Archive for March 26, 2010

Need help! Get CS in the Common Core!

Cameron Wilson just wrote a blog post about computer science being made part of the draft Common Core Standards.  It’s not yet in the official Common Core Standards.  Cameron explains in his piece why this is important, and what we can do (YES, THERE’S SOMETHING URGENT TO DO HERE!) to make this stick.  It can be as simple as an email or filling out a Web form — please do help!

K-12 computer science education might get a boost from a recently released document called the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) . This initiative is historic for the United States. For the first time forty-eight governors have come together to propose a common set of English arts and mathematics standards — which are key drivers of the curriculum students are exposed to — for their states. Until the common core standards initiative, state standards were generally disconnected from each other. The exciting news is that computer science is listed as a potential fourth course in their model pathway

When it comes to computer science education in K-12 we have two major policy issues: 1) most states do not have specific computer science standards, and 2) if computer science courses are in schools, they don’t count toward a student’s core credits. Some states like Texas, Georgia and Virginia have moved to count computer science courses in high school as either a math or science; however, in most states computer science is an elective. This leaves computer science courses starved for attention, resources and student interest.

…Now the community can support this breakthrough by sending letters for support for the inclusion of computer science in the final document. The initiative is taking comments on the draft until April 2. There are two ways to comment. The first is by taking the survey, which as an additional comment area where you can express support for computer science. (Follow this link and click on the “submit feedback” to get to the survey.) The second is by sending letters to

via Computing and the Common Core | blog@CACM | Communications of the ACM.

March 26, 2010 at 1:48 pm Leave a comment

The limits of what people generally know

A thread running through my day yesterday (at the NSF CPATH PI’s meeting) and this morning (via email, some at a more outlandish level) is the limits of what people (in general) know (in general).

  • Starting from the most outlandish, 24% of all Republicans (according to Harris Polls) believe that Barack Obama may be the Anti-Christ. What’s more interesting (less political, more concerning as educators) is the enormous gap between the educated and less-educated — 43% of Americans with no college education believe that Obama is a Muslim, while only 9% of college educated Americans believe that.
  • Moving to the more intellectual and profound, David Brooks has a terrific op-ed piece in this morning’s NYTimes suggesting that economists missed the worldwide meltdown because they relied too much on mathematics, and too little on the morality that early economists relied upon.  Brooks points out: “The moral and social yearnings of fully realized human beings are not reducible to universal laws and cannot be studied like physics,” and that earlier economists understood this:
  • Economics is a “moral science,” Keynes wrote. It deals with “motives, expectations, psychological uncertainties. One has to be constantly on guard against treating the material as constant and homogeneous.”

I am at a meeting of 100 funded investigators in the National Science Foundation (NSF) program in CISE Pathways to Reinvigorate Undergraduate Education (CPATH).  These are mostly Computer Science (some IT, some IS) faculty who are working to improve the state of undergraduate computing education.

Yesterday at lunch, someone asked me about the new AP CS effort in which I’m involved. “When is the new AP CS going to be available?”  “Around 2015, I expect.”  “That’s terrible!  That means that there is no AP CS available until then?!?”  “No, that’s not true.”  “I heard that AP CS was canceled.”  Sigh! “No, only the Level AB exam was canceled.  The Level A exam is still available, with no plans to get rid of it.”  If the belief that “the AP CS is canceled” is still showing up here, among the CS faculty most involved in computing education, what do most CS faculty think?

Yesterday, Cameron Wilson, Director of ACM Public Policy, gave a talk about the effort to make computer science count as a math in the new core curriculum standards.  (By the way, I now have the citation for where the Federal Register said that computer science is part of STEM.)  There was a fascinating pushback from the PI’s.  “But this is replacing one problem with another problem.  We don’t want one computing course.  We want computing taught pervasively throughout the curriculum.”  In talking with people later, I got the sense that the argument was: “We already have computing in the high schools, but it’s only in certain classes.  We want it throughout math and science!”

This one is hard to respond to, because I completely agree with the goal.  The problem is the base assumption. I don’t think most CS faculty realize how little high school CS is really out there, even among CS faculty who are CPATH PI’s.

Pick a random high school in the United States. With enormous probability, it will have zero computer science.  In Georgia, where we have more high schools teaching CS than any state in the Southeast (to the best of our knowledge), the probability is ~70% that a random high school will NOT have computer science.  There are over 20,000 high schools in the United States, and only 2,000 AP CS teachers.  Those high schools that have a CS teacher typically have a math, science, or (especially in Georgia) business teacher who has had workshop training to teach computer science — or not.  There are very few (less than one per state, more like one for every 10 states) classes on how to teach computer science. If you’re not happy with how computer science is now taught in high school, how will you feel about every science teacher (with little or no training) also teaching computer science?

Of course, the correct answer is “Well, get them training!”  Agreed! But that’s where we’re at today.  Think about Jan Cuny’s challenge in project CS10K: let’s have 10,000 teachers in 10,000 high schools ready to teach AP CS in 2015. That’s going from 2,000 in 2010 to 10,000 in 2015 — and even then, we’ll be in less than half of US high schools. I have little idea how we can ramp up 8,000 more teachers in five years, but that’s a small challenge compared with teaching every science teacher in the country how to teach computer science.

All of the examples in this post point out limitations of what people know, but not limitations of what is known.  Most people know that Obama is not Muslim.  Economists used to think beyond mathematics.  The College Board will be glad to tell you that the AP CS Level A exam is not canceled.  And the state of high school computer science is described by CSTA every chance they get.  The problem is the distribution of this knowledge, who has it, and who needs it.  For all the mass media and Internet news sources and social media that we have, there is still a role for education — helping people to learn what they need, whether or not they recognize that need.

March 26, 2010 at 7:45 am 8 comments

Math Scores are Rising, while Reading is Stagnant

I found these results surprising.  I’m sure that computing teachers who read this list will be shocked to hear that their students mathematics skills are rising.  What I’m more surprised at is the stagnation of reading skills.  While newspaper sales are down, book sales are up, reading on the Internet is what’s killing newspapers, and even texting may have a positive impact on language skills.  Given all of that, I would have predicted the reverse — people are generally doing much more with words than with numbers today.

“The nation has done a really good job improving math skills,” said Mark Schneider, a vice president at the American Institutes for Research and a former official at the Education Department, which oversees the test, known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress. “In contrast, we have made only marginal improvements in reading.”

Why math scores have improved so much faster than reading scores is much debated; the federal officials who produce the test say it is intended to identify changes in student achievement over time, not to identify causes.

via Reading Scores Lag Behind Math –

March 26, 2010 at 6:58 am 1 comment

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