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Standards for K-12 Engineering Education?
concepts and practices in engineering and to reflect current findings based on cognitive science. Standards could also inform the creation of new instructional materials and shape engineering teacher education programs.
For a subject new to most K–12 classrooms, standards can also make a statement about the importance of that subject for students and for society at large. Thus standards for K–12 engineering education could help create an identity for engineering as a separate and important discipline in the overall curriculum on a par with more established disciplines. This was an important goal, for example, of the technology education community when it developed the Standards for Technological Literacy (ITEA, 2000). Ultimately, standards have the potential to expand the presence of high-quality, rigorous, relevant engineering education for K–12 students.
In working on this project, the committee collected and reviewed information about standards and standards-like documents for precollege engineering education developed by other nations, including Australia, England and Wales, France, Germany, and South Africa (DeVries, 2009; also see Appendix B). Our efforts to draw meaningful inferences for education in the United States were hindered by differences among educational systems and difficulties in finding data on the extent and impact of standards.
The Argument Against Engineering Content Standards
Perhaps the most serious argument against developing content standards for K–12 engineering education is our limited experience with K–12 engineering education in elementary and secondary schools. Although there has been a considerable increase in the last 5 to 10 years, the number of K–12 students, teachers, and schools engaged in engineering education is still extremely small compared to the numbers for almost every other school subject.
For standards to have a chance of succeeding, there must be a critical mass of teachers willing and able to deliver engineering instruction. Although no precise threshold number has been determined, based on the committee’s experience with the development of standards in other subjects, 10 percent seems a reasonable minimum. Based on the projected size of the teaching force in 2010 in the U.S. K–12 educational system, this would represent about 380,000 teachers (NCES, 2008), a figure orders of magnitude larger than the estimated K–12 engineering teaching force.
The most recent data available indicate that 40 states have adopted or adapted the Standardsfor Technological Literacy. Of these, 12 require students to take at least one technology education course (Dugger, 2007). It is not clear, however, whether these state standards include the engineering content of the national technological literacy standards. More important, the committee could find no reliable data indicating how many states assess student learning in engineering. Without the pressure of an assessment, particularly an assessment with consequences tied to student performance, teachers may have little incentive to teach engineering.
Another concern is mixed results for nationally developed consensus standards, which have demonstrably influenced the content of state education standards and curricula (e.g., DeBoer, 2006), but have had varying impacts in different states. Overall, this has led to well documented problems of a lack of coherence among standards, instructional practices, assessments and accountability, and teacher professional development (NAEd, 2009; Rothman, 2003). Even when standards influence the content of a curriculum, the material that is actually taught—the enacted curriculum—is influenced much more by teachers’ beliefs and experiences than by standards (Spillane, 2004; Weiss et al., 2003).