JITE v38n1 - Adopting Standards for Technology Education

Volume 38, Number 1
Fall 2000

Adopting Standards for Technology Education

Theodore Lewis
National Science Foundation

Coincident with the beginning of the new century, adherents of technology education will in the coming months and years have to contend with the reality of adopting standards for the subject. Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology, published by the International Technology Education Association (Dugger, 2000; ITEA, 2000), adds a new dimension to the decades-long struggle to find space in the curriculum on acceptable terms. The standards follow from the companion project Technology for All Americans (ITEA, 1996), which reargued the case for the legitimization of technology as general education, offering a structure for deriving content in the curricular tradition exemplified by DeVore (1969); Savage and Sterry (1990a, 1990b); and Towers, Lux, and Ray (1966).

The standards go beyond rationale and structure by specifying what students should know to be literate in technology as they progress through grades K-12. Here they take a page from the British National Curriculum efforts (Department for Education 1990, 1995), and from Project 2061 (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993). But perhaps what is most significant is that the new standards seek to situate technology education within the dominant academic ideology of schools. They do this by showing that technology, too, can point to agreed-upon content and that it, too, belongs in the market-driven discourse that connects attainment of world-class educational standards with productivity and economic competitiveness. The standards movement has both political and sociological dimensions. It‚s a matter of voice and acceptance. A subject is either in or out, based upon the ability of its adherents to map out its terrain in the schools in terms of what is to be known by students at each stage of progression. To have any voice at all --to be taken seriously by states as they consider high school graduation requirements--contested subjects such as technology education can ill afford not to adopt standards.

Within the fields of science and mathematics, the question of standards has been pervasive (see, for example, the state-by-state progress report by the Council of Chief State School Officers, 1997). Curriculum, instruction, staff development, and assessment in these fields must now be standards-based to be considered valid. The modest showing of American children on grade-specific tests in the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) accelerated the use of standards as a basis for reform of these subjects. Eighth-grade American students were about average compared to counterparts in Germany and other European countries, but substantially below the performance of children at comparable grade levels in Japan, Korea, and Singapore (Atkin &; Black, 1997; Schmidt, McKnight &; Raizen, 1997). How these results could be turned around to make U.S. students become "first in the world" in science and mathematics achievement has become a vision shared not just by reformers but by politicians, the scientific elite, and school districts (Hawkes, Kimmelman, &; Kroeze, 1997). National standards have become an imperative in the new high-stakes education game.

World-class standards for science and mathematics are not a hard sell to parents, schools, or school districts. These are the high status subjects that are the basis of college entry and ultimately the passport to high wage jobs in the economy. Standards for technology education are, however, a different matter. The subject has not belonged to the dominant academic culture of schools. To the contrary, it has been viewed as being nonacademic. Status difficulties plagued it when it was industrial arts and are an underlying reason for the shift to technology education (see a call for authenticity in Lewis, 1994). But there has been an encouraging shift. Technology education has been embraced by important status-conferring sectors of the scientific and engineering community, notably the National Science Foundation (NSF), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the National Aeronautic and Space Agency (NASA), the National Research Council (NRC), and the National Academy of Engineers (NAE). With the ITEA as grantee, the NSF and NASA funded both the Technology for All Americans and Standards projects. Both the NRC and NAE have been involved in conceptualizing and validating the standards. Through its Project 2061 program, the AAAS has given prominence to technology in the curriculum via extensive treatment in Science for All Americans (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1990), which featured separate chapters on the nature of technology and on the designed world and in Benchmarks for Science Literacy (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993) which spelled out what children should know as they meet grade-level mileposts. Both of these publications provided important scaffolding for Technology for All Americans (ITEA, 1996) and for the new technology standards.

In what follows, I anticipate what the standards will mean for the status of technology education. This is not the first set of standards developed for the field. In the period from 1978 to 1981, a Standards for Industrial Arts Programs project, funded by the United States Office of Education, was conducted by William Dugger and colleagues (see Bame &; Miller, 1980; Dixon &; Dugger, 1980; Dugger, 1980, Pinder, 1980). Just what the legacy of the Standards for Industrial Arts Programs project has been could be a fruitful area of scholarship. But what is clear is that by the mid-1980s, when its effects should have been maximized, advocates were still saying that the field was in disarray on curricular and other fronts (Rudisill, 1987; Stadt, 1985). This was a time of ferment and uncertainty. The central issue was not consolidation of industrial arts through standards. To the contrary, it was abandonment of industrial arts and adoption of technology education. In retrospect, the Standards for Industrial Arts Programs project was ill timed. That is not the case this time around. Technology education has arrived, arguably.

