As a practicing Pennsylvania classroom science teacher for more than 30 years and a National STEM Teacher Ambassador, I appreciate the good work Gov. Tom Wolf has done for education and his advocacy to increase resources for education. His recent Op-Ed “Why it’s essential for Pennsylvania to invest in education” points out how far the state has come in regard to education. I agree we have come a long way, but there are two significant impediments that state lawmakers and leadership could be addressing in regard to the state of STEM education in Pennsylvania.
Our science and technology standards were conceived in the 1990s and adopted in 2002. They were birthed in an age where VHS tapes were common and adopted five years before the first iPhone was rolled out! These standards do not emphasize engineering, they teach subject disciplines as unrelated silos and lack the innovation and 21st century content or practices that STEM jobs require.’
What is more alarming is that these standards are the source for Pennsylvania’s PSSA science exams, the exams that all districts, teachers and students are accountable to in the Commonwealth. If districts choose to deviate from teaching to these 15-year old standards, they jeopardize their performance and status by the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s policy.
With state testing, it is often said “we treasure what we measure.” Pennsylvania’s education policy forces state schools to treasure 1990s science and technology thinking instead of assessing modern STEM thinking in classrooms. Education policy drives district resources. If Pennsylvania education policy is focused on 1990’s-era science and technology standards and assessments, districts will follow suit until policy is updated to adopt modern STEM standards and assessments.
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are an excellent source of STEM-like standards. These standards were created by states and for states. They offer best practices in critical thinking, collaboration, core principles, engineering, technology, math, and cross-cutting concepts. Pennsylvania’s neighboring states have adopted NGSS and are gaining a competitive edge over our students’ STEM readiness. For more than 10 years, Pennsylvania politicians and leadership have lacked the political will to provide the best STEM standards for the students of Pennsylvania. I urge Gov. Wolf and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to “invest” and adopt modern STEM classroom standards like NGSS. Each day our schools teach to the 1990s-era standards is another day our students fall behind their peers from neighboring states in STEM readiness.
In addition, Gov. Wolf’s Op-Ed mentioned how his administration has reversed the trend of years devastating school cuts. That is becoming evident and I am thankful for that work. However, the Pennsylvania Department of Education(PDE) also has suffered devastating cuts through the years and the reverses from those cuts are yet to be seen. PDE is one of the smallest departments of education relative to student population, according a “Center for American Progress Report.” As a teacher who has worked on many PDE committees through the years, I have seen this first hand. Modern STEM standards like NGSS will not be able to be adopted, implemented and resourced if PDE lacks the capacity to handle the heavy lift of STEM standards. I urge Gov. Wolf and lawmakers to “invest” and adequately resource PDE to bring it up to the capacity it needs to be at to lead our schools in the STEM 21st century.
I applaud Gov. Wolf’s education agenda advocacy and progress. However, if we all see the value in STEM education, we need to modernize STEM education policy in our schools with relevant standards, assessments, and provide PDE the capacity it needs to help make Pennsylvania STEM Strong. It is an investment that will pay dividends for us all.
This guest column by Jeff Remington, a science educator and National STEM Teacher Ambassador at Palmyra Middle School in Palmyra, Pa., appeared in the Delaware County Daily Times (December 29, 2017)