Posts tagged ‘public policy’
The NPR Planet Money segment cited below is excellent. I’m really glad that they reached out to Jane Margolis and Telle Whitney to get the history right.
The question that they don’t address in the segment is, “Why did the classes get so much harder in the mid-1980’s that only the boys who were playing with PCs could succeed at them?”
In the early 1980’s, interest in Computer Science spiked. There was more interest than there were seats available in CS classes. Eric Roberts talked about these times in his keynote at the Future of Computing Education Research workshop in January 2014, which I blogged about here. What to do with the burgeoning enrollment and no additional resources? Caps were put into place, and classes became harder. Berkeley raised their cap until you had to have 4.0 in all your pre-requisite CS classes to get accepted to the major. Eric Roberts was chair of the CS department at Wellesley in the early 1980’s, and he told me about introductory CS classes at MIT with insane workload, where only the boys with lots of prior CS experience and who were fanatical about computing were getting through. Jane Margolis and Alan Fisher talked about this phenomenon in Unlocking the Clubhouse when they describe how the men and women in the CS classes at CMU had different views of the computer, which influenced how they interacted with it and how much time they were willing to put into their classes (nice summary of this story is on Wikipedia).
The classes may not have been made harder explicitly to deal with overcrowding, i.e., to “weed out.” It may have happened in response to an influx of boys who already knew a lot from playing with their PC toys, compounded with a lack of resources because of the overcrowding. With boys who already knew a lot, CS teachers could start skipping over topics, or covering them lightly, or just assigning programming tasks so that the student “figures it out” on his or her own. If a student can’t learn with this approach, then teacher might decide that the student just “can’t” learn to program. Maybe the student doesn’t have the Geek Gene. Some students do succeed with this approach, because they know a lot from prior experience (or have the Geek Gene).
Now, put this in the setting of high enrollments and tight budgets. A student with lots of prior experience needs less teacher time to succeed. A student with less experience needs more time and effort in order to succeed in CS classes. In lean times, there are fewer resources for teaching, and those with less experience will not get the resources they need to succeed. Students with more experience will succeed just fine, so we continue to have high-quality CS graduates who get good jobs. Unless we look carefully at who is succeeding and who isn’t, we might not even notice that our program now presumes prior experience in order for the student to succeed.
What’s scary is that we may now be following the exact same path. Eric has been warning about this for some time (see blog post). Enrollment in CS is exploding nationwide. Now, the caps are starting to be put into place. Berkeley now requires a 3.0 in the pre-requisite classes to get in to the major. Here at Georgia Tech, the College of Computing has just requested to have a grade requirement in pre-requisite CS classes before allowing students to transfer into CS.
It’s still the case that it’s mostly wealthier (middle or upper class), white or Asian males who get access to high school CS. That’s in Barb’s AP analysis that got so much coverage this last year (see blog post here and the media coverage here). AP CS is the most gender-skewed AP (more male than AP Studio Art is female). So, even if you’re in a school that can afford AP, women will most likely not be in the CS class. In our AP analysis SIGCSE paper last year, we showed how wealth in a state has a strong relationship with AP CS offerings in the state. We’re now starting to show the relationship continues to the district level as appeared in this blog a few weeks ago.
These kinds of caps have two effects which limit access by women and under-represented minorities (the second of which was pointed out to me by Eric):
- First, the students who succeed the most in intro CS are the ones with prior experience.
- Second, creating these kinds of caps creates a perception of CS as a highly competitive field, which is a deterrent to many students. Those students may not even try to get into CS.
I understand why caps are going into place. We can’t support all these students, and there are no additional resources coming. What else can CS departments do?We might think about a lottery or using something beyond CS GPA to get those seats, something that’s more equitable. State budgets for universities have been cut back across the US, and it’s not clear that anyone (companies or the Federal government) could swoop in and cover that shortfall. In lean budget times, few university administrators (public or private) are willing to invest in CS right now. There will likely be a push for more MOOCs in the introductory courses — which is exactly where MOOCs are least effective (see my article in Ubiquity.)