This manuscript is structured as follows: First, the new standards for technology education are overviewed, with emphasis on claims and essential provisions. The general case for standards as a basis for educational reform is then reviewed. Arguments against standards are discussed next. Issues relating to, and lessons learned regarding, standards in mathematics, science, and the arts follow. Questions relating directly to the efficacy of standards in the context of technology are then discussed. Finally, general conclusions and implications are set forth.

Overview of the Standards for Technological Literacy

As indicated, the standards project for technology education was initiated and executed by the International Technology Education Association (ITEA), the main professional body for the subject in the United States. In all, 20 standards and 288 benchmarks have been proposed.

Standards spell out what students should know to be technologically literate. Benchmarks provide more detailed essentials. According to the authors, standards do not have to be taught serially; they can be grouped or integrated, not just within technology education but across subject borders. For example, standard five (“Students will develop an understanding of the effects of technology on the environment”) probably could be taught in the context of a module on environmental chemistry. Standard nine (“Students will develop an understanding of engineering design”) probably could be taught in conjunction with several other standards that provide content domains for design, such as standards 14 through 20 (which focus, respectively, upon medical, agricultural and biotechnologies, energy and power, information and communication, transportation, and construction technologies).

The need for standards is argued in a preamble (ITEA, 1999). One premise is that the inclusion of technology education in the American curriculum is not as widespread as it should be. Another is that there is confusion as to what technology education is, or how it differs from educational technology. The authors go on to argue that, because technology is by nature ever-changing, the curricular focus has to be upon basic elements that transcend the range of technologies. Thus, three transcending elements are proposed: the design process, development and production, and use and maintenance of the product. Technology is projected as being compatible with other subjects, thereby allowing for curriculum integration. Design is said to be the primary problem-solving approach of technologists.

Following paths traversed by Project 2061, the new technology standards include chapters titled "The Nature of Technology" and "Design" (ITEA, 2000). This focus on design as opposed to problem-solving will bring U.S. curricular conceptualizing in line with British notions. How American technology education practitioners will react to this shift in emphasis is a point of interest. Design is also featured in the science standards. Its special focus is probably due to the fact that the National Academy of Engineering has been one of the key validating agencies for the standards. This group sees technology as a vehicle for teaching engineering principles. Thus, standard nine speaks of engineering design as follows: "Students will develop an understanding of engineering design" (ITEA, 2000, p. 99). Design here suggests a rational process that prevails for engineers. But does it apply equally to technicians or craftspersons? Certainly, engineers do not monopolize technological invention.

Another issue to which some may turn their attention relates to the treatment of design as a general, content-independent skill. Standard eleven states that "Students will develop abilities to apply the design process" (ITEA, 2000, p. 115). Is design an omnibus intellectual tool that can be applied successfully across domains, however dissimilar? That would mean that knowledge of design in construction is transferable to design in electronics. On the face of it, that would seem an absurd prospect. But there are other perspectives on the subject that would make for a lively debate, one that may only be resolved through research.

The more familiar content organizers for technology appear in Chapter 7, "The Designed World." This chapter sets forth seven standards, mapped onto classes of technology as follows: medical, agricultural and related biotechnologies, energy and power, information and communication, transportation, manufacturing, and construction. Medical technologies are a surprise here, never having made inroads as a content area in technology education. Standard fourteen states that "Students will develop an understanding of and be able to select and use medical technologies" (ITEA, 2000, p. 141). Children are to be taught about such technologies as vaccines, x-ray, and genetic engineering. A strong case could be made that the medical context is as rich in technological diversity and complexity, and in possibility, as the more typical industrial context. Medical technology is thus a credible newcomer. But how it holds up as content in the technology curriculum remains to be seen.

Each standard is organized in accordance with grade-level appropriateness. At least, that is the claim of authors (ITEA, 2000). Taking the theme energy and power as an example, standard sixteen states that "Students will develop an understanding of and be able to select and use energy and power technologies" (ITEA, 2000, p. 158). In grades K-2, students are to "investigate the particular types of energy and power that they are most likely to encounter" (p.159). In grades 3-5, the focus shifts to forms of energy and energy conservation. In grades 6-8 the focus shifts to the nature of energy, power, and work. Processes to convert energy (dams, steam, etc.) are discussed. In grades 9-12, the emphasis is on synthesis. Types of energy-- kinetic and potential--are introduced, along with systems theory.

