Lack of Emphasis on STEM Subjects in K-12 Education (Peterson Ianakiev)


Reference to a current Michigan bill or law that relates in some way to your proposal:

Senate Bill 0081 – This bill amends certain curriculum standards and assessments that are mandated by the federal government.


This bill strives to give the state of Michigan more control over the setting of educational standards. Its main goal was to amend Section 1278 of Act 451 of 1976. Further, the bill’s goal is to improve current educational standards by placing more emphasis on state-mandated guidelines which Michigan can control, rather than federally-mandated ones that are imposed upon the state. Despite giving the state and its public schools more freedom over curriculum building, the bill kept the previous requirement that public schools must adhere to the Michigan Department of Education’s K-12 Science Standards (provided in link below). While this is not ideal, there was a clause stating that “science content may be updated as appropriate” based on recent and future discoveries (see above and bill link for more information).

Link to Bill:

Link to Michigan Dept. of Education K-12 Science Standards:,4615,7-140-28753_64839_65510-339833--,00.html

Why this proposal will make a difference in the lives of students of all ages across Michigan, or a significant subgroup (by age, background, economic status, and/or region, etc.) of students in Michigan:

STEM education in Michigan is anything but adequate. As cited in my media artifact, prospectus, and three solutions thus far, most Michigan students are not considered proficient in science.

My proposal will benefit students across all ages, beginning from kindergarten, up to the end of post-secondary education. The goal is to inspire students to become passionate about STEM fields and encourage them to pursue such careers. This inspiration must begin at a young age, and the curriculum that students are exposed to has to build upon itself to ensure continuity.

Current Michigan curriculum standards do not teach students real-world STEM application, yet the state’s own standardized tests try to assess that exact concept. Why the disconnect? My proposal will help students learn STEM in a holistic, well-rounded manner that has real-world application at its core.

As one progresses through their educational career, this new style of learning will hopefully inspire them to pursue a STEM-related degree in college, eventually leading to lucrative positions that can help the whole economy of the state of Michigan. Overall, this proposal can benefit many more than just the students who will experience my proposed style of education.

How and where did you learn about the issues underlying your proposal?

I first learned about these issues through several avenues which eventually inspired me to learn more about the situation. First, I conducted a case study during my internship last summer that looked at ways in which education technology can help students in the classroom. It is here that I began to learn how current curriculum standards all across the country (and Michigan) are keeping students from reaching proficiency on standardized tests, and more importantly, are failing to inspire students to want to learn STEM.

The second step in the process came after speaking to my younger brother, who explained how watered-down his science classes are. Further, his school barely offers any computer science initiatives, a field that he is very passionate about. This means that he has to teach himself how to code, rather than learning in school. In essence, why is he going to school? Finally, I reached out to some educators I know, and many of them explained another large problem: very few children are passionate about biology, chemistry, and physics. At this point, I began to research these issues, which led to the basis of my proposal.

How has your service activity influenced your thinking about this proposal?

My service activity is Bright Futures, an after-school program at Ypsilanti Community Middle School committed to inspiring students to perform well in school and build a better future for themselves. The program offers a great after-school coding platform through Gamers’ Society, a non-profit based in Ann Arbor. Gamers’ Society focuses on teaching coding through playing games. On my first day, I was fortunate to partake in a coding session led by two instructors from the program. The goal was to code modifications in Minecraft with guidance from an on-screen video, and then play those modifications in the game itself. While it took me some time to get the hang of it, I was amazed at how much better the students were than myself. After the activity, I asked some of the students if they have access to such coding programs during the school day, but they said they do not. Instead, they described their science classes as “boring and old-school.” At this point, I was puzzled. Clearly, great educational sources exist outside of current curriculum standards, but they are not making it into the classroom. My proposal will strive to fix just that.

Link to your media artifact(s) giving background on the issue:

My news article: Lack of STEM Emphasis is Hurting Michigan's Future


Talk directly with at least 3 real live people who have special knowledge about this topic or the impact your proposal would have, and summarize their comments. These may include people appearing in your media artifact (video, podcast, etc.).