It looks likely that we are going to reduce the diversity in CS, again. While on our watch.
Mark Zuckerberg. Bill Gates. Steve Jobs. Most of the big names in technology are men.But a lot of computing pioneers, the ones who programmed the first digital computers, were women. And for decades, the number of women in computer science was growing.But in 1984, something changed. The number of women in computer science flattened, and then plunged.
Many in the ideas for this blog post came from discussions with the Diversity Task Force of the ACM Education Council. All the mistakes are mine.
Why the ‘coding for all’ movement is more than a boutique reform – Margolis and Kafai respond to Cuban in Washington Post
Highly recommended reading — Jane Margolis and Yasmin Kafai respond to the concerns of Larry Cuban about the “coding for all” movement (that I blogged on here). They address a wide range of issues, from the challenges of changing school to the importance of education about coding for empowerment.
On a functional level, a basic understanding of code allows for an understanding of the design and functionalities that underlie all aspects of interfaces, technologies, and systems we encounter daily. On a political level, understanding code empowers and provides everyone with resources to examine and question the design decisions that populate their screens. Finally, on a personal level, everyone needs and uses code in some ways for expressive purposes to better communicate, interact with others, and build relationships. We need to be able to constructively, creatively, and critically examine designs and decisions that went into making them.
I’ve been thrilled to see the legislative progress in California around CS education issues. The governor has now signed Senate Bill 1200 which starts the process of CS counting for UC/CSU admissions. Dan Lewis’s article in The Mercury News tempered that enthusiasm (linked below). I wasn’t aware that UC was pushing back, nor how the number of CS classes and teachers is dropping in California. Lots more work to do there.
The Legislature just passed two bills to address these issues. Senate Bill 1200 allows but does not require the University of California to count computer science toward the math requirements for admission. However, there’s been a lot of push back from UC on this, so for now, all we really have is an expression of intent from the Legislature. Thankfully, AB 1764 allows high schools to count computer science toward graduation requirements. Of course, that may not mean much for students applying to UC.
For these reasons, computer science isn’t a priority for students. Nor is it a priority for schools when determining course offerings based on limited budgets: While California high school enrollment has risen 15 percent since 2000, the number of classes on computer science or programming fell 34 percent, and the number of teachers assigned to those courses fell 51 percent.
A new policy brief was just released from the California STEM Learning Network on the state of CS education in California (see here). California actually lags behind the rest of the US on some important indicators like number of CS degrees conferred. That’s pretty scary for Silicon Valley.
It’s not too often that a policy announcement about education happens on the Georgia Tech campus. In the picture above, tech entrepreneur Chris Klaus is introducing Georgia Governor Nathan Deal (who is second from the right — the guy on the far right is our Provost Rafael Bras), in the Klaus Advanced Computing Building (same Klaus — he funded the building). Chris has been spearheading an effort to get more “coding” into Georgia schools.
The Governor said that he’s asking the State Board of Education for computer science to count as core science, mathematics, and foreign languages.
The gossip before the talk was that he was going to announce that CS would count for (i.e., replace) foreign languages (which is not a good idea). This announcement was a bit better than that, but it’s still not clear what it means. AP CS already counts as a science towards high school graduation. Does it mean that more CS courses will count? That AP CS will count as any of math, science, or foreign languages? And will the State Board of Education go along with this? Who knows?
The guy on the far left of that picture is Representative Mike Dudgeon. He’s taken on the task of changing the “highly-qualified” list in Georgia so that business teachers OR math teachers OR science teachers can teach CS in Georgia. Currently, CS is a “Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education” subject, meaning that only teachers with a business certificate can teach CS. Barbara Ericson has fought hard so that mathematics teachers can also teach AP CS — but this all leaves us in the weird position that AP CS counts as a science, but science teachers can’t teach it. Only math and business teachers can teach AP CS in Georgia. That would be great if Dudgeon is successful. It’s easier to teach CS to math and science teachers than business teachers.
