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Standards for K-12 Engineering Education?
Education in the United States is a complex system of interacting parts, which in turn is a subsystem of a larger, complex sociopolitical system. Policies at the federal, state, and district levels can influence what happens in the classroom. In addition, business, higher education, and national professional societies also have a stake in K–12 education. Most contemporary theories of education reform suggest that, for standards to have a meaningful impact on student learning, they must be implemented in a way that takes into account the systems nature of education (e.g., AAAS, 1998; NRC, 2002). For example, it is commonly understood that effective standards must be coherently reflected in assessments, curricula, instructional practices, and teacher professional development.
Special Characteristics of K–12 Engineering Education
K–12 engineering education has three important characteristics that must inform standards development and implementation. First, as noted in Chapter 1, compared to other K–12 subjects, engineering has a very small footprint in schools; in addition, almost no undergraduate programs provide training for prospective teachers of engineering. To put it simply, K–12 engineering education is in its infancy, and this has implications for standards.
Second, engineering has strong connections to mathematics, science, and technology, school subjects for which there already are K–12 content standards. In addition, existing standards, particularly for science and technology, exploit their natural connections to engineering. Thus it is reasonable to ask if new engineering standards must include explicit links to these and perhaps other content standards.
Finally, because of the postsecondary, professional track in engineering, some K–12 engineering curricula focus on preparing students to enter engineering schools, sometimes called the “pipeline” approach (e.g., Project Lead the Way, www.pltw.org). However, content standards for K–12 school subjects are typically based on a “mainline” goal, that is, general literacy in that field of study. This raises the question of whether there should be two sets of standards for K–12 engineering and, if so, how they might differ.
The Argument for Engineering Content Standards
The feasibility of developing standards depends on two things: (1) time, money, and expertise to accomplish the task; and (2) agreement on the fundamental concepts that underlie the stated learning goals. As to the former, the committee agrees with Bybee (2009) that human and capital resources are not a barrier to standards development. With respect to the latter, one aspect of the study was to review efforts to identify the core content of K–12 engineering. Based on this review, discussed in Chapter 3 and elaborated in an annex to that chapter, the committee believes there is enough agreement about most of the major ideas to suggest that a consensus could be reached through thoughtful, collaborative deliberation.
But the potential value of content standards—in any subject—is not in their development but in their implementation. As a tool for policy change, standards can provide a coherent intellecttual framework for reform that can be used in different ways by various groups. For instance, standards can provide guidelines and goals for course designers and teacher educators, even it they do not actually work together. Standards for K–12 engineering education, for example, could inform revisions of existing engineering curricula to align them more closely with essential