CONSULTATION 1: Chuck Hatt, Principal at Burns Park Elementary School

Meeting with Mr. Hatt was crucial in kick-starting this proposal. While I had already completed a large quantity of research before meeting with him, he introduced me to the problem that state curriculum standards are not aligned with standardized testing procedures. The main issue, he explained, is that curriculum standards call for a theoretical approach to STEM. Ironically enough, standardized tests assess a student’s ability to apply STEM concepts to real world problems. This changed my view of the issue as it explained why so many students are not considered proficient at crucial academic checkpoints – they are not taught the correct material. Ultimately, this meeting led me to start thinking about ways that the curriculum could be changed.

My conversation with Mr. Hatt also led to my discovery of Project Lead the Way. He explained how the program worked, as well as some of the benefits which Burns Park had realized since implementing the program. After our discussion, I began to piece together the idea that current curriculum standards are not adequate, yet there are programs such as Project Lead the Way which already offer pre-made, comprehensive solutions that focus on real-world application.

CONSULTATION 2: Charles Stout, Director of Exhibits at Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum

After discovering Project Lead the Way and it’s hands-on, real-world approach, I contacted Charles Stout, an individual whose career focuses on teaching STEM concepts to students through real-world examples. Mr. Stout was instrumental in inspiring two main themes within this proposal: self-discovery and computer science.

Regarding self-discovery, he explained that in his opinion, most visitors of the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum learn best on their own, with a little bit of guidance. For example, he explained that having clear instructions at each exhibit and allowing children to interact with the exhibit on their own often leads to higher assessment scores. Assessment scores are taken after introducing a new exhibit to test its efficacy. The better a child understands the underlying STEM concepts of an exhibit, the higher their score. On the other hand, attempts to teach students the same concepts in a classroom-type setting has led to very poor assessment scores in the past. Mr. Stout also explained that he strives to design exhibits that are applicable to the real world. I cross-referenced his ideas with Project Lead the Way and found that similar to his exhibits, this is exactly the same approach the organization takes with teaching STEM. This further solidified my conclusion that program partnerships with this organization and others like it are a potential avenue to pursue.

When it came to computer science, Mr. Stout explained that many exhibits at the Hands-On Museum are enabled by technology. According to his experiences, technology can easily show the intersection between the different fields of STEM. For example, while the museum could not replicate a live exhibit of a heart, they were recently able to display a virtual model of a heart to explain the intersection between biology and physics. This also ties back nicely to Project Lead the Way, which uses computer science as the thread to tie together biology, chemistry, and physics. This second part of the interview led me to narrow my focus from changing all of STEM education to relying heavily on computer science, which was outlined in my prospectus.

CONSULTATION 3: Representative from Project Lead the Way’s Grants and Implementations Team (unnamed due to company confidentiality policies)

After identifying Project Lead the Way as a potential solution to this issue, I wanted to see how an implementation of the program actually worked. According to the representative I connected with from the firm, the process that includes grants given by private company sponsors works in a very specific way. First, sponsors provide a grant and choose certain parameters regarding how their grant should be spent. For example, they could choose to sponsor certain programs (elementary, middle, or high school, or all three) as well as schools within specific locations (e.g. Michigan). Then, schools apply for grants and Project Lead the Way conducts a matching process between schools and grant sponsors. Need is the first criteria observed. Once a school is awarded a grant, the implementation process begins.

The first step of the process is teacher training, which typically takes 1-2 months and is done over the summer. Then, PLTW delivers the necessary equipment to a classroom and installs it in 2-3 days. Once those two steps are complete, the implementation is done. Student progress is closely monitored to ensure that the program is effective. If there are deficiencies along the way, PLTW works with schools to ensure students are receiving the best experience possible.

After this phone interview, I realized that implementing this program is very easy, and donors/sponsors can easily choose how they want their donation to be used. This played a large part in the connection of solutions one and three of my proposal. To make PLTW’s adoption a smaller financial expense for schools, the state could incentivize firms to donate by giving them tax breaks or credits. These firms could easily choose how they want the money to be used within Michigan, which would lead to better STEM education for all students and a larger future talent pool from which these firms could choose. It creates a very beneficial, symbiotic cycle.