I was a meeting recently with Chris Klaus where he said that he wants to make Georgia the first state in the USA to require CS for high school graduation. When I balked at that (citing the issues in my Blog@CACM post), he had an interesting counter-proposal. We give schools and districts who aren’t ready to teach CS a waiver, but to get a waiver, you have to have a plan in place to be able to teach CS within three years. Might work.
My proposal in the group that Chris has founded to have more “coding education in Georgia” isn’t getting much traction. I proposed we do what Calculus did. How did Calculus get taught in every high school? First, schools in the 1800’s started teaching calculus to undergrads. By the 1900’s, every STEM undergrad had to take Calculus, and the top high schools were preparing their kids for Calculus. By the late 1900’s, all high schools were offering calculus. My proposal is that that the Board of Regents make CS part of the general education requirement of all undergraduates in the University System of Georgia. Every student in every college in Georgia would be required to take a course in CS. Unlike elementary and high schools, USG institutions have CS teachers — they might have to hire more faculty to handle the load, but they know how to do it. It’s much less expensive to teach CS at the undergraduate level than at the high or elementary school level. But this creates the curriculum (you have to teach a different CS to everyone from what you teach to CS majors) that the high-end schools will immediately start to emulate, and that will get copied into other high schools. Biggest advantage is that every new teacher (business, math, or science) will take a CS class! That should accelerate the rate of getting teachers who know CS into schools, and give them a new tool for teaching STEM classes.
Anyway, it’s probably a good thing that there is all of this interest in computing education from Georgia political leaders.
Julie Flapan gave me permission to share this email to the members of ACCESS (Alliance for California Computing Education for Students and Schools) in California — thanks, Julie!
Dear Alliance for California Computing Education for Students and Schools:
We are thrilled to share the good news about two important computer science-related bills: AB 1764 (Buchanan/Olsen) and SB 1200 (Padilla) passed out of the legislature yesterday with unanimous approval and are awaiting the Governor’s signature. These bills are a step in the right direction, having the potential to expand opportunities and increase participation in computer science education. But our work is just beginning!
These bills have the potential to make computer science count for California’s high school students: with AB 1764, an advanced computer science course may count as a math credit toward graduation, and with SB 1200, computer science may count as a credit toward UC/CSU college admissions. Research has shown that making computer science count incentivizes students – especially those underrepresented in computing including girls and students of color – to enroll in computer science courses in high school. ACCESS has been working with Code.org, the College Board and UCOP to try to get math credit approval for AP CS-A. We hope this legislation will help support these efforts.
While these two bills represent a significant victory for computer science education, much work needs to be done to help establish robust guidelines for computer science coursework, promote high quality and engaging computer science curriculum, help prepare teachers to teach it, provide ongoing professional development, and most importantly, ensure that we are recruiting and retaining underrepresented students in meaningful computer science coursework that will help prepare students for college and careers.
If you have any further ideas or suggestions on how to fully realize the potential of these two bills, please don’t hesitate to contact either of us.
Julie Flapan and Debra Richardson
Executive Director, ACCESS and ECEP-CA
Alliance for California Computing Education for Students and Schools (ACCESS)
Expanding Computing Education Pathways - California (ECEP-CA)
Professor and Chair, ACCESS
As I talked about in my NCWIT Summit Flash talk, the second step in changing a state’s K-12 computing education policy is figuring out where you are and how you move K-12 in your state.
Rick Adrion found a terrific set of resources that help to get a handle on what’s going on in each state.
- How is your state education system governed? Elected or appointed officials? Turns out that there are just a handful of common models: http://www.ecs.org/clearinghouse/01/08/70/10870.pdf
- Who decides high school graduation requirements in your state? In some states, like California and Michigan, there’s a minimum decided at the state level, so you really have to work at the district level to get CS to count. Here’s a list of the state-level high school graduation requirements in all 50 states, and here’s a state-by-state map so you can look up easily just your state. Amazingly, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Colorado, and Nebraska have no state-level requirements at all. All the decisions are made at the district level. That makes it really hard to get CS to count.
