STEM the Tide

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Intro & Chapters 1-2, Pages 1-53

Big Ideas & Main Points:

  • USA businesses are hiring STEM employees from other countries because of a lack of domestic qualified workers (see page 1).
  • We have the knowledge and experience to reform education if we focus on our unique strengths (see page 2).
  • In the introduction, Drew gives eight solutions for reform: leadership, evaluation, better teachers, high expectations, committed mentors and role models, the value of a college education, closing the achievement gaps, and revitalizing university research.
  • Reasons for the proverbial “glass ceiling? The author states on page 33 that “The lack of women at the highest levels of achievement may be attributed to the avoidance of mathematics at an earlier stage of schooling.”
  • “Diversity leads to better decision outcomes, enhanced task performance, and greater innovation and creativity” (p. 34). But, “Women are very likely to face discrimination in every field of science and engineers” (p. 35) even though many women historically have been pioneers in the fields of math and science. And also, “In many fields of human endeavor, false perceptions about who has aptitude and who lacks it have created formidable barriers to access for talented people” (p. 39), and this holds true especially for students of color.
  • Standardized testing is biased (see pages 40 – 46). I have personal experience with this from my years of teaching native students in Alaska. I think I’ll make a blog post about that soon!

Shout from the Rooftops:

As compared to students in high achieving countries, American students believe strongly that mathematical talent is innate, and believe less strongly that effort makes much difference.

Anne C. Lewis, “Endless Ping-Pong over Math Education


What wows me but doesn’t surprise me is that the problem isn’t due to innate ability or funding, but to sociological and psychological factors. Our nation’s people have false attitudes and aptitudes that hurt participation in STEM classes and pursuits and hold fast to stereotypes (especially gender and minorities stereotypes) about innate abilities versus hard work when it comes to mastery of those subjects. This problem can be demonstrated by the fact that in the United States, our 18-year-olds are in school but the number who study math and science is low relative to other countries. Quite possibly, apathy and a sense of entitlement among American youth strongly contributes to our country’s low achievement in math and science (as compared to other developed nations).

Ultimately, all of the students who are “underrepresented” in the study of mathematics and science represent an enormous potential for the U.S. economy.

David E. Drew, STEM the Tide, page 49

Chapters 3-4, Pages 54-104

Big Ideas & Main Points:

  • STEM professionals are “knowledge workers,” and this is “society’s center of gravity” (p. 55).
  • We need to learn from success where there should have been failure (p.58).
  • Strong leadership is a must.
  • Rigorous quality standards and evaluation are needed. Further, a consensus on quality needs to be reached. And finally, over-testing isn’t necessary, and when tests are standardized, they should be criterion-based.
  • The disconnect between educators/researchers and school boards/state officials/Congress needs mending. We must be on the same page to move forward.
  • Better teachers = better outcomes. You get better teachers when they’re respected and when their pay shows that.
  • The active engagement of students requires creative teachers.
  • Finally, it’s not what you teach but how you teach it that will make a difference. In other words, embed student learning in real-life, authentic projects.

Shout from the Rooftops:

They’ve got to be relentless about not accepting anything but learning from the children. They’re not going to let the children fail; they’re going to make them learn.

M. D. Lemonick, “Drano for the Heart,” Time, Nov. 17, 2003, pp. 60-61

While the politicians pontificate, America’s students struggle to learn mathematics and science against staggering odds.

David E. Drew, STEM the Tide, page 81

The challenge is to extract and nurture the talent and interest that the student already possesses.

David E. Drew, STEM the Tide, page 93


  • One way the author suggests we can improve teaching is by respecting teachers. Should this even need to be on a list? Yes, since myriads of disrespectful behaviors toward teachers are commonplace.
  • Wow. Only 47.3% of American teachers who teach math have math degrees. I guess that’s because their undergraduate degree is teaching. So maybe to be a teacher, we specialize in a subject in undergraduate school and then get a M.Ed. or a post-baccalaureate teaching certification.
  • Double Wow. Check out the program, Math for America, founded by billionaire and mathematics professor Jim Simons.
  • If we wish to emphasize analytical thinking, then computer-based searches and dependency needs to be deemphasized.

Chapters 5-6, pages 105-137

Big Ideas & Main Points:

  • The author argues that “the most important solution to the attrition problem is the presence of faculty mentors who hold high expectations for their students” (p. 106).
  • Could it be that the current model of prestige as a college professor stemming from research that helps to fund the university influences how little time said professor actually spends teaching or assisting his students? (see p. 107) The “publish or perish” model needs scrapping. Professors need to be more invested in their students than in the tenure.
  • Success in academics is more likely if you study in groups. Further, academic and social involvement in campus life leads to success.

