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STEM the Tide: Reforming Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education in America

reviewed by Geeta Verma - July 12, 2012

coverTitle: STEM the Tide: Reforming Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education in America
Author(s): David E. Drew
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore
ISBN: 1421400944, Pages: 264, Year: 2011
Search for book at Amazon.com

STEM the Tide: Reforming Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Education in America is a contemporary, timely, and focused discussion about reforming science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in the US.  There is a great deal of discussion on whether the United States will continue its economic dominance in the coming years or other emerging economies such as China will take its place. Many have argued that innovation-based economic growth that focuses on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields will allow US to build on its existing strengths and emerge successfully in the competitive global economy.  Therefore, STEM education is vital for a country’s economic and technological progress and should be a central piece in education reform conversations.

International assessments of educational achievements such as Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS) and Program for International Student Achievement (PISA) strongly suggest that American students are lagging behind their counterparts in other parts of the world. As a result, American policy-makers and the American public are beginning to question the quality of US education in general and STEM education in particular. STEM the TIDE presents a positive blueprint for reforming STEM education in US schools, colleges, and universities. The book “offers a primer on the latest research and discoveries of leading educators and social scientists about how to reform STEM education” (p. 2). The author presents compelling solutions for STEM educational reform through nine chapters. These chapters in STEM the TIDE are supplemented with extensive notes, scholarly books and journals, national policy reports, and International assessment of educational achievements reports such as TIIMS and PISA. Drawing on both academic literature and his own rich experience, David E. Drew provides his comprehensive review of STEM education in the United States and offers a positive blueprint for the future. These research-based strategies include creative and successful methods for building strong programs in science and mathematics education and show how the achievement gap between majority and minority students can be closed. A crucial measure, he argues, is recruiting, educating, supporting, and respecting America's teachers. 

The author of the book, David E. Drew is the Platt Professor of Education, Management, and Mathematics at the Claremont (CA) Graduate University.  He has had a long career in higher education, primarily focusing on STEM education. His academic and scholarly work demonstrates rigor, intellectual fervor, and a passion for equity conversations in STEM areas (he specifically focuses on STEM recruitment and retention issues). While his background is mainly in mathematics and mathematics education, he has taken on one of the most discussed topic of our times in this book: recruitment and retention of both mainstream and minority students in STEM fields and what that may mean for economic growth in the US.

The first chapter of the book, titled “America’s Place in the Word”, focuses on contextualizing America’s position in comparison to the rest of the world.  The author discusses the notion of education and economic productivity. He presents engaging conversations such as 1) the importance of STEM education in a high-tech global economy; 2) American high school students’ poor performance in STEM fields compared to students from other countries; 3) existence of this low performance phenomenon for more than 40 years; and 4) the low percentage of American adolescents who study mathematics and science compared to other nations.  

In chapter 2, titled “The Achievement Gap”, the author questions the prevalence of the “aptitude conversation” in the US education system. He argues that, “ far too many students are blocked from opportunities to master STEM because of false assumptions about aptitude” (p. 30).  He discusses the issue of gender gaps and problematizes false assumptions about academic achievement of students of color. Drew presents a compelling mixture of evidence, engaging narratives, and anecdotes to support his claims of a glass ceiling for women and students of color. He then connects these conversations to his interpretation of admission tests and what they mean for minorities, urging us to focus on unfolding the hidden talent in minority groups. He argues that the aptitude conversation in the US education system is not serving our students well and that we need to find an alternative narrative. He presents examples of such a narrative in other education systems, “…when American students do poorly, parents and teachers often blame their underachievement on aptitude. When students in other countries do poorly, parents and teachers instead say that students aren’t working hard enough”(p. 31).

Chapter 3 is titled “Effective Leadership, Careful Evaluation”. Here, Drew discusses a blueprint for “effective program evaluation of educational initiatives and how poorly designed evaluation and assessment under the No Child Left Behind Act have compromised education progress (p. 54)”. He presents case studies of 7 extremely successful elementary and middle schools and ties these conversations into the influence of leaderships in school districts. He draws a parallel by presenting a success story (Harvey Mudd College) and contrasting it with a failure (Harvard College) in higher education. He situates the conversations on effective leadership with performing thoughtful evaluation. He presents a “reform-based” evaluation framework that 1) includes both process and outcome components; 2) incorporates mixed-methodologies (qualitative methods such as interviews and quantitative methods such as statistical analysis); 3) sets “clear and unambiguous definitions of treatment and desired outcomes (p. 71)”; and 4) employs pre-post test data to “isolate the value-added changes” (p. 71). He concludes the chapter by emphasizing the importance of bridging the gap between evaluation, assessment, policy, and practice.

