Interesting article at http://hechingerreport.org/pure-math-better-applied-math/
My two cents worth: My master degree project was to use project-based math lessons to bring up the Standardized Test Scores of my 7th grade low performing students. To quote Babylon 5, “It was our last, best hope…it failed.” The results of this showed that the low level students performed at or even below their previous scores in math.
I believe that the students need to be exposed to the theory of the math, with applications being present in the instruction, but not the primary focus on lesson. Students need to understand the concepts firmly before extrapolating them into a practical usage.