Shout from the Rooftops:

The attrition rate in America’s colleges is a national disgrace. The loss of talent represented by the attrition of STEM majors is significant and disturbing.

David E. Drew, STEM the Tide, page 105

The common concept of “success in science”…seems to have created an illusion that only “the best and the brightest” can do science. Course work is viewed by many faculty as a way to separate the “men” from the “boys.” Unfortunately, these courses also tend to separate the men from the women–and the white men from just about everyone else.

Walter Massey, former director of the National Science Foundation


  • Surprised but not surprised: With the aid of a workshop program (at California State Polytechnic Institute in Pomona in the late 1980s and early 1990s), under-represented minority groups “achieved at levels exceeding those reached by Anglo and Asian students” (p. 123).
  • “Women who join a small study group are far more likely to persist as science concentrators than those who always or nearly always study alone” (p. 126).
  • Tutoring is not just for remediation, and yet the only students I ever tutored in math and English Language Arts were the ones who needed remediation. This is definitely food for thought.

Chapters 7-9, pages 138-194

Big Ideas & Main Points:

  • The creation of a 4-year college in Nevada is the focus of chapter 7, and it asks deep questions such as what should professors focus on (research or students), what should be taught (job- and career-relevant courses or liberal arts, general education courses), how can it be created to be easily accessible to under-represented minorities, and what does it mean to be an educated person? The climate toward higher education at the time was not at all supportive of a new college for many reasons, including the fact that the gambling industry in Las Vegas provided high paying jobs straight out of high school.
  • The academic taskforce for deciding the requirements for the new college concluded that math, writing, technology, and diversity/global perspectives would be addressed in every course during the first two years of undergraduate study.
  • The college’s “learning-centered philosophy emphasized ‘value-added outcomes'” (p. 152).
  • The Nevada story highlights the STEM pipeline discussion, which states that access to college is “a key issue” to keep the pipeline open.
  • To learn about the “symbolic-analytic” category of work, read The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism, by Robert Reich.
  • In chapter 9, Drew poses a great question that makes me think of our current Trump administration and the actions it has taken that have affected the environment and other scientific arenas. Drew asks, “Does the average citizen have a right to contribute to policy development about science and technology” (p. 180)? On that topic, I recommend this book: Not a Scientist: How Politicians Mistake, Misrepresent, and Utterly Mangle Science, by David Levitan. I also recommend this article: Science Under President Trump, by the Center for Science and Democracy.
  • I highly recommend reading (or at least skimming) the full report mentioned by Drew in his conclusion to chapter 9 (p. 194) called Rising Above the Gathering Storm, prepared by the National Academy of Sciences [NAS/NAE/IOM, Rising above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future, National Academies Press, 2007. The initial report release was in 2005, with the final, edited book issued in 2007.]. In the report, urgent challenges were identified and specific steps were determined to ensure that our country “maintains its leadership in science and engineering” (Preface, p. x.)

    I also recommend reading the revision, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5.

    The initial report was prepared in response to these questions posed by congressmen: What are the top 10 actions, in priority order, that federal policymakers could take to enhance the science and technology enterprise so that the United States can successfully compete, prosper, and be secure in the global community of the 2st century? What strategy, with several concrete steps, could be used to implement each of those actions? [Letters from Senators Jeff Bingaman and Lamar Alexander, dated May 27, 2005, and Congressmen Sherwood Boehlert and Bart Gordon, to NAS President Bruce Alberts.]

    The original report emphasized “the need for world-class science and engineering—not simply as an end in itself but as the principal means of creating new jobs for our citizenry as a whole as it seeks to prosper in the global marketplace of the 21st century” (p. 40). It proposed goals such as this: “The goal is to have 1,500,000 high school students taking at least one Advanced Placement (AP) or International Baccalaureate (IB) mathematics or science exam by 2010” (Appendix F, p. 513). It is incredibly data dense and covers topics such as keys to competitiveness in global markets, creating new industries, understanding how people learn, and educational challenges (particularly k-12 performance and student interest in STEM careers). The title for chapter 5 seems most relevant to our discussions: “What Actions Should America Take in k-12 Science and Mathematics Education to Remain Prosperous in the 21st Century?” The final chapter, titled “What Might Life in the United States be Like if it is Not Competitive in Science and Technology?”, says that our children could be facing a dim future if things don’t change.