Describe the specific issue or problem, being sure to provide sufficient context so that someone less familiar with the issue has a sense of the bigger picture, but know that your focus here is on a more detailed spelling out of the specific problem or issue that you’ve identified. (250 words minimum)

My Prospectus on STEM Education Within Michigan

Potential Solutions:

Describe three reasonable, feasible potential solutions or approaches that would help address this problem.

Link to My Three Solutions

SOLUTION 1: Partnering with outside organizations. 

SOLUTION 2: Rewriting STEM curriculum with a backwards-looking focus. 

SOLUTION 3: Encouraging corporate investment in STEM education through tax incentives. 

Please see the link above for details surrounding the three solutions. 

Reaction or advice from a Topic Coordinator: Meeting with Brian Hampton

You must solicit a critique from a topic coordinator, and explain the impact that advice has had on the final draft of this proposal.

After meeting with Brian Hampton, I realized that my initial ideas were not heavily focused on funding and costs. Education funding is an issue that is constantly debated, often sparking legislative changes. After our conversation, I began conducting a lot of research on how the costs of switching from traditional STEM curriculum to partnering with programs such as Project Lead the Way could be minimized. This played a significant role in my decision to combine solutions one and three. Despite the cost of Project Lead the Way being very similar to traditional STEM curriculum, I had not previously considered implementation costs. As a result, funding from private firms could help alleviate that burden that schools face. The best way to make that happen is through incentives in the form of tax breaks or credits from the state.

Reaction or advice from a Professor: Meeting with Professor Stanzler

A meeting with Professor Stanzler was the final piece of evidence I needed to decide that combining solutions one and three was the best way to go forward with the proposal. His advice was to narrow my focus on advocating for the state to give tax breaks/credits to Michigan-based firms, since they are typically the ones paying Michigan state tax. Further, since these firms are based here, they are the ones that would benefit most from a larger STEM-focused workforce. Ultimately, this part of our discussion played an important role in narrowing my focus to Michigan firms, as well as the decision to adequately frame the benefits that the state can reap from this change of the STEM curriculum.

Professor Stanzler also encouraged me to think critically about counterarguments. While this seems like a very beneficial proposal for the state, there are many other ways in which schools and the state can use their respective resources. It was at this point that the following reality set in: while STEM has many benefits in society, so do other subjects that schools teach. Overall, this part of our discussion led me to really flesh out the way in which I framed the benefits of my proposal. The goal of this was to mitigate some of the counterarguments against the proposal.

Research process:

Describe your research process — indicate who you talked to (including but not limited to consultants), what you read, what your thinking was, how it changed over time, and how your consultants changed your thinking. This description of your research process definitely could include “dead ends,” or ideas you had that didn’t ultimately bear fruit.  In short, we want to know what you did and how it led to your legislation, and we also want you to give us a window into your thought process.

As described above, the inspiration to pursue this proposal came from two key areas: a case study I conducted during my internship over the summer and several discussions with my younger brother. At first, this led me to do some surface level research, during which I mainly found statistics highlighting poor standardized test scores. My initial thoughts were that teaching quality of STEM subjects within the state of Michigan was low, but at the same time, I was finding many news articles that applauded schools for supplementing traditional curriculum standards with new and innovative solutions.

I thought deeply about my educational journey and how it led me to where I am today. During this inflection process, I realized that a large part of why I have made it thus far, and why I will hopefully have a large impact on my home city of Chicago, is due to the opportunities that my education has provided me. This led me to do further research on ways that downfalls in STEM education has hurt Michigan, and I quickly found lots of evidence to support this idea. Lots of empirical data was cited in the last third of my media artifact.

At this point, I was not really sure what to believe regarding test scores and teaching quality, so I reached out to Chuck Hatt. He gave me an inside perspective of some of the issues that schools face. For example, schools are forced to adhere to strict, yet inadequate STEM curriculum standards. During our discussion, as also mentioned above, he introduced me to Project Lead the Way. He explained that the school could only supplement state-mandated curricula with a small number PLTW programs due limited grant funding.

At this point, I began researching the costs of traditional STEM education vs. PLTW. As it turns out, there is not a large difference between the two. Despite this, to make the potential transition smoother, I began to think of ways that schools could receive funding for programs such as PLTW. I easily found many examples of firms giving grants to schools to implement these programs, which gave me hope.

