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California Mathematics & Science Partnership (CaMSP) Statewide Evaluation: Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) Reform – Background, Rationale and Strategies for Implementation


Public Works (PW), a non-profit consulting company headquartered in Pasadena, California was selected through a Request for Proposal (RFP) process by the California Department of Education (CDE) to serve as the statewide evaluator for the California Mathematics and Science Partnership (CaMSP) program. CaMSP is an Improving Teacher Quality initiative authorized by Title II of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) and administered by CDE's Professional Learning Support Division's Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Office. CaMSP is focused on implementing research-based professional development and collecting information about evidence-based outcomes generated by locally implemented professional development models to support mathematics and science learning.

As part of the statewide evaluation design initiated to support the transition of the CaMSP program to STEM learning under the funding guidelines for Cohort 10 partnerships that first received funding in 2014, Public Works conducted two comprehensive literature reviews related to the following topics: (1) effective STEM education strategies and models and (2) effective professional development practices to support classroom pedagogy geared toward curriculum relevance, applied learning, problem-solving and investigation.

This report provides information related to the first topic, effective STEM education strategies and models, and includes a bibliography of resources. A second, companion report related to classroom pedagogy has also been completed and is available from Public Works (

Recently, renewed attention to improving mathematics and science education has reinvigorated the ideas of integrated and applied STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) learning as both a promising approach to reforming public education and to better match the needs of the US economy to have a globally competitive workforce. From President Barack Obama's "100kin10" program to the "Educate to Innovate" initiative, STEM is frequently in the news and receives the attention of many policymakers and leaders within both K-12 and postsecondary education. The "100kin10" was launched in 2011 and aimed to recruit 100,000 STEM teachers over the next decade. President Obama's announced in November 2014 an additional $28 million investment to support this initiative in training STEM teachers provided by more than 200 companies and nonprofits. The President's five-year-old campaign "Educate to Innovate" is designed to inspire boys and girls to pursue STEM fields.

The renewed energy and excitement behind today's STEM resurgence can be better understood against a historical backdrop that explains how the contemporary iteration of STEM education fits within the longer story of America's search for a way to prepare more qualified workers in STEM fields. Contemporary STEM education's role in this longer story reveals that what many mean when they say "STEM education" today refers to the relatively new reform movement of integrative STEM education (Sanders, 2009). Indeed, the excitement for integrative STEM education today has arisen, in part, from documentation of the promising results for preparing students for STEM careers and undergraduate education - when compared to the insufficient results produced by "traditional" mathematics and science education over the last two decades (Lansiquot, Blake, Liou-Mark, & Dreyfuss, 2011).

Yet, many educators are understandably skeptical when they hear speculation about the promise of "new" educational reform movements like integrative STEM. Educational change in the United States is often criticized as a reiteration of previous movements that have been tried before only to fade away when the next "innovation" is introduced. Despite these doubts, the integrative STEM approach that is the subject of education reformers today has the potential to involve a significant shift in preparation and practice from traditional mathematics and science education. For teachers and others in the education community, the question is how best to approach a different way of learning and teaching.

Integrative STEM education involves the explicit incorporation of technology and engineering practices into mathematics and science lessons to organically facilitate interdisciplinary student learning experiences (Tseng, Chang, Lou, & Chen, 2013). For example, while disciplines traditionally operate in isolation of one another, integrative STEM education uses engineering and technology to teach mathematics and science lessons that are synthesized through real-world applicability, integration of technology, problem solving and the like. Much of this change comes down to the collaboration of teachers, professors and others and their understanding of individual disciplines and the themes or topics that cut across disciplines and are most important for broader student understanding at all educational levels.

The Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSS-M) and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) further bolster the modern conception of integrative STEM, each with an emphasis on instructional practices that support looking both within and outside of specific disciplinary concepts to a broader understanding of mathematical and scientific literacy for students.

On February 17, 2009, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) into law. ARRA provided $4.35 billion for the Race to the Top Fund, a competitive grant program designed for states that encouraged innovations and reforms advocated by the administration designed to spur improvements in student outcomes, close achievement gaps and implement other aspects of its education reform agenda. As part of Phase I and Phase II grant competitions, states were encouraged to pass legislation to adopt common standards to prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace, allow for alignment of data systems to measure student growth and success, and turn around the lowest-achieving schools.

In the spring of 2009, governors and state commissioners of education from 48 states, two territories and the District of Columbia committed to developing a common core of state K-12 English language arts (ELA) and mathematics standards. The Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) was a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

Spurred in part by the Race to the Top Initiative competition, California adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) on August 2, 2010, with some additions specifically designed to address concerns in California related to English language arts and mathematics. However, in September 2012, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 1200 into law, which removed the California additions to the CCSS in mathematics. At the same time, Assembly Bill 1246 authorized a Mathematics Instructional Materials Adoption (grades kindergarten to eight) with a timeline for materials aligned to the Common Core no later than March 2014. California adopted a curriculum framework for mathematics in November 2013. California is implementing the Common Core under a timeline for implementation of the accompanying curriculum frameworks, assessments and instructional materials with the first summative assessment in spring 2015.

While much of the information at the state and local level has focused attention on the debate regarding implementation of mathematics standards and instruction, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) initiative, based on a national framework for science education developed by the National Research Council (NRC), is also an effort in which California has been engaged that has resulted in a new set of standards for science in California. California was one of 26 lead states that gathered and delivered feedback from state-level committees to the writers of the standards, which were released as a final set of standards in April 2013. Senate Bills 300 and 1200 established a timeline for the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to present recommendations to the State Board of Education, which voted to adopt the standards in November 2013.

Despite the promise of integrative STEM education and the new approach to mathematics and science embedded in the new standards, there are limits to its potential toward remedying America's larger STEM education problem. American K-12 public schools serve 55 million students each year, and only a small portion of these students have been introduced to integrative STEM (The Center for Education Reform, 2014). If integrative STEM is to be effective as a next step for American mathematics and science education reform, mathematics and science reformers around the country will need to collaborate-taking time to evaluate integrative STEM program results with objective data, and to disseminate effective ideas to others. The latter is the function of this report, which will frame integrative STEM education within the greater history of STEM education and mathematics and science reforms. In order to identify potential programmatic approaches and strategies that can help to prepare today's students for STEM careers and undergraduate education, this review also includes descriptions of existing programs as potential building blocks for bringing integrative STEM reforms to more students.