There is no doubt that quality interaction between teachers and their students play a crucial role in providing students a successful educational experience. Drew argues that improving teaching is key to providing meaningful opportunities for students to participate in STEM areas of study.  Thus, chapter 4 of STEM the TIDE, “Top Notch Teachers” is timely and allows the reader to delve into various aspects of teaching and teacher quality issues. Drew shares profiles of effective teachers and successful programs (e.g., Teacher Education Internship Program (TIEP) at Claremont Graduate School; Math for American; and Noyce Scholarships). He shares results of a meta-analysis study done by John Hattie in 2009. The study included 52,000 studies of educational achievement targeting almost 200 million students (some overlap among students is possible). He highlights the findings of the study in 8 categories to outline characteristics of effective teaching; 1) Non-directivity (activities initiated by students); 2) empathy; 3) Warmth; 4) encouraging high-order thinking; 5) encouraging learning; 6) adapting to differences; 7) genuineness; and 8) learner-centered beliefs. He concludes the chapter by presenting strategies for improving teaching and recruiting effective teachers by providing four-year scholarships, and offering ongoing professional development through summer institutes, master’s degree in advance placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs.

Chapter 5 of STEM the TIDE is a continuation of Chapter 4 but focuses broadly on the roles of mentors in preventing attrition of STEM majors. In “Mentors and High Expectations” Drew presents a compelling argument for re-examining the reward structure (for promotion and tenure) for faculty members at various universities and colleges. He argues that the low value placed on mentoring and teaching and the culture of “publish and perish” (p. 108) possibly prevents faculty members from mentoring STEM majors, leading to a high attrition rate (especially among women and students of color).  He shares research (Berkeley Calculus workshop) on mentoring and argues that it presents an effective model to improve the academic performance of students who may not succeed as STEM majors otherwise.  

Any conversation in the STEM field will be incomplete without discussing the achievement gap among different groups of students. Chapter 6 of STEM the TIDE, “Closing the Achievement Gap” discusses the academic achievement of disadvantaged students, and strategies that contribute to their success. Drew shares successful higher education programs from across the nation that cater to disadvantaged students; 1) The Calculus Workshop Programs at California State Polytechnic Institute, Pomona; 2) Harvard Assessment Seminars; 3) Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) in Texas; and 4) Timbuktu Academy, Louisiana. Drew argues that common themes such as mentoring and creating high expectations have allowed minority students to enter and flourish in STEM fields in these programs.

One of the biggest conversations in STEM education today is access to higher education in STEM areas. Drew brings this conversation to forefront in chapter 7 of STEM the TIDE, “College Access and the STEM Pipeline”. In this chapter Drew shares the challenges of keeping students engaged in STEM fields as they transition from high school to college. This is confounded by the fact that many American students do not have access to affordable college education. He presents a persuasive argument about the roles of community colleges in being a gateway to four-year college education and supporting the STEM pipeline.

We need to consider the impact of the global landscape on national economies and how this intertwines with the perception of the value of a college education. “The Value of a College Education” – Chapter 8 discusses the emerging debate about pursing a college education and its monetary returns. While in the past there was agreement that a college education (especially in STEM fields) would yield a productive career, today questions are being raised about this assumption.  Drew discusses this conversation and argues for the financial and non-financial benefits of pursing a college education in the emerging global and high-tech information economy.

The final chapter of STEM the TIDE, Chapter 9, “Supporting University Research”, discusses the contribution of American higher education institutions in research, innovation, and technological frontiers. Drew describes the existing federal funding structures that supports university research but at the same time leads to a concentration of federal research funds at top-tier institutions, which prevents junior STEM professors at second- and third-tier institution from pursuing interesting and innovative research ideas.

This book should find a home in every university and college reference library since it not only discusses the challenges and opportunities associated with STEM education reform in the US but also contextualizes these conversations in the global contexts. It creates a common and shared space for diverse stakeholder interested in STEM reform conversations in the US (e.g., STEM and STEM education professors, graduates students in STEM areas, K-12 district STEM teachers and leaders). The breadth and depth of ideas presented in the book makes it suitable for these diverse stakeholders. Accessible, engaging, and hard hitting, STEM the Tide is a clarion call to policymakers, administrators, educators, and everyone else concerned about students' participation in the STEM fields and America's competitive global position. This is indeed an excellent contribution by David Drew, Platt Professor of Education, Management, and Mathematics at the Claremont (CA) Graduate University, in the field of STEM reform conversations.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: July 12, 2012
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16822, Date Accessed: 5/25/2022 9:13:16 PM

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About the Author
  • Geeta Verma
    University of Colorado Denver
    E-mail Author
    GEETA VERMA is an associate professor of science education at University of Colorado Denver. Prior to this, she was an Assistant/Associate Professor at Georgia State University. She holds a PhD from Kent State University, a MS and BS in Zoology from University of Delhi as well as a M.Ed. from University of Delhi. Her research work, grounded in sociocultural theory, integrates equity issues in science education, curriculum discourse, and ethnic studies in immigrant communities. In particular, she is interested in finding out how pre-service and in-service teachers explore curricular, pedagogical, and instructional spaces in their classrooms to facilitate access to science. Her work has been published in various peer-reviewed journals such as Cultural Studies of Science Education; Journal of Science Teacher Education; the Journal of College Science Teaching; the Journal of Curriculum, and Pedagogy; Science Scope; and Science and Children. She recently published a book titled; Science and Society in the Classroom: Using Sociocultural Perspectives to Develop Science Education and served as panel reviewer for the National Selection Committee (NSC) for the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST) administered by National Science Foundation. Dr. Verma serves as the associate editor for the Electronic Journal of Science Education and on the editorial and review board of many journals.
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