Director’s Corner

Welcome to the Institute for Interdisciplinary STEM Education. I hope that you will join us in our effort to improve the teaching and learning of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics at all levels from kindergarten through college. We are a community of scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and educators collaborating with businesses, research institutes, and school districts to serve the STEM needs of the coastal plains of Georgia and beyond. We offer support for developing grant proposals, outreach programs, and research proposals with a focus on interdisciplinary STEM education for rural and diverse populations.

Robert Mayes received his B.S. (1979) and M.S. (1981) in Mathematics with a secondary education focus from Emporia State University and his Ph.D. in Mathematics Education from Kansas State University (1989). He has taught mathematics on the high school, community college, and university levels. His first professorship was at West Virginia University (1989-93) where he specialized in satellite television professional development courses for secondary mathematics teachers. From 1993-2001 he assisted in developing and implementing an innovative Mathematics Education Ph.D. offered through the Mathematics Department at the University of Northern Colorado. While at UNC he was a Co-PI on COSMOS, a mathematics and science upward bound program and served as the Director of the Mathematics and Science Teaching Center (MAST).

In 2001 he returned to the WVU Mathematics Department to direct the Institute for Mathematics Learning (IML), whose mission is to improve the teaching and learning of mathematics in lower level undergraduate courses. He served as the coordinator and curriculum development leader for a technology enhanced applied algebra course, writing a text for the course called ACT in Algebra. He was a Co-PI on the NSF Center for Learning and Teaching ACCLAIM program and was the steward for the second doctoral cohort. He also served as the Vice-President for College on the West Virginia Council of Teachers of Mathematics Executive Committee.

In the summer of 2006 he joined the University of Wyoming assuming the directorship of the Science and Mathematics Teaching Center (SMTC). The mission of the SMTC is to improve the learning and teaching of science and mathematics in Wyoming and the Rocky Mountain region. In this capacity he secured partnerships in multiple grants to support STEM education, including two active National Science Foundation projects: Pathways to Ecological Literacy and Mathematics Teacher Leadership Center.

As of August 2011 Robert Mayes has joined Georgia Southern University as a Professor of Education. His new role is to develop collaborative grant and research efforts across the university. His research focus is on the teaching and learning of problem solving, mathematical modeling, and quantitative reasoning in the sciences and social sciences.


Director’s Corner

February 2015

From School Performance in Context: The Iceburg Effect:

Of the nine nations, the United States remains the wealthiest with the most highly educated workforce, based on the number of years of school completed, and the proportion of adults with high school diplomas and bachelor’s degrees.

“Many policymakers and business leaders fret that America has fallen behind Europe and China, but our research does not bear that out,” said James Harvey, executive director of the National Superintendents Roundtable.

Despite high educational levels, the United States also reflects high levels of economic inequity and social stress compared to the other nations. All are related to student performance. Measures included rates of childhood poverty, income inequality and violence. For example, in American public schools today, the rate of childhood poverty is five times greater than it is in Finland. Rates of violent death are 13 times greater than the average for the other nations, with children in some communities reporting they have witnessed shootings, knifings, and beatings as “ordinary, everyday events.”
The study is a unique analysis, which for the first time compares K-12 education internationally on an array of social and economic indicators, not just test scores. The goal was to look at the whole iceberg, not just the tip-and provide a clearer snapshot of each country’s performance, including its wealth, diversity, community safety, and support for families and schools.


Some key findings:


  • Economic Equity: The United States and China demonstrate the greatest gaps between rich and poor. The U.S. also contends with remarkably high rates of income inequality and childhood poverty.


  • Social Stress: The U.S.reported the highest rates of violent death and teen pregnancy, and came in second for death rates from drug abuse. This is also one of the most diverse nations with many immigrant students, suggesting English may not be their first language.


  • Support for Families: The U.S. performed in the lowest third on public spending for services that benefit children and families, including preschool.


  • Support for Schools: Americans seem willing to invest in education: The U.S. leads the nine-nation group in spending per student, but the national estimates may not be truly comparable. U.S. teachers spend about 40 percent more time in the classroom than their peers in the comparison countries.


  • Student Outcomes: Performance in American elementary schools is promising, while middle school performance can be improved. U.S. students excel in 4th grade reading and high school graduation rates, but perform less well in reading at age 15. All nations demonstrate an achievement gap based on students’ family income and socio-economic status.


  • System Outcomes: The U.S. leads these nations in educational levels of its adult workforce. Measures included years of schooling completed and the proportion of adults with high-school diplomas and bachelor’s degrees. American students also make up 25 percent of the world’s top students in science at age 15, followed by Japan at 13 percent.


  • “Too often, we narrow our focus to a few things that can be easily tested. To avoid that scoreboard mentality, we need to look at many measures important to shaping our future citizens. Treating education as a horse race doesn’t work,” said HML President Gary Marx.


  • A call for more nuanced assessments


  • American policymakers from both political parties have a history of relying on large, international assessments to judge United States’ performance in education. In 2013, the press reported that American students were falling behind when compared to 61 other countries and a few cities including Shanghai. In that comparative assessment-called the Program for International Student Assessment-PISA controversially reported superior scores for Shanghai.


  • “We don’t oppose using international assessments as one measure of performance. But as educators and policymakers, we need to compare ourselves with similar nations and on a broader set of indicators that put school performance in context-not just a single number in an international ranking,” said Harvey.


  • “Our study suggests the U.S. has the most educated workforce, yet students confront shockingly high rates of poverty and violence. Research shows that those larger issues, outside the classroom, are serious threats to student learning,” noted HML Executive Director Jack McKay.
Institute for Interdisciplinary STEM Education • PO Box 8090 Statesboro, GA 30460 • (912) 478-2556 &bull