Culture trumps pedagogy: Thoughts after CSTA K-12 Workshop

October 4, 2010 at 3:56 pm 3 comments

I attended the CSTA K-12 Workshop at Grace Hopper this last Saturday.  Eric Roberts of Stanford gave a terrific opening keynote (slides available here).  Eric offered the teachers talking points for how to argue for the importance of computer science in K-12 education.  In particular, he addressed the conflicts between the Rising above the Gathering Storm report and the recent NYTimes article about Tech sector unemployment, with a similar argument to what we discussed in a recent post. Eric argued that the problem is the quality of the people in the job pool.  He says that industry desperately wants all the talent that it can find — above the threshold level.  He encouraged industry to use more techniques like telecommuting to support getting the talent where ever it might be found, even if the talented people can’t or won’t move.

I gave a talk on the state of AP CS in Georgia (slides available here).  As part of that talk, I related a study that our external evaluator, Tom McKlin, recently did.  He compared two Fulton County (where Atlanta is) high schools.  In each school, similar numbers of kids take Advanced Placement exams: 453 in one, 333 in the other. However, in the first school, they have a pass rate (percent of kids getting a score of 3 or higher on any exam) of 79%, while the second school has a pass rate of only 5.3%.  These schools are teaching the same things, same curriculum, and in the case of CS, same pedagogy (e.g., same methods).  What’s the difference?

I got an insight into that later in the weekend.  My son is now a freshman here at Georgia Tech.  He posted on his Facebook page last week that he had scored 30 points better than the average on his Calculus test.  The remarkable part for me was the half-dozen of his high school friends who posted comments congratulating him on his success.  When I was in high school, commenting on how well one had done on an exam was typically met with sarcasm and derision. “Brown-noser! That must have been a mistake!  Did you cheat?”  I actually went to a good high school.  My son went to a better one.

Social support and praise for academic achievement is part of a school’s culture.  I suspect that that’s the difference between the two Fulton County schools in Tom’s study.  Culture trumps curriculum or pedagogy.

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alfred Thompson  |  October 5, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    Culture is a huge issue in education and I suspect that it trumps many things including even things like poverty. One of the reasons I think many inititives in school reform fail (the small HS program that the Gates foundation pushed for example) do so because they don’t address cultutral issues. First among those being how sucess in learning is treated. Ideally students get celebrated for learning at home and at school. Eihter or is good enough for some level of sucess but if it is not there are either place falure is just about a sure thing. We con’t do much about home life but we need to make sure that at school above all there is an attitude (and teachers leadnig by example) that education is good, being smart is good, learning is good and thta working hard to learn things is something everyone can and should do.

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