What teachers will need to understand here is the logic the authors utilized to determine what content is appropriate for what grade. This is not a trivial matter. There is little tradition in technology education of coherent course sequences for grades K through 12 that are premised upon inquiry, or that are agreed upon by communities of practitioners (Sanders, 1997). Are there fundamental ideas within the content domains of technology education that must be taught in the early grades to create scaffolding for ideas taught in later grades? What progression of ideas yields the most significant student learning? Teachers may have to resolve such issues by employing their own content-selection logics as their students move across the grades. There is work to be done here. It needs to be said that having standards for grades K through 12 provides opportunity for the field to look again at curriculum in the early and late grades, where the subject has been sparsely represented in the schools.

In a later section I look more closely at what the publication of standards might mean for technology education practice. But it is necessary first to situate such a discussion against the backdrop of national standards, school reform, and economic competitiveness.

The Standards Movement

The Case for Standards

Implicit in the standards movement is the notion of high-quality or high-stakes learning. Standards mean high standards, if advocates speak their minds freely. So although the rhetoric at one level advocates subject X or subject Y for all, with all of the democratic implications thereby engendered, we have to read between the lines. If the primary goal here were to equalize opportunity to learn, the solution would not be a set of standards but rather a revolutionary social project. What does it require to ensure that all students attain high standards in a society in which quality education correlates with level of community wealth (Biddle, 1997)? Will the imperative to teach to standards be the occasion for abandoning socially undesirable school practices (such as class, race, and gender-based apportioning of subjects to students), or will it encourage these practices even more? Science for all and technology for all are formidable concepts, complicated by economic, social and political considerations. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Economic competitiveness

In the United States, standards became tied to national economic competitiveness with the publication of A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983). World-class academic achievement was viewed as a correlate of world-class productivity. Thus benchmarks indicative of world class in academic achievement were needed as bases of cross-national comparisons. In a way, standards constituted education's version of the quality movement in industry, though with critical differences. The quality movement made process control central to attaining world-class standards, on the assumption that quality products would result only when quality processes were in place, understood by all, and implemented by workers with requisite training and commitment. Standards in education are not there yet. For a host of reasons, the process variables are simply not under control.

Social equity

Darling-Hammond and Falk (1997) argue that when standards are developed to reflect what we know about student learning and discipline-based inquiry, they can indeed help educators reform schools by reshaping curriculum, teaching, and assessment. The problem with standards is that learning is left up to the child. Standards do not deal sufficiently with how schooling and teaching practices must change. Standards work, they argue, when teachers have a deep understanding of their subject matter. Quality advocates in industry would recognize these concerns as rightly targeting critical processes that are upstream from the product. In education we will have to look upstream, well ahead of curriculum implementation, if standards are to be of maximum benefit. For example, Darling-Hammond and Falk point to inequalities in student access to quality teachers, a condition that would be unlikely to lead to uniformly high attainment of standards.

Offering a view from the American Federation of Teachers, Gandal (1995) asserted that standards could lead to reform by focusing on academic performance, being grounded in core disciplines, being rigorous and world class, and laying out a common core curriculum. To be of worth, he argued, standards should be set forth with great clarity, such that parents, teachers, and students understand them. Expressing support for standards based upon reflection on public education in selected countries, Resnick and Nolan (1995) observed that countries known for outstanding students have clear and demanding public education standards. Even where there is tracking, as in Dutch schools, all students are expected to perform well.

It could be argued that standards constitute the antidote for tracking: Remove curricular tracks and the achievement gap between students will close. Waters, Burger, and Burger (1995) report reduction of the achievement gap between Anglo and Hispanic students when standards are made the basis of the curriculum. But the fact that standards lead to reduction in the achievement gap is not taken lightly by parents of high-achieving students. Buried deep in the discourse on standards is the concern that progress by low-achieving students may be at the expense of high-achieving ones. Oakes and Wells (1998) write that, although it is a worthy goal, detracking remains unrealizable because of fears that the advantages gained by high-achieving students would be lost. Indeed, these authors' experience reflects that parents often employ tactics that make detracking as a reform politically impossible.

