Let’s do the math: Does it make sense to fill a pipeline of CS workers from 3rd grade?

June 19, 2014 at 8:29 am 12 comments

According to the article linked below, there is a large effort to fill STEM worker jobs in Northern Virginia by getting kids interested in STEM (including computing) from 3rd grade on.  The evidence for this need is that there will be 50K new jobs in the region between 2013 and 2018.

The third graders are 8 years old.  If they can be effective STEM workers right out of high school, there’s another 10 years to wait before they can enter the workforce — 2024.  If they need undergrad, 2028.  If they need advanced degrees, early 2030’s.  Is it even possible to predict workforce needs out over a decade?

Now, let’s consider the cost of keeping that pipeline going, just in terms of CS.  Even in Northern Virginia, only about 12% of high schools offer CS today.  So, we need a fourfold increase in CS teachers — but that’s just high school.  The article says that we want these kids supported in CS from 3rd grade on.  Most middle schools have no CS teachers.  Few elementary schools do.  We’re going to have to hire and train a LOT of teachers to fulfill that promise.

Making a jobs argument for teaching 3rd graders CS doesn’t make sense.

The demand is only projected to grow greater. The Washington area is poised to add 50,000 net new STEM jobs between 2013 and 2018, according to projections by Stephen S. Fuller, the director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University. And Fuller said that STEM jobs are crucial in that they typically pay about twice as much as the average job in the Washington area and they generate significantly more economic value.

It is against this backdrop that SySTEMic Solutions is working to build a pipeline of STEM workers for the state of Virginia, starting with elementary school children and working to keep them consistently interested in the subject matter until they finish school and enter the workforce.

via To create a pipeline of STEM workers in Virginia, program starts with littlest learners – The Washington Post.

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Teaching programming could be made easier Is Coding the New Literacy? What does learning to code buy you?

12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bonnie  |  June 19, 2014 at 8:38 am

    What is your opinion on all of these “coding academies” that are springing up, which claim to be able to produce “coders” straight out of high school in just a short while? These “coders” are then supposedly qualified for software development jobs. I worked as a software engineer in industry for 15 years, and never saw a developer who didn’t have at least a college degree, and more typicaly, a masters in CS. I can’t even imagine being able to build quality software systems with just a few months of “coding” under one’s belt. And if that is possible, then what is a CS degree good for, anyway? I can certainly imagine employers, and eventually university administrators, asking that question. Is our field turning into a votech field?

  • 2. shriramkrishnamurthi  |  June 19, 2014 at 9:15 am

    We saw the exact same phenomenon back in the late 1990s. I had teachers tell me how their kids were getting lucrative jobs right out of high school with HTML (and some VB) “programming” skills, so the CS stuff we were peddling was irrelevant. That these people were egged on by the representatives of companies like Microsoft who made these products and wanted teachers to believe this narrative. Of course, most of these people are now nowhere. But the same phenomenon is being repeated by a whole bunch of organizations with clever names related to coding. I see no reason why things will work out differently.

    • 3. Bonnie  |  June 19, 2014 at 9:46 am

      I used to hear about those kids who were supposedly being hired right out of high school in the 90’s, but in all the time I worked in industry, I never actually saw one. I suspect they were either an urban myth, or were actually working helpdesk.

      • 4. shriramkrishnamurthi  |  June 19, 2014 at 1:44 pm

        They built Web pages. And now, too, they build Web pages. What’s changed is, instead of some server-side hack in PHP, now they do a client-side hack in JavaScript + jQuery. I’ve seen the curricula of a few of these programs, and (a) they contain no “computing” more broadly defined, and (b) they don’t even really teach the vagaries of JavaScript’s event model, so these kids (or the people who employ them) are really being set up for some rude shocks down the road.

      • 5. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  June 19, 2014 at 3:41 pm

        I don’t know of high school students being hired as programmers right out of high school, but I do know high school students starting their own companies with a substantial programming and computer engineering focus (there are 3 of them who meet at our house weekly). Of course, these are somewhat exceptional kids—the hardware and software they are designing would be a challenge for seniors in college computer science programs. I’m looking forward to their Kickstarter campaign this fall (they already have over 6000 likes on their Facebook page, and they expect to be able to convert 10% of those to sales).

  • 6. Leonard Klein  |  June 19, 2014 at 11:22 am

    There is one thing in favor of the idea, that if students are exposed to these skills early on they may like them and work hard to use the skills. I see many students wanting to do what will get them a good paying job, but not have to work hard. Sometimes the hard work is making up for a lack of early knowledge.

    Also if it is true that many jobs will need some level of CS knowledge is it not a good idea to start early. After all we do teach reading and math early so the students can build their skill there.

    I am old enough to remember that aerospace was the in thing and then folks with PhDs were pumping gas. So there is a down side. This is a dilemma for all.

    • 7. Mark Guzdial  |  June 19, 2014 at 12:09 pm

      Literacy is important, and that’s the point of K12. CS should absolutely be in schools to support literacy goals. It should not be in schools to support vocational goals.

      As far as I can tell, the US is the only country talking about CS in K12 that is trying to make the argument based on jobs. UK, Denmark, New Zealand, Australia, Germany — they all recognize that CS is an important science, and knowing about it is part of being a literate citizen. Does everything have to be about the economy in the US?

  • 8. Cindy Hmelo-Silver  |  June 19, 2014 at 3:11 pm

    I think that the teacher issue you raise here is also important and challenging in a climate in which politicians are pushing to de-professionalize teachers and cutting funding for education, especially that which in not part of NCLB.

  • 9. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  June 19, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    Has anyone looked at whether the “nanodegree” makes any sense?

    I’m a bit dubiou, myself.

    • 10. Muvaffak Gozaydin  |  June 19, 2014 at 5:37 pm

      That was my idea too . To name certificate with a new name consisting the Word degree too .
      Thrun is smart . He had done it .
      But it is time to think overhaul the HE system in the USA.
      We need 2 kinds of university
      Teaching university which makes you ready for life
      Research universities which create new knowledge for the World

  • 11. Muvaffak Gozaydin  |  June 19, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    EDX and coursera has many CS online courses
    Plus you can order, or DOE can order some good online CS for all grades of children some how .
    Good, fantasticly good online CS online courses worth thousands teachers

  • 12. gflint  |  June 20, 2014 at 11:56 am

    I love that workforce time line. Of course before we can teach the 3rd graders we have to spend at least 1 year training teachers so they are capable of teaching the CS. So add 1 year to that completion date. Then there is the whole school budget thing to throw in. The elementary schools in my area could not teach CS at that level if they wanted to, no labs, no training for teachers that would be interested, and no budget to implement the expansion required. I think it will happen but the process is going to be extremely slow.


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