    The revised report states the following, which is the sounding alarm to action:

    In balance, it would appear that overall the United States long-term competitiveness outlook (read jobs) has further deteriorated since the publication of the Gathering Storm report five years ago. Today, for the first time in history, America’s younger generation is less well-educated than its parents. For the first time in the nation’s history, the health of the younger generation has the potential to be inferior to that of its parents. And only a minority of American adults believes that the standard of living of their children will be higher than what they themselves have enjoyed. To reverse this foreboding outlook will require a sustained commitment by both individual citizens and by the nation’s government…at all levels. The Gathering Storm is looking ominously like a Category 5…and, as the nation has so vividly observed, rebuilding from such an event is far more difficult than preparing in advance to withstand it.

    The bolded statement above mirrors my main take-away from this ETSU course. Everybody needs to understand the crisis and everybody needs to work toward change at all levels – funding, attitudes, methods, and beliefs.

Shout from the Rooftops:

A college education enlarges students’ worldview, introduces them to culturally enriching experiences, and forces them to review, question, and solidify their core values.

David E. Drew, STEM the Tide, page 139 (and see page 166)

…anybody who makes greater progress than past administrators becomes the enemy of those who were happy with mediocrity.

Mike O’Callaghan, in STEM the Tide, by David E. Drew, p. 147

I had to earn a large income to learn a large income wasn’t everything.

Lee Halyard, a successful real estate broker, laments that he did not have a college education in STEM the Tide, by David E. Drew, p. 162

Colleges and universities can have a profound effect on the surrounding region. Put simply, the cities, states, and regions of the United States that have thriving high-tech economies all have excellent and plentiful colleges and universities.

David E. Drew, STEM the Tide, page 175


  • I guess I’m quitting my teaching job and moving to Las Vegas to be a parking attendant since they make about $60,000 per year.
  • I really like these key issues addressed in the plan for the new college in Nevada:
    • liberal education versus vocational training
    • process versus content
    • concepts across disciplines
    • community service
  • When a town is a one-industry town, and that town fails, what happens is “forced economic diversification” (p. 171). Since I veered far away from economics in my studies, this concept is new to me. I like the idea and think it’s an opportunity for such towns.

Conclusion, pages 195-207

Two points stick with me as the most important of all:

  1. STEM education is a must if our country is to compete in the new, global economy; but more importantly, our young people need STEM education to assure their place within our economy.
  2. As Drew says on page 195, “Teachers must realize that virtually every student–regardless of gender, ethnicity, or economic status–can master mathematics and science.” The parents, their children–in fact, the whole of our society must come to know and believe this. It is already realized in other countries. What are we waiting for?

One fear remains with me after reading this book. Drew says that “intelligence is only one small factor affecting what [people] achieve” (p.196). It is a combination of hard work, effective teaching, and a learning environment structured for learning, he says, that supports human achievement. He focuses on the point that students will have to work harder. Herein lies my fear: as a sixth-grade teacher in Johnson City Tennessee in 2017 and 2018, 80% or more of my 75 students were lazy and apathetic. Many felt higher education wouldn’t be needed because they’d make a killing becoming YouTubers. The school’s administrators and teachers had high expectations, were data driven, and used positive behavior reinforcement. Regular professional development opportunities included learning how to effectively integrate technology and teaching through PBLs. While parent support wasn’t always there, I felt like what we did at the school should have been enough to ignite learning in our students, but daily, it felt like pulling teeth to get students to participate. Even in regular collaborative group work that focused on authentic situations, only some students cared.

In conclusion, I believe that what David E. Drew says in his book STEM the Tide is fundamentally true but not going to happen anytime soon. It’s going to be a slow and painful process for Americans to wake up to the realities he so thoroughly wrote about. I believe it will take many voices reaching into all corners of society from multiple perspectives before change takes root. For example, Melinda Gates, in her new book The Moment of Lift, says in her introduction (pps. 2-3): “…when you lift up women, you lift up humanity. And how can we create a moment of lift in human hearts so that we all want to lift up women? Because sometimes all that’s needed to lift women up is to stop pulling them down.” Let’s apply that to our students: let’s stop pigeon-holing so many and lift all of them up instead.

Melinda Gates is in a position to be heard across broad audiences, but many other voices for change are reaching out with similar messages. Perhaps soon, a collective consciousness will stir change in our country in which all people will be seen as equals–and that will reverberate into every classroom, teacher, and student; every mother, father, and child; every human resources department in every corporation; and every corner of our legislators’ and judges’ hearts.

True reform requires transforming the way we teach, learn, and lead.

David E. Drew, STEM the Tide, page 201

One thought on “STEM the Tide”

  1. I really liked your format and the way you laid out your chapter summaries to the book we read. This looks great.

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