Coherence in the curriculum

One argument for standards is that there is not coherence in the curriculum of American schools. Standards would refocus the curriculum, thus fostering higher academic achievement. This argument is evident in A Splintered Vision (Schmidt, McKnight, &; Raizen, 1997), a critique of American mathematics and science curricula.

Should high standards apply toward all children? Addressing this question, Noddings (1997) speaks of school districts setting high standards but being unwilling to dedicate resources to make standards-based reform happen. How would poor children and their teachers meet standards? And, in any case, he muses, who would perform low-wage jobs if everyone were to attain world-class achievement scores? Noddings makes the point that education alone cannot solve the problem of poverty. Maybe there should be differentiated standards, he suggests, since all students cannot perform in the same way. In like vein, Reigeluth (1997) proposes two purposes of standards : customization and standardization. All students are not alike; therefore standards for all would require considerable investment in professional development. Still, high-stakes uniform standards for all students are not a practical idea. But a goal of the standards movement could be to accelerate learning for all students, in which case standards could be the basis of customization, with time being variable.

The Case Against Standards

Many arguments are offered against the idea of employing uniform standards in education. One is that standards represent an elitist concept that focuses only on high achievers. Another is that supposed links between education and economic development are without foundation. Yet another is that the circumstances of countries vary, therefore cross-country comparisons are misleading. There is also the compelling argument of the effects of poverty on the creation of a level playing field. Will standards have any meaning if inequalities in educational funding between communities persist?

Socio-economic discrepancies

Howe (1995) argues that standards constitute an important but small piece of meaningful education reform. He writes: "Better educational standards can eliminate low achievement… no more effectively than better nutritional standards can eliminate hunger under famine conditions" (p. 22). The poor educational circumstances that exist in some communities do not provide a good context for standards-based reform, he contends. Biddle (1997) makes the same point, showing that despite talk of standards there are clear inequities across states and districts. Funding varies sharply, and higher levels of funding yield greater student achievement. Above and beyond funding is the rate of poverty. The poverty rate is higher in the U.S. than in many developed countries. Poor children go to poorly funded schools. Biddle provides data from the Second International Mathematics Study showing that poverty and funding are statistically significant predictors of eighth-grade achievement, with district level funding and child poverty explaining 25% of variance in math achievement. Other data sets show child poverty to explain 55% of state differences in average achievement. Setting standards will have little effect, Biddle contends, if funding disparities across states persist. Schools can improve only if these disparities are removed.

Educational attainment and productivity

Levin (1998) argues that the economic rationale for standards is preeminent but on shaky ground. He points to the weak relation between test scores and adult earnings and weak predictive validity of test scores on productivity. He offers the powerful example that German and Japanese firms are able to produce at no compromise to high quality when they locate plants in rural areas of the American South, where poverty rates and low educational achievement are higher than the norm. He argues, therefore, that it is not necessarily educational attainment but probably management, organization, efficient production processes, job security, and adequate training that yield high productivity.

National curricula and student performance

Wolf (1998) showsthat there is an absence of relationship between the existence of national curricula and performance in mathematics and science in the seventh and eighth grades. Some countries with national curricula have performed lower than the U.S., whereas others without such systems have performed better on the TIMSS study. And even without the adoption of uniform standards in the U.S., there is evidence of substantial and significant increase in math achievement since 1977 and in science since 1978. Neill (1998) takes the view that national tests, a natural offshoot of the standards discussion, are a bad idea for a host of reasons, including the prospect that such tests will focus only on basic knowledge and not on higher level skills. There is also the possibility that test scores might be used as a basis for tracking students.

Standards and student diversity

One knotty issue with which any discussion of standards must contend is that of student diversity. Will the quest for high standards be at the expense of other educational initiatives aimed at making all students ready to learn? Lee and Fradd (1998) speak of instructional congruence as an imperative if standards are to have meaning in diverse educational settings. There must be congruence "between the nature of science and the language and cultural experiences of the students" (p. 18). Culture is but one dimension of this concern about inclusivity; gender is another. For subjects such as math and science, in which girls have typically lagged behind boys, the push for standards ought not to obscure the need for higher female participation at demanding levels. Standards in technology will be of dubious consequence should their introduction obscure perhaps the primary area needing reform: namely, the low participation rates of girls and women.

