Making the Grade

I am behind in my reading but Prism does get my attention. The February issue on K-12 education was excellent, but it missed two things that I feel passionately about.

The first is the almost tired complaint that the U.S. is not keeping up in “math and science.” I recognize that this is true, but I believe that the real cause is that math and science are generally treated as rather pure subjects. I believe that the reason that putting engineers in the classroom (or having other creative introduction to engineering in the classroom) works is that engineers help the students understand the technology around them. Kids are fascinated with the technology, but without understanding they just become users. The key element is teaching about technology and using that to motivate interest in the math and science. I believe that we need technology, math, and science in the schools and that the first will lead to excellence in the other two. Note that this not the AAAS viewpoint.

The second is that some school districts are beginning to get it right. Today this seems to take a committed staff person who knows technology education and the willingness to integrate technology into the curriculum from K all the way to 12. I am sure that there are a small number of programs that do this, but one I have discovered is the Quaker Valley School District, a mixed middle class Pennsylvania school district. While they use technology in education, they teach technology starting in kindergarten. In fourth grade every student learns about electric circuits. In eighth grade there is a technology lab that every student takes which is coordinated with math and science teaching (the math and science teachers have been taught to teach the technology course). In high school a vocational option is Cisco systems management with Cisco certification along with the high school diploma.

Quaker Valley did not invent this whole curriculum, but they have made remarkably good use of it. All of their students are given some degree of technical literacy, even those with special needs and an IEP. Their Web site is Browse through the curriculum for different grades. Dr. Joseph Marrone, now director of administrative services, had a great deal to do with developing the program. As the Web site shows, he is very interested in measurement of what the district does. I will be interested over time to see what portion of the graduating class turns to engineering or other technical fields.

My question is whether “model programs” such as this and other around the country can serve to show how to run schools with the excellence needed to develop a technically literate population and enough technology people to meet our needs. Once we have a good model it should be easier to replicate.

Rick Dill
IBM T. J. Watson Research Center


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