At the same time, I had some qualms about advocating for such a program. Many public-private partnerships are viewed in a negative light by critics who claim that the public pays for private corporations’ benefits. While I did not find many educational examples, apart from charter schools, I had a feeling that this would be viewed in the same light. Fortunately, I found many examples of firms such as Toyota and Verizon giving large grants to PLTW without much criticism. This eventually led me to the following conclusion: since firms are simply donating to schools, with the potential (but not guarantee) of benefiting from a stronger workforce in the future, which would also be helped by receiving higher wages, then advocating for tax breaks and credits should not be viewed in a negative light. Firms are not directly profiting from children.

Hungry for real-world evidence of hands-on STEM applications, I reached out to Charles Stout. He was very happy to help me understand how real-world examples and teaching lead to better learning. Mr. Stout also advocated for an alternative, backwards-looking curriculum model. This model focused on rewriting curriculum starting from the most advanced topics one would see as a senior in high school. The goal was to slowly strip away and simplify theories as a student’s age decreased. For example, acceleration could be introduced in 1st grade by riding a bike down a hill, graphing it could be introduced in 5th grade in conjunction with the coordinate plane, and eventually calculus would be reached as a senior in high school. More details of our interview are given in the consultations section, but the other parts of this discussion (those focused on real-world application) ultimately helped me in solidifying my belief that PLTW and similar programs are the best way to change STEM education in Michigan, with computer science at the center of it all.  

My next step of the process was to figure out how STEM curriculum could be improved within Michigan. I had several inspirations, which led to the basis of my three solutions, and I ultimately have decided to pursue a hybrid of solutions one and three. The reason I chose this hybrid is that while traditional STEM education is similar in cost to programs such as PLTW, there are some transition costs that must be implemented. It was also at this point that I dropped solution number two. Rewriting the state of Michigan’s STEM curriculum standards seemed like too large of a feat and as a result, was quite unrealistic.

At this point, I had most of the proposal’s main structure done, but received feedback from my peers that led me to think about various issues that may arise. For example, what is the best way to incentivize donations? While a tax breaks and credits are a great thing for firms, research has shown that this is a great way for firms to keep donating, but not to begin donating initially. As a result, I did more research behind the psychology of donations for grants. I found that effective marketing, as well as a high degree of transparency around how donated funds are being used, are actually successful tactics to incentivize individuals to make a new donation. These are inexpensive ways that could ensure that the program can gain traction among Michigan-based firms.

Finally, my final research focused on ways to ensure that firms actually receive better workers in the future. Fortunately, firms such as Boeing have some small-scale programs where they develop partnerships with students at an early age. The overall goal is to expose students to real jobs at an early age, so they could develop a passion for a specific field as they advance through their educational journeys. This makes me believe that if firms donate to programs such as PLTW, then they will also want to maintain relationships with students in the long run.


The sections below should comprise your final proposal language, submitted for consideration by your peers and potential inclusion in the MSC Platform.

Preambulatory clauses

These set up the PROBLEM, but not the solution.

WHEREAS....62% of fourth graders and 64% of eighth graders in Michigan are not considered proficient in science subjects.

WHEREAS....standardized testing focuses on real-world application while curriculum standards stress theoretical learning, highlighting a stark disconnect.

WHEREAS....students do not build a passion for STEM related subjects prior to high school, leading them to view these fields as “boring.”

WHEREAS....69% of students in Michigan do not perform well on the science portion of the ACT, leading to a very small number pursuing STEM degrees as undergraduates.

WHEREAS....Michigan is unable to fill 87.5% of its computer science-based positions every year due to a shortage of graduates in the field, thus failing to attract substantial technological investments, driving away high growth firms, and depressing the state’s economy.

(Add more "Whereas" clauses if necessary.)

Operative clauses

These describe in detail, the solution you are proposing (not the problem itself; those should go in the "Whereas" clauses above).


1. Michigan must take away current STEM subject curriculum standards. They are inadequate and do not prepare students to successfully navigate state-written standardized tests or face real-world problems within STEM.