Lessons Learned from Standards in Other Subjects

Standards in Science and Mathematics

As indicated before, technology education standards derive impetus from standards in high-status subjects such as math and, especially, science. What are the lessons to be learned from the experience of these subjects as technology education now adopts standards?

Two sets of standards for science exist. One set has been published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) as part of Project 2061 (1990; 1993); more recently, a second set has been published by the National Research Council (NRC, 1996). In calling the science education community to action, NRC authors explain that the purpose of the standards is to make realizable the goal of scientific literacy for all. All students must have the opportunity to become scientifically literate. The standards are said to "provide criteria to judge progress toward a national vision of learning and teaching science...providing a banner around which reformers can rally" (p.12). An interesting aspect of the NRC science standards is that technology is extensively addressed. The goal of science is said to be understanding of the natural world; the goal of technology is to modify the world in keeping with human needs. Design is said to relate to technology as inquiry does to science. Thus, the science standards propose that in grades 5 through 8 all students should develop technological design abilities. The prototypic example set forth in the science standards for teaching technological design is the familiar egg-drop problem. A container must be designed to prevent the egg from breaking.

In mathematics, the prime advocate for national standards has been the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). The approach here has been comprehensive. One set of standards has focused upon curriculum and evaluation (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 1989). A standard is said to be a statement about “what is valued” (p. 2). The standards are premised upon awareness of developmental stages. For example, in K through 4 the curriculum is to be conceptual. Mathematics abstractions are to emerge from empirical evidence, and the subject has to be taught actively. This publication also includes standards for instruction and program evaluation. It speaks to the need for consistency of the environment in which math is taught.

Beyond curriculum and evaluation, the NCTM has published a set of pedagogical standards (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 1991). What the teacher should expect and do in classrooms to meet standards is spelled out. For example, the relative roles of student and teacher in classroom discourse are addressed, as well as ways to improve discourse. In a third publication, the NCTM has outlined assessment standards that take into account not just technical matters but also social considerations. For example, they suggest creating "equity standards" that acknowledge student uniqueness (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 1995).

Writing early in the life of the math standards, Romberg (1993) asserted that the new standards were to be the basis of reform. The math curriculum had been out of date, he noted. There was need for quality control in key aspects of the subject such as the creation of textbooks. Beyond quality control, the standards were intended to establish goals and promote change. The greatest hurdle was to get teachers to “own the philosophy and vision” (p.38) expressed in the standards.

The math standards are now being revised (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 1998). The new draft consolidates existing standards under a set of principles including equity (reducing inequality and low expectations in math education), math curriculum (coherent and comprehensive curricula); teaching (need for competent and caring teachers), learning (enabling students to understand and use math), and assessment (evaluation informing teaching). That the standards reassess previous recommendations in order to attend to context issues, such as equity (as opposed to the all-encompassing diversity), is profound. The question here is not so much standards for all but rather providing all the opportunity to learn.

The mathematics and scientific communities have also begun to internalize standards-based reform. For example, the National Science Foundation premises its funding of math and science education projects on conformity to national standards (National Science Foundation, 1999). A report by the Council of Chief State School Officers (1997) on the progress of states in implementing standards has found that 46 states have completed mathematics and science standards, their provisions being similar to the main categories of the national standards.

Standards in the Arts

Although mathematics and science are important exemplars in the standards movement, they probably are not as instructive for technology education as the arts. Like technology educators, the arts education community must contend with tenuous space in the curriculum, especially in the current market-driven educational climate. Eisner (1998) writes about persistent query as to whether the arts can help increase test scores in reading or mathematics and pressures on arts educators to respond. In keeping with the political times and pressures, Hanna (1994) has constructed an argument claiming that the arts provide important connections between schooling and work:

Many policy-makers may understand arts education if they understand how it helps our youth to enter the world of work, whether in the arts or in non-arts areas. Not only do policy-makers need to believe that the arts are core subjects (like mathematics, science, English, and geography) worthy of receiving resources, they need to convince constituents who blithely dismiss the arts. (p. 31)

The arts education community insisted on its subjects being numbered among those that would create standards consistent with the dictates of Goals 2000. Aware of the tenuous status of the arts in the curriculum, they saw standards as a way to focus attention nationally on the value of the arts. Thus in 1994, voluntary standards for K through 12 arts (dance, music, theater and the visual arts) were presented to the Secretary of Education. The National Standards for Arts Education was a collaborative project among the arts education establishment, and, generally, the leadership has been arguing that standards present an historic opportunity for the arts to project themselves, thereby gaining greater recognition in the curriculum (Music Educators National Conference, 1994).

