We offer five proposals for schools and districts to improve K-12 STEM education. These proposals are not listed in order of importance, but together they address vital aspects of the STEM education system.
First, districts seeking to improve STEM outcomes beyond comprehensive schools should consider all three models of STEM-focused schools described in this report to meet the various goals they may hold for STEM education. Districts should be aware that each type comes with its own set of strengths and limitations. The research base does not support recommending one school type over another or treating a particular type of school as an indicator of STEM excellence by itself.
Second, districts should devote adequate instructional time and resources to science in grades K-5. A quality science program in the elementary grades is an important foundation that can stimulate students’ interest in taking more science courses in middle school and high school and, possibly, in pursuing STEM disciplines and careers.
Third, districts should ensure that their STEM curricula are focused on the most important topics in each discipline, are rigorous, and are articulated as a sequence of topics and performances. Ideally, STEM curricula should be aligned across disciplines from grades K-12.
Fourth, to improve teaching and learning in the STEM disciplines, districts need to enhance the capacity of K-12 teachers. STEM teachers should have a deep knowledge of their subject matter and “an understanding of how students’ learning develops in that field, the kinds of misconceptions students may develop, and strategies for addressing students’ evolving needs.”82
Fifth, districts should provide instructional leaders with professional development that helps them to create the school conditions that appear to support student achievement (see section above on school conditions). School leaders should be held accountable for creating school contexts that are conducive to learning in STEM.