Resources like these make it more clear why efforts like NGSS and Common Core are in trouble. In quite a few states, most decisions are pushed down to the district level. If states aren’t willing to make decisions for their whole state, how could they even consider requiring national standards?
The August issue of Communications of the ACM (see here) includes a paper in the Viewpoints Education column by Uri Wilensky, Corey E. Brady, and Michael S. Horn on “Fostering Computational Literacy in Science Classrooms.” I was eager to get Uri’s perspective on CS education in high schools into the Viewpoints column after hearing him speak at the January CS Education Research workshop.
Uri suggests that the best way to get computational literacy into high schools is by adding computer science to science classes. He’s done the hard work of connecting his agent-based modeling curriculum to Next Generation Science Standards. In Uri’s model, Computer Science isn’t a “something else” to add to high school. It helps science teachers meet their needs.
Uri isn’t the only one pursuing this model. Shriram and Matthias suggested teaching computer science through mathematics classes in CACM in 2009. Bootstrap introduces computer science at the middle school level as a way to learn Algebra more effectively. Irene Lee’s GUTS (“Growing Up Thinking Scientifically”) introduces computation as a tool in middle school science.
In most states today, computer science is classified as a business/vocational subject, called “Career and Technical Education (CTE).” There are distinct advantages to a model that puts CS inside science and mathematics classes. Professional development becomes much easier. Science and mathematics teachers have more of the background knowledge to pick up CS than do most business teachers. CS becomes the addition of some modules to existing classes, not creating whole new classes.
It’s an idea well worth thinking about. I can think of three reasons not to pursue CS through math/science model, and the third one may be a show-stopper.
(1) Can science and math teachers help us broaden participation in computing? Remember that the goal of the NSF CS10K effort is to broaden access to computing so as to broaden participation in computing. As Jane Margolis has noted, CTE teachers know how to teach diverse groups of students. Science and mathematics classes have their own problems with too little diversity. Does moving CS into science and mathematics classes make it more or less likely that we’ll attract a more diverse audience to computing?
(2) Do we lose our spot at the table? I’ve noted in a Blog@CACM post that there are computer scientists annoyed that CS is being classified by states as “science” or “mathematics.” Peter Denning has argued that computer science is a science, but cuts across many fields including mathematics and engineering. If we get subsumed into mathematics and computer science classes, do we lose our chance to be a peer science or a peer subject to mathematics? And is that going against the trend in universities? Increasingly, universities are deciding that computer science is its own discipline, either creating Colleges/Schools of CS (e.g., Georgia Tech and CMU) or creating Colleges/Schools of Information/Informatics (e.g., U. Washington, U. Michigan, Drexler, and Penn State).
(3) Do we lose significant funding for CS in schools? Here’s the big one. Currently, computer science is classified as “Career and Technical Education.” As CTE, CS classes are eligible for Perkins funding — which is not available for academic classes, like mathematics or science.
I tried to find out just how much individual schools get from Perkins. Nationwide, over $1.2 billion USD gets distributed. I found a guide for schools on accessing Perkins funds. States get upwards of $250K for administration of the funds. I know that some State Departments of Education use Perkins funding to pay for Department of Education personnel who manage CTE programs. To get any funding, high schools must be eligible for at least $15K. That’s a lot of money for a high school.
The various CS Education Acts (e.g., on the 2011 incarnation and on the 2013 incarnation) are about getting CS classified as STEM in order to access funding set aside for STEM education. As I understand it, none of these acts has passed. Right now, schools can get a considerable amount of funding if CS stays in CTE. If schools move CS to math and science, there is no additional funding available.
Perkins funding is one of the reasons why CS has remained in CTE in South Carolina. It would be nice to have CS in academic programs where it might be promoted among students aiming for college. But to move CS is to lose thousands of dollars in funding. South Carolina has so far decided that it’s not in their best interests.
Unless a CS education act ever passes Congress, it may not make economic sense to move CS into science or mathematics courses. The federal government provides support for STEM classes and CTE classes. CS is currently in CTE. We shouldn’t pull it out until it counts as STEM. This is another good reason to support a CS education act.