The American Music Conference (1996) reported that almost all states were on the move in implementing the standards in some form. Encouraging support among the ranks for the standards, the Consortium of National Arts Education Associations (1996) wrote that “standards are not rules but guidelines, not regulations but benchmarks, not compulsory but voluntary” (p.30). The aim was to inculcate aesthetic literacy. Students were to be expected to: communicate at a basic level in the four artistic disciplines of visual art, dance, music, and theater; communicate proficiently in one of these four; demonstrate informed acquaintance with exemplary artistic works; and relate arts knowledge within and across the arts disciplines. Speaking in turn for the four arts, Purcell, Mahlmann, Wills, and Hatfield (1996) expressed enthusiasm for the standards. How these leaders of their respective arts communities felt about the standards is reflected in their view that “without standards, we are condemned to an unbroken journey into the abyss of arts mediocrity; we will remain a Nation at Risk” (p.14).

But there have been contrary views within the arts community. For example, Wilson (1996) expressed the view that the standards took a reductionist approach to curriculum whereas a holistic one was needed. Individual standards had little meaning. Thus, there was need for standards that were subservient to complete expressions of art. His suggestion was that individual standards should be combined into a single coherent goal. Ross 1994) argued that, in order to provide more than checkpoints, the standards should indicate how to navigate from one level of performance to the next. Contentions notwithstanding, standards have become a rallying point for arts education, as they have for science and mathematics education, and are viewed as an important basis of reform that could lead to upgrading of the status of the subject in society.

Discussion: Standards for Technology Education

It has been important to establish here that what the ITEA (1996, 2000) is responding to in proposing standards for technology is a national movement towards standards-based reform. It is a movement to which not just the core academic subjects but also those at the periphery (such as the arts) have responded as fields, viewing the creation of standards as a means of curricular rejuvenation. Clearly, subjects that do not seize the opportunity to reform themselves via standards would risk being deemed outliers. For technology education that would be politically disastrous, given the already tenuous status of the subject. Thus, the creation of standards for the subject is an intelligent circumstance. It's another opportunity for renewal. In anticipating what the new standards for technology education might mean for the subject, four inquiry questions are posed and addressed. They are:

  1. Are standards for technological literacy needed?
  2. Is the subject really suited to standards?
  3. Will standards accelerate the transition from industrial arts?
  4. Will the field adopt an appropriate disposition to the new standards?

Are Standards Needed?

From the political standpoint, that question has already been answered here. The response of the arts is lesson enough. Standards do not constitute a panacea, but they present another opportunity for change. They show that the subject has arrived. More fundamentally, standards for technology education seem necessary if they would better focus the field on what students should learn when they study the subject. Unlike other subjects, there is great imprecision regarding what technology educators believe children should learn as they move through the grades. Standards help us to keep this important question on the front burner. They also cause us to keep assessment of learning in view. We really have not had adequate discussion of student assessment in our literature.

Standards in technology afford an opportunity for improved public relations. If the new standards help to communicate to the public, generally, and to school principals, guidance counselors, parents and teachers of other subjects just what the study of technology entails, then they will have been worth introducing on that count alone. Public understanding and acceptance of the subject is a necessary prerequisite for making the goal “technological literacy for all” realizable.

But standards will have done us no good if teachers are unsure how to use them. Many curriculum initiatives in the field have stumbled in the past because they were never actually implemented. The same fate awaits the new standards if teachers are not provided the necessary staff development. Translation into practice is crucial. Perhaps it means that the standards will have to break out of the proprietary hold of the ITEA, to become owned by states, local communities, and other organizations interested in the teaching of technology in schools. There will have to be spontaneous demand for the standards and multiple ways to gain needed competence in their adoption.

Is the Subject Suited to Standards?

This question is posed here mainly because it can be argued that technology's claim in the curriculum is a nonacademic one. Instead of the core subjects (e.g., math, science, history), we may wish to be grouped with the aesthetic subjects (e.g., physical education, art, music): subjects that are spared the burden of delivering the nation from risk. But the age of innocence even for these subjects is over, as Hanna's (1994) efficiency argument for the arts reveals. And given the centrality of technology to economic progress, there is no place here for the subject to hide.

