STEM education problems: Project Lead The Way vs. Common Core Standards

The reason many people believe that STEM isn’t doing as well is because schools are not up to par. Teachers aren’t as prepared and knowledgeable about the subjects, and the programs themselves aren’t developed enough to do any good. The question is, what is the solution?

Some people believe that it is natural to have some schools that are better at teaching STEM than others, which would produce better students than many other schools. But, the problem with this is that this viewpoint is very constrained. What about all the other schools in the country? How is it fair to put a lot of money into a few schools and neglect the rest?

Others are pushing the idea that schools need to all be equally prepared to teach STEM, and therefore give students each an equal chance to thrive and learn in similar environments. While this is a positive approach and gives the majority a potential benefit, there could be many problems regarding how thorough a school can really be when teaching STEM. Will they have enough money to teach STEM to the best of their ability? Or will the students all become mediocre scientists, engineers, mathematicians etc. because they weren’t given as deep of an education on STEM?

The website STEM School thoroughly looks at both of these two options in two of their articles. With regards to the first option, to make some schools exceptionally proficient in teaching STEM, Project Lead The Way (PLTW) is, appropriately, taking the lead. STEM School explains that PLTW is a program that funds specific schools around the country to help develop their STEM programs to become noteworthy. They target a medley of different schools, including private, public, charter, urban, rural and suburban schools.

STEM School reports that PLTW is not lagging behind the rest. In fact, it is greatly benefiting the schools that it funds.

“Students in the program were observed to be more prepared for higher education, and they scored higher on math assessments,” STEM School wrote. “The median wage for those who did not attend college was 13.6 percent higher than non-PLTW students. These results have been duplicated by numerous researchers.”

But, while this is all fine and dandy, it is important to ask the question: What about the other schools not being funded by Project Lead The Way? While PLTW schools are succeeding with flying colors, the other schools may be slowly declining, leaving a major gap between different schools and their STEM educations.

The second option that STEM School writes about in another article is to have student learning standards that each school teaches. This would offer students an equal opportunity to gain a good education in STEM fields and an equal opportunity to follow those courses into college. STEM School explains the benefits of having “Common Core Standards.”

“It can help increase creativity and collaboration in classroom instruction. It also serves as a great leveler of educational opportunity,” STEM School wrote. “Each student in a Common Core state will have the same expectations, meaning that Alabama's STEM classrooms will match Arizona's, which will match Washington's. This also helps provide an easier transition to students who have to change schools due to their parents needing to move for work. They will easily be able to slip into their new classrooms and pick up almost exactly where they left off.”

Each standard created is to make sure that each student is prepared and ready to go to college and take more detailed courses. This sounds great and extremely fair for everyone, except when it comes to how the United States looks against the world’s standards. It’s lovely that, with this plan, all students would be receiving equal education, but in the end, will that help the U.S.’s statistics in STEM fields against other countries? Or will this produce mediocre workers, instead of excellent workers?

These are all the questions we need to ask as we look at the future of STEM educations. Each solution provides many benefits, but also comes with negative results. Even though the future may look hazy we must keep in mind that someone could easily come up with a new idea for how to solve the STEM education problem. We just need to keep our eyes open and be on the lookout for it.

For STEM School’s article on Project Lead the Way, click here. For STEM School’s article on STEM Core Standards, click here.

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  • The fact that our leaders/educators even have to ask and/or debate which is better is at the root of the problem that plagues both our High School and Colleges. When the problem is as severe as it is in the USA, of course Project Lead The Way is the viable choice for quick course correction. Just like a big corporation, major changes and improvements are slow to come and insufficient when you try to do it to the whole system all at once. You break away into a smaller more agile inity where changes and best practices can quickly be developed and proven, then apply those verifiable practices to the whole system. With world changing ever so rapidly, we need the quickest method to correct our educational system, else be left behind.

    The educational system we currently have from ancient Greece, can never sustain in the world we live in today, and needs turned upside down to be more agile. The 2 biggest primary changes are we need upside down degrees (the practical app, real world knowledge, hands-on, problem solving, kills etc. taught in 1st couple years. Then if not entering job market, or after being in job market a while, take additional years to build on history, theory, arts, and other scholastic education.)

    The 2nd big change is lectures done at home, and homework done at school. In our modern technological world, students/customers do not need to be wasting their time sitting in class listening to a lecture. They should consume lectures as videos at home where they can rewind, study. then at school work on homework, hands-on where they can get instructors and fellow students help and feedback.

    These 2 big changes are already getting proven by smaller targeted Project Lead The Way type studies and TED, so the next urgent question that needs debated... how can we apply these lessons learned to the entire system. High Schools and colleges, quickly and effectively.

    This current ancient Greece educational approach we have will not compensate for the fact, by the time a student graduates from High School, 20% or more of the jobs that existed when they were in the 6th grade, will no longer exist. The current educational approach won't compensate for the fact when an engineer graduates from college in 4 years, possibly 50% of what they learned will no longer be applicable in the real world. For a world changing at an increasing rate, we need a totally new educational approach that can change a quickly with it.

    Like our PLC training approach, first we get them the most important things they need to know in the workplace to do their job today, and then provide more in depth training and knowledge for them to get later should they need it and/or have the desire. So then after getting what they currently need, a if particular topic, technology or need is no longer applicable to them, they haven't wasted their time and money pursuing it. First teach them only what they need to know and train them with the skills they currently need. Later they can build on that. (Yes, a 4 yr can be built on with an 8yr, but we need smaller modules/degrees as nowadays a lot can change in 4 years.:)

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