Pushback in California on Computing in Schools

September 24, 2014 at 8:53 am 9 comments

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.

via Computer science: It’s where the jobs are, but schools don’t teach it – San Jose Mercury News.

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.

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. shriramkrishnamurthi  |  September 24, 2014 at 9:00 am

    1. How much do you really want the government to be making deep curricular decisions? Would you be excited if the Georgia legislature passed a bill saying that Word and PowerPoint courses should be allowed to count for something that you actually care about at Tech? Isn’t “allows but does not require” a pretty good position? (In contrast to allowing CS to “count computer science toward graduation requirements”, which sounds like a very good thing.)

    2. “That’s pretty scary for Silicon Valley.” — because so much of SV’s computing talent comes from within California? [Yes, past results do not predict future performance, but still…we’re talking SV here.]

    (Sorry, I’m probably being unusually ornery this morning.)

  • 2. alanone1  |  September 24, 2014 at 10:14 am

    A poor article …

    I could imagine a really good curriculum for a CS course in HS being good enough to count as a math course. But such things are not related to HS AP, nor can they be generally found in lower division university courses. However, it is also very hard to find a good “actual math” course in HS! Still, I’d vote for “math” over the bad in many directions and dimensions attempts at HS CS.

    I won’t bother iterating the differences between vocational training and education. For many reasons, children desperately need the latter in their first years in school much more than the former.

  • 3. Stephen Gilbert  |  September 24, 2014 at 11:29 am

    Any concerns about the legislature making curricular decisions are well founded. I teach CS at a community college in California. We have a small department (2 full-time faculty and several part-timers). We have, however, built a successful transfer program; students can complete all of their lower-division CS courses for almost every university in our area (at a much lower cost, of course). Last spring we had 78 or our CS students transfer to the UC or CSU system.

    The California Legislature, feels that is taking students too long to transfer and has passed several bills creating AS/T (Associate of Science for Transfer) degrees. California State University (but NOT University of California) colleges are required to accept students who complete one of these AS/T degrees. (You can find out more about the program at http://adegreewithaguarantee.com/).

    The problem is that everyone has to use the same curriculum and that curriculum is limited in units (contact hours). Students completing the AS/T computer science degree will have a maximum (not minimum) of 180 hours (10 semester units) of lower-division computer science. This includes 54 hours (3 units) of programming, 72 hours (4 units) of data structures and 54 hours of computer organization.

    In contrast, a student going to the UC system takes 270 hours (12 units) of programming, 90 hours (5 units) of data structures, 90 hours of computer architecture and 90 hours of software engineering. Prior to the AS/T degree, this is what CSU bound students took as well (without the software engineering course).

    The result is that at our school we have had to create a special AS/T set of classes. The students have dubbed this “CS-lite”, something I don’t disagree with. (BTW, this is the opposite of the Media Computation approach, which we use as part of our regular UC curriculum. This is CS with all of the fun parts removed; it’s “just the facts”).


  • 4. lizaloop  |  September 24, 2014 at 11:34 pm

    Are we confusing degrees and courses in Computer Science with knowing how to code? Lots of us are coders and never took a course. There are many open courses in programming available. Perhaps it would be more effective to encourage students to take control of their own educations and be sure they know about ‘open educational resources’ than to force feed ‘coding’ to them in schools. Computer Literacy, maybe. Programming/coding specifically? I worry that making it a required school subject might take all the fun out of it.

    • 5. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  September 25, 2014 at 1:28 am

      The California initiative is not to make CS required, just to allow it to count for something other than a generic “elective” in high school. The UC a–g course requirements for admission require so many courses that a lot of students don’t have time for anything that doesn’t count towards them or high-school graduation requirements.

      • 6. lizaloop  |  September 25, 2014 at 11:38 am

        Thanks for the clarification, gasstation.

        Two further points:

        1. Schools are most important to help children learn things they don’t acquire spontaneously or through non-formal means. Most children in literate societies acquire “coding” in its general sense, including talking and using scribed symbols, at home and in their communities. I think we should encourage this by offering more non-formal opportunities to learn. Computer coding, aka programming, works well when offered in recreational settings such as clubs and museum classes.

        2. While I support the effort to bring programming into schools I’d like to see us also emphasize the concept of each person taking charge of his or her own learning. Because programming languages change so rapidly anyone who intends to do serious coding will have to repeat the learning process over and over. Our introductory CS classes need to focus more on “learning how to learn” than on the specifics of any one coding language.

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  • 9. Details matter | Gas station without pumps  |  September 25, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    […] a comment on Mark Guzdial’s blog post Pushback in California on Computing in Schools, “lizaloop” […]


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