2. Michigan in turn should recommend that schools partner with programs such as Project Lead the Way to ensure that students receive a holistic, well-designed curriculum that ties STEM fields together, rather than dividing them into silos. Computer science must be the link that enables this joining of STEM fields to emphasize the importance of technology in the future.

3. A pilot test should be conducted to test the viability of the progam in a real-world setting. This pilot must be done at 3 elementary schools, 3 middle schools, and 3 high schools across Michigan to test a diverse range of students across many backgrounds. The pilot's result can then be used to fine-tune a wider rollout. 

4. Funding for these initiatives should come from two main sources. First, existing funding should be allocated away from traditional STEM education and put towards partnerships with firms such as Project Lead the Way. Next, new funding should be solicited from corporations in the form of grants. To encourage such donations, an emphasis on tax credits and tax breaks for Michigan-based firms, or firms with a significant Michigan presence, must be highlighted. An additional, and larger benefit these firms will receive is a smarter, more innovative workforce that will come directly from their donations and the state’s change in educational standards. To encourage higher levels of donations, features such as better marketing of tax breaks/credits and deep levels of transparency explaining how donated dollars are used should be central to soliciting donations.

(Add more "Resolved" clauses if necessary.)


What are three reasonable arguments against this proposal?

1. STEM education is not more important than other subjects that students study. For example, according to an article by The Atlantic, the number of hours per school week spent teaching social studies in the classroom has decreased from 9.5% of the total week in 1994 to 7.6% in 2004. Further, in 2007, 62% of elementary schools increased the amount of time spent on English and math, yet 36% reduced the time spent learning social studies. Clearly, other subjects face bleak situations as well. While my proposal leans on STEM subjects, firms can donate to causes that improve social studies education, thus potentially leading to a more well-rounded workforce in the future. While this is a valid argument, a 2013 study by Gallup showed that STEM and English were the most important subjects in terms of career impact. Clearly, this proposal focuses on the correct subjects that can have the most impact upon students’ lives.

2. A more important issue facing students in Michigan is food insecurity. According to Hunger Free and Kids Count in Michigan, more than 338,000 children in Michigan live in households that were food insecure at some point in the last year. To make matters worse, 22% of children in Michigan live in poverty. The poverty line is $24,036 for a family of four. Finally, 58% of Detroit students live in poverty. Clearly, there are more pressing issues that students face. One cannot effectively learn if they are hungry, which is why a valid argument against this proposal is the following: instead of focusing on improving STEM education, the state should improve funding for reduced and free lunch programs to ensure that every child is able to learn without worrying about food insecurity. Despite this argument having lots of merit, the proposal to improve STEM education will ultimately lead to a brighter future for students. By learning real, tangible skills that will make them more competitive in the workforce (when they are ready to enter it), they will be able to earn higher incomes and thus improve their standard of living in the long run, not just temporarily.

3. There should be a stronger focus on communication and literacy, as that is a more important life skill. According to Education Week, SUNY Albany professor Donna Scanlon’s research has shown that children living in poverty hear “about 1/16th of the words that their wealthier peers hear before they enter kindergarten." Essentially, by age five, many students are at a disadvantage simply due to where they were born. The overall issue is the following: if the kindergarten student population is so heavily fragmented, shouldn’t Michigan aim to first get them to the same level of literacy? This can be done by promoting equity in learning, rather than equality. Overall, by promoting equity, the state can ensure that students are all at the same level by second or third grade, thus creating a platform for stronger collaboration and learning among peers. Communication and literacy are essential life skills, but STEM education can give students tangible skills that can be used in promising careers of the future. Further, holistic STEM programs such as Project Lead the Way encourage communication and collaboration among peers, and scientific report writing, which can all help alleviate some of the shortcomings of a traditional English education.

Costs and funding:

What will your proposal cost (in direct expenses, lost tax revenue, lost economic opportunity, and/or non-monetary costs)? How will you pay for your proposed legislation? Where will/could the funding for your proposal come from?  Who might object to dedicating resources to your proposal (competing interests)?  

Note: these costs are associated with a full rollout of the program. The pilot outlined above would be significantly cheaper as it would be a very small, targetted effort at only three schools in Michigan. All costs and funding ideas outlined below assume that the rollout of PLTW and its peers is state-wide. 

