ID debate. Our goal is to find out how aware candidates are of America’s major science and technology problems and opportunities, and how they propose to offer the kind of visionary leadership and policy solutions that will tackle those challenges and ensure America’s place as the most scientifically and technologically advanced nation on earth. This is your opportunity to demonstrate that you are such a leader.

A FAIR AND IMPARTIAL VENUE: The primary cosponsors among us are the leaders in American science, technology, health, and industry. Among the many institutions endorsing this request, the AAAS, The National Academy of Sciences, The National Academy of Engineering, The Institute of Medicine, The Council on Competitiveness, and our venue partner, The Franklin Institute, all have venerable traditions of non-partisan leadership at the juncture of science and policy in our nation’s history…

The debate will be held at 7PM on Friday, April 18, 2008 at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This is four days prior to the Pennsylvania primary. The debate is non-partisan. All viable candidates for President will be invited. It will be held even if only one candidate participates.
 The cosponsors have reputations for putting on fair and informative events serving the best interests of the public and the highest principles of this nation. We intend to make the debate available for broadcast on nationwide television on April 18 and re-broadcast at a later time on both television and the internet…

Our aim is to elevate our national political dialogue, educate the voters, and help chart a new direction for the next period in American history.

We hope we can count on your participation.



(4) “Clinton Often Chides NCLB; Obama Open to Vouchers?” by David J. Hoff and Alyson Klein

Source: Education Week – 22 February 2008

Throughout the presidential campaign, the leading Democrats have been speaking from a similar script on education–until this month, when U.S. Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois suggested that he could be persuaded to support private school vouchers.

“If there was any argument for vouchers, it was ‘Let’s see if the experiment works,’ ” Sen. Sen. Obama told the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Feb. 13. “And if it does, whatever my preconception, you do what’s best for kids.”

That statement diverges from the stance of U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, who rejected any private-school-choice proposals in her interview with the same editors the next day.

Although Sen. Obama’s campaign has since downplayed his voucher comments, the exchange suggests that the two remaining Democratic contenders have subtle but important differences in their approaches to federal education policy, whether the topic is expanding school choice, rewriting the No Child Left Behind Act, or experimenting with new forms of teacher pay.

Sen. Obama, for example, believes the first step to fixing the NCLB law would be to ensure it is adequately funded, according to his campaign Web site. He also proposes changing the law’s testing policies “to track student progress to measure readiness for college and the workplace and improve student learning in a timely, individualized manner”…

In a campaign stop in Keene, N.H., late last year, Sen. Clinton gave a detailed explanation of how she would change [NCLB’s] testing requirements.

“It is treating everybody as a little test-taker … and a lot of the curriculum has been eliminated in favor of teaching to the tests,” she said, according to a video that has been posted on the YouTube Web site. Under the law, tests should be changed to provide “individualized accountability based on how [individual] students do,” she added.

Sen. Clinton also favors revising the law to add new measures for determining school success, such as scores on Advanced Placement tests, graduation rates, and the results of formative assessments, said Catherine Brown, her domestic policy adviser.

Sen. Obama has similar ideas to improve assessments by basing accountability decisions on individual student progress and making test results more useful to teachers…

Under [Obama’s] campaign proposal, teachers could earn extra pay for learning new skills, such as earning a degree in special education, or taking on leadership roles, including serving as mentors for new teachers, said Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford University who is advising the Obama campaign.

Sen. Clinton has endorsed merit pay plans that reward all school employees based on improvements in student achievement in the entire school. Her idea is modeled after the plan negotiated by the New York City public schools and the United Federation of Teachers. That union, like its national counterpart, the AFT, has endorsed Sen. Clinton.

Sen. Clinton also supports additional pay for teachers who work in subjects with a shortage of teachers, such as science and math, and in hard-to-staff schools, according to Ms. Brown, her adviser.