Archive for October 13, 2010

Computer Science needs Education Schools. Desperately.

To have impact on high school computer science, which is absolutely critical to improve and grow undergraduate computing education and the whole field, we must engage and involve Schools of Education. (By “Education Schools,” I mean higher-education academic units (Schools or Colleges) that teach undergraduates how to be teachers, as ‘pre-service’ development.) We need them. Our challenge is making the case to them that they want to be involved.

Let’s consider the new NSF Program “Computing Education for the 21st Century” and the goal of “CS 10K” — to have 10,000 high school CS teachers capable of teaching the new AP exam in 10,000 schools by 2015.  The program solicitation explicitly asks proposers to “Design, develop, and evaluate the impact of pre-service and in-service efforts and strategies that enhance K-14 teaching expertise in computing.” How are we computer scientists going to get involved in pre-service efforts without Schools of Education?  How are we going to ramp up to 10,000 teachers in five years?  We can’t do it all as ‘in-service,’ training existing teachers (who are unlikely to have ever even taken a CS course). Our 25-60 person 1-2 week workshops (that’s a high-end — I think most NSF CCLI/TUES workshops are actually only 2-3 days long) cannot adequately prepare 10,000 high school CS teachers.

Should we run our own teaching preparation programs?  That’s sheer hubris. If I were running a school district, I wouldn’t want to hire any teachers who were trained solely by computer scientists. We’re not really all that good at figuring out what companies want from our graduates as software developers.  Here’s a whole new set of employers and stakeholders that we know nothing about!  What do we know about preparing teachers for day-to-day issues of classroom management, dealing with testing and administration, and having a successful lifelong career as a teacher?

My student, Lijun Ni, is studying high school CS teacher issues.  We know that 46% of all STEM teachers will drop out within the first five years of teaching.  We know that a strong sense of identity as a science or math or business teacher leads to higher retention.  And if we look at the things that typically convey that strong sense of identity (e.g., certification in the area and participation in a community of similar teachers), we can see that we’re in bad shape.  Few states offer any certification. We need our teachers trained in a cohort and immersed in a community of practice of teachers to get them to stay.  Being the odd duck teacher, who was taught by some computer scientists, not in a respected Ed School like the rest of the high school — that’s a formula for quitting and getting an IT job.  If we don’t develop our future high school CS teachers as career teachers, then even if we get 10K by 2015, we’ll have only 5K left by 2020.

How do we convince Education Schools with pre-service teacher programs to work with us?  My experience is that it’s a hard sell.  I’m taking to contacts at a half-dozen Education Schools now.  I’m getting a lot of negative reaction.  I understand this one: “Budgets are tight. We can’t grow into a new area now.”  The next one is more infuriating — rings true, but it’s aggravating: “We already teach Technology programs, and we train Media Center specialists.  Isn’t Computer Science the same thing? <insert Mark’s explanation here> That sounds harder, and there aren’t many high schools teaching that.  I’d rather just stick to what we’re good at. I think (hope?) Computer Science is just a flash in the pan in high school and will soon disappear.”  In a real sense, we’re late to the game, and the “Technology” folks (e.g., “How to use Microsoft Office”) are already well-established.

Here are two arguments that I think are getting some traction:

  • CE21.  $25 million dollars in the program. Top award is $2M/year for five years.  This is a well-funded opportunity to be leading Education Schools into a new area: pre-service programs for secondary school computer science teachers.
  • CS as part of STEM. The federal government is finally making clear that Computer Science has always been part of STEM — the Department of Education is saying it, DARPA is saying it, and the White House is saying it.  The current administration is putting a serious effort (with serious funding) into STEM education. And almost none of the currently funded work is focused on or even involves Computer Science.  There is this enormous, education-oriented opportunity lying on the table, for education researchers and pre-service programs to turn their attention to teaching computer science where there is funding available with little competition.

One last piece to the program: Education Schools can’t go after this funding without us.  Technology and Media programs are not the same as Computer Science programs.  Ed Schools need materials developed, and they need to understand what Computer Science is really about.  They need us involved.  Neither side can go it alone.

October 13, 2010 at 11:02 am 26 comments

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