National Academies Press: OpenBook

Successful K-12 STEM Education: Identifying Effective Approaches in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (2011)

Chapter:What Schools and Districts Can Do to Support Effective K-12 STEM Education

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Suggested Citation:"What Schools and Districts Can Do to Support Effective K-12 STEM Education." National Research Council. 2011. Successful K-12 STEM Education: Identifying Effective Approaches in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13158.
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WHAT SCHOOLS AND DISTRICTS CAN DO TO SUPPORT EFFECTIVE K-12 STEM EDUCATION

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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.

Suggested Citation:"What Schools and Districts Can Do to Support Effective K-12 STEM Education." National Research Council. 2011. Successful K-12 STEM Education: Identifying Effective Approaches in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/13158.
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Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) are cultural achievements that reflect our humanity, power our economy, and constitute fundamental aspects of our lives as citizens, consumers, parents, and members of the workforce. Providing all students with access to quality education in the STEM disciplines is important to our nation's competitiveness. However, it is challenging to identify the most successful schools and approaches in the STEM disciplines because success is defined in many ways and can occur in many different types of schools and settings. In addition, it is difficult to determine whether the success of a school's students is caused by actions the school takes or simply related to the population of students in the school.

Successful K-12 STEM Education defines a framework for understanding "success" in K-12 STEM education. The book focuses its analysis on the science and mathematics parts of STEM and outlines criteria for identifying effective STEM schools and programs. Because a school's success should be defined by and measured relative to its goals, the book identifies three important goals that share certain elements, including learning STEM content and practices, developing positive dispositions toward STEM, and preparing students to be lifelong learners. A successful STEM program would increase the number of students who ultimately pursue advanced degrees and careers in STEM fields, enhance the STEM-capable workforce, and boost STEM literacy for all students. It is also critical to broaden the participation of women and minorities in STEM fields.

Successful K-12 STEM Education examines the vast landscape of K-12 STEM education by considering different school models, highlighting research on effective STEM education practices, and identifying some conditions that promote and limit school- and student-level success in STEM. The book also looks at where further work is needed to develop appropriate data sources. The book will serve as a guide to policy makers; decision makers at the school and district levels; local, state, and federal government agencies; curriculum developers; educators; and parent and education advocacy groups.

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