The underlying assumption of standards-based educational reform is that student learning will be positively affected by standards-related changes. However, the evidence on this point is inconclusive. For example, in a meta-analysis conducted by Harris and Goertz (2008), the authors note that standards that succeed in changing what is taught may do little to change how classroom instruction is delivered. For this reason, they conclude, the impact of standards is frequently not as decisive as advocates hope.
Another concern is that we may not know enough about the teaching and learning of engineering at the K–12 level to develop credible standards. There appears to be a growing convergence on the central importance of the design process in K–12 engineering education; a handful of core ideas, such as constraints, systems, optimization, and trade-offs; and the importance of certain nontechnical skills, such as communication and teamwork. However, almost no research has been done, and there is relatively little practical experience to guide decisions about when specific engineering ideas or concepts should be introduced and at what level of complexity. In addition, opinions differ on how engineering concepts connect with each another and with concepts in mathematics and science. Indeed, standards that encourage separate treatment of engineering may make it more difficult to leverage the connections between engineering, science, and mathematics, potentially reducing the positive effects of engineering on student interest and learning in these domains.
Finally, the prospects for the successful implementation of content standards for K–12 engineering education must be considered in the context of what most educators believe is an overfilled curriculum. Obtaining stakeholder buy-in for a separate, new “silo” of content may be very difficult in this environment, especially because it would probably require eliminating some existing elements of the curriculum to make time and space for engineering.
As a K–12 school subject, engineering is distinct both in terms of its recent appearance in the curriculum and its natural connections to other, more established subjects, particularly science, mathematics, and technology, which already have content standards. Although the main ideas in K–12 engineering education are largely agreed upon, data based on rigorous research on engineering learning at the K–12 level are still not sufficient to develop learning progressions that could be reflected in standards. Even if much more were known about engineering learning, there are legitimate questions about the wisdom of promoting an entirely new silo of content for the K–12 curriculum.
For these reasons, the committee argues against the development of standards for K–12 engineering education at this time. Instead, we suggest other approaches to increasing the presence and improving the quality of K–12 engineering education in the United States. These are discussed in Chapter 3.
AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science). 1998. Blueprints for Reform: Science, Mathematics, and Technology. Available online at http://www.project2061.org/publications/bfr/online/blpintro.htm. (August 4, 2010)