Archive for April 21, 2011

Why should African-American men take the AP CS?

I’m working on our NSF CE21 proposal due next week.  Part of every proposal is a report on what you got done with your last NSF funding.  So, I’ve just gone through a process of reviewing how we’ve done with “Georgia Computes!”

One of the failures of “Georgia Computes!” has been our impact on African-Americans in Georgia.  We’ve had impact on raising women and Hispanic student numbers in CS, but almost no impact on African-American students.  Below is a figure from the draft proposal showing the number of Black AP CS test-takers in the state (in blue), and the number who pass (in Red).  GaComputes started in 2006.  There’s a clear but small upward slope to the number of passers, but the number of test-takers from 2006 (66 students) to 2010 (68 students) is virtually flat.

What’s important to note in these results was We Had Access. 45% of the teachers in our professional development workshops were Black, 8% Hispanic, and 39% White. 56% of our teachers (across ethnicities) teach in schools that are mostly minority students. (44% of our teachers teach in schools that are economically disadvantaged.) Just getting to the minority and minority-serving teachers isn’t enough.

I met yesterday with Betsy DiSalvo who created the Glitch Project. She has been explicitly teaching AP CS content in Glitch lately, and encouraging her game-testers to take the AP CS and we’ll pay for it.  She says that probably five of her kids are excellent and would pass the test.  She says that maybe two of them will take it, but she’s not sure about even those.  She says that they see no value in taking the test.

They’re not confident about the test — they don’t think they’ll do well on it.  What’s more, they see no benefit if they pass.  She says that her Glitch kids plan to go to college in Computer Science, but the idea of skipping the first class or taking some other class instead has no interest for them.  “They don’t think like that about college,” she said.  (She also said that moving the test to 10 am instead of 8 am would make a big difference — these kids will travel 40 minutes to the test site, and those two hours would make it much easier.) So the tradeoff is embarrassment if they fail, and no real benefit if they pass. You can see why there’s little attraction there.

I asked Barb how she explained our numbers.  (And got her permission explicitly to say here in the blog, “Here’s one place where Georgia Computes failed.”)  She says that it just takes so long to create a program where no program existed before.  She told me the story of one high school teacher who has been taking Barb’s professional development workshop for years.  First the teacher taught Computing in the Modern World, then Beginning Programming and Intermediate Programming.  This coming Fall, the teacher will offer her first AP CS class.  “Her students are going to rock the test!” said Barb.  “She’s a great teacher!” But it took a long time for that teacher to feel confident at each level before she could teach AP CS, and building that content confidence in the teacher is critically important.

I still think that the AP CS:Principles effort is the right thing to do.  I firmly believe that our first step has to be to get well-trained CS teachers into schools, and that’s the goal of the new AP and the CS10K effort.  It’s going to take a long time to grow all those teachers.  We also have to figure out the argument for the minority students to take the test.  What’s the value-added for them?

April 21, 2011 at 9:29 am 16 comments


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