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

July 2, 2014

Read up on the two sides and decide for yourself which may be the cure to the STEM education epidemic.

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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