Cary Sneider, Portland State University
Linda P. Rosen, Education and Management Innovations, Inc.
June 26, 2009
Improved education standards will not, by themselves, lead to the scientifically and technologically literate citizenry we need for our nation to prosper in the 21st century. However, as we’ve learned in virtually every other professional field, standards can be an important first step toward changes that will lead to excellence and equity. It is now widely accepted that all students need a fundamental conceptual understanding and abilities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), but of those four, only science and mathematics have been given reserved places in the K–12 curriculum. Unfortunately, previous efforts to integrate technology and engineering into science and mathematics standards have met with limited success. Most science educators have focused only on aspects of national standards directly related to science disciplines. And mathematics educators’ interests in technology have been limited to tools for computation. Given that history, it is an open question whether or not a new generation of science and mathematics standards that include technology and engineering would bring about a different result. Although we cannot answer that question at present, we can consider how to go about developing a new vision of technology and engineering standards consistent with the “fewer, higher, clearer” guidelines that are driving the development of the next generation of standards. In the process we touch on three themes: definitions of technology and engineering, the content of current technology and engineering frameworks, and a strategy for integrating these standards into core academic subjects so they will be viewed as essential complements, rather than optional add-ons, to those disciplines.
Although a movement in support of national standards has been under way for 20 years (since the publication of Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics 1989 and Science for All Americans [SFAA] in 1990), our American penchant for states’ rights has led each state to develop its own unique standards. The results have been roundly criticized as too broad, vague, repetitive, and poorly coordinated to define coherent guidance for textbook developers, assessment specialists, and teachers to follow (Beatty, 2008). Moreover, the sheer number of different types of standards intended to guide the work of generalist teachers (especially many K-5 teachers) has made mastery unlikely (Hudson et al., 2002, and Appendix A, p. 135).
Growing concern over the dismal performance of our students on national and international tests in mathematics and science and recognition that a patchwork of educational standards is at least partly to blame has led to a call for common state standards. Although still resistant to “federal” standards, state-elected officials are warming to the idea of “common standards” that would address the worst problems of the current system while allowing states to retain some control over content in their own jurisdictions. At the time of this writing, 46 states have agreed in principle to adopt common standards in English and mathematics (McNeil, 2009), and science is likely to be next on the agenda.