Perhaps there really is need to interpret standards in terms of scholastic prowess, as Pannabecker (1986) envisaged for the subject early on. But then there is the risk that we could thereby denature it, by downplaying its open-ended, artistic aspects in favor of its more formal aspects. There is much more to technology education that can be captured in a paper and pencil test. We need measures that deal with the subject on its own terms.

Standards could mean simply that the field agrees on a minimum set of ideas with which children must grapple at each stage of schooling, as well as the minimum conditions under which these ideas should be taught, so that all students have opportunity to learn. This latter meaning of standards suits the field well.

Will Standards Accelerate the Transition from Industrial Arts?

With proper implementation, many states will welcome standards as the basis for their curriculum guidelines for the subject. Many may choose to use them in formulating teacher content knowledge requirements for certification. It is the states that will give true legitimacy to standards. The big implementation challenge ahead is to get them aboard. Once they do, local school districts, schools, and teachers will follow. As local districts and teachers begin to wrestle with the new language of the standards, the old language of industrial arts will gradually be displaced.

All of this assumes an active process of mobilization. The lesson from arts education is that the professional bodies that represent the four arts subjects assumed a proactive posture once standards were produced. The technology education community will have to do likewise. Change from industrial arts to technology will not be advanced merely because of the existence of standards. There will be need for modeling and demonstration. Bybee and Loucks-Horsley (2000) make clear that standards are only a beginning. What remains to be done includes “professional dialogue and exemplary illustrations of what the technology content standards mean for curriculum materials, classroom assessments, and professional development of technology teachers” (p.15). These authors emphasize that standards cannot stand alone. Variables such as pedagogy, assessment, professional development, and systemic reform are intertwined and must be so viewed as we move beyond standards.

Will the field adopt an appropriate disposition to the new standards? Intelligent reading of the times will suggest to us that as a field we should embrace standards. That does not mean that we should do so unquestioningly. The scholars and practitioners of the field should seize the opportunity presented by standards to reargue old issues relating to the scope of content for the field--questions relating to assessment--and the important question of measuring technological literacy. Bybee and Loucks-Horsley (2000) suggest that the standards should “trigger questions about fundamental components of the system we refer to as technology education” (p.15). The standards also offer an opportunity for reopening sociological questions relating to the subject, particularly its historically low status. The idea of technology for all is a powerful mandate that standards can help advance.

What the field does not need is indifference to the standards, or second-guessing of their efficacy even before they have the opportunity to be implemented. The advice of Samuel Hope (1994), a leader in the arts community, to his colleagues with respect to the disposition they should adopt to arts standards is instructive:

Although time will tell what happens, let us not make the mistake of convincing ourselves at the outset that the whole project will not work.… If we do not each do our part, we can be sure that this critical effort for content and substance will be seriously damaged or fail altogether. (p.1)

Beyond having an open mind about the new standards, it is my view that as technology adherents we should become decidedly animated about the possibilities. But the onus is on the ITEA being in the public domain. What the field needs is decentralization of the standards effort, to include the universities, school districts, teachers, and other professional organizations that profess technology education. Standards cannot be a closed shop.

The publication of standards for technology education offers possibilities for renewal of our field. Those possibilities should not be squandered. This could be a time of excitement, but how does a document become a movement? How do we get to the point where the typical technology teacher routinely uses the standards as the conceptual frame for his or her teaching? How do we go from standards to curriculum change? In mathematics, science, and the arts, standards have galvanized practitioners into action. That is happening because people are putting their heads together. The various communities within these disciplines are coming forward to pitch in. The process of giving life to standards is a collaborative one.

If there is one reason why standards for technology education might not lead to the same effects as in other fields it would be that technology education has become a mono-culture with a single dominant entity, the ITEA, speaking for it. That the ITEA is good for the field is beyond question. But monopoly is always dangerous, more so in the realm of ideas. Who would dispute that technology education has benefited greatly from the intervention of the AAAS through its Project 2061 initiative? And is not the NSF role pivotal in helping the field join the standards movement? For standards to take hold, technology education will have to be spoken for by more than one voice.


Lewis is Professor in the Department of Work, Community, and Family Education at the University of Minnesota, St. Paul. He is currently on leave as Program Manager at the National Science Foundation.


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Tracy Gilmore