This proposal, while it does increase costs overall, will lead to a brighter future for Michigan. Something to keep in mind is the following: PLTW costs are only direct material cost (the equivalent of textbooks, science experiments and labs, etc.), not teaching costs. Further, all PLTW costs have implementation and training included. Teacher and staff salaries are not affected by this proposal. Regarding direct material expenses, Project Lead the Way costs $615 per student per year in elementary school. At the same time, science textbooks are among the most expensive that schools purchase every year. According to Textbook Equity, the average chemistry textbook is $250. When adding other teacher aids, such as experiment materials and teaching aids, costs come very close to those of Project Lead the Way. At the high school level, PLTW is $960 per student, which is more than the average of approximately $500 per science subject, per course. A crucial aspect of PLTW which actually makes it cheaper in high school is the following: traditional academia is very separated, causing schools to spend $500 per student on biology, chemistry, and physics each. Thus, if a student takes two of these subjects in a year, which is common in high school, PLTW is actually cheaper. Overall, PLTW will lead to an extra $300 in material costs per student per year across elementary, middle, and high school. According to the Michigan Department of Education, there were 1.532 million K-12 students in Michigan during the 2016-2017 school year. Across the whole state, implementing PLTW would increase educational costs by $460 million. Something to note, though, is that these costs include the full PLTW suite, meaning that students will receive computer science education which many do not currently have exposure to. This means that for a small added cost, the quality of education that students receive will greatly improve. Costs are also explored at great lengths in the “Three Solutions” section of this proposal.

Given the increased costs that schools will face due to this proposal, PLTW does offer grants. As mentioned in the consultations section of this proposal, the firm chooses to award grants based on need, and there is a strong precedent of firms donating to the program. For example, Toyota donated $2 million in 2017 to 115 schools to implement PLTW. In 2018, Toyota donated a further $300,000 to introduce PLTW in 22 more schools. In a similar spirit, Verizon donated $20,000 to subsidize implementation costs of a new PLTW computer science program in numerous middle schools across the US. Given this strong precedent for PLTW grants, the state of Michigan can further differentiate itself and solicit more donations from firms by giving tax breaks or tax credits to those who donate to programs such as Project Lead the Way.

According to Michigan’s House of Representatives, the state estimates that it collected $604 million in taxes from businesses 2017. This represents only 2.6% of its estimated $22.9 billion in collections. Assuming a dollar-for-dollar tax break, if firms donate $460 million per year to this program, then the state of Michigan will lose that same amount in tax revenue. Overall, this would represent a 2% decrease in the state’s tax revenue. Regarding potential donors, Michigan is very fortunate in that its corporations have strong histories of education donations. For example, Ford donated $10 million in 2015 alone. Similarly, GM donates an average of $12 million per year. Two companies donate $22 million alone. When taking into consideration the many firms that support the auto industry, as well as the other industries in Michigan, the $460 million amount no longer seems like a difficult target to achieve.

2% of a state’s tax budget is a lot, but that calculation ignores the largest benefit of this program. Through this proposal, firms will be directly investing in their future workforce. According to Code.Org, STEM jobs pay nearly 70% than the average job in Michigan. This proposal will ensure that more individuals eventually reach those jobs. The overall effect will be the following: while the state is effectively subsidizing higher education costs today, that will lead to a better workforce in the future. As a result, more firms will come to the state and invest in Michigan, which will lead to better paying jobs and higher tax revenues in the form of income and business taxes. Yes, it is a large investment today, but one that can pay the state dividends for decades to come.

Competing interests in terms of funding are other educational programs, such as other subjects, after-school programs, and administrative initiatives such as free or reduced cafeteria pricing and school bus costs. Fortunately, since this program will not be taking away from existing school budgets, this should not be a problem. Another potential interest group that may derail this proposal contains the programs that will see their funding reduced due to the state’s smaller level of tax collections. While this will be true for a short period of time, as this proposal revolutionizes Michigan’s educational system and its economy, the state will collect more taxes in the future in the form of higher income taxes and more sales tax (due to a wealthier population’s increased consumption). Overall, this should alleviate concerns for these interest groups as well since their reduced funding will be very temporary.


These can include websites or other information you have found about the issue.

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Total votes: 33