Prescribing a lifetime drug at high cost: New York City sets 10 year goal to offer CS in all schools
NYC has joined Chicago and San Francisco and Arkansas in requiring CS in all schools. I appreciate that they recognize the value of computing education. I worry that the people making these decisions don’t realize what’s involved in covering them. In particular, is de Blasio’s decision in New York City a commitment to a long-term cost that they can’t sustain?
de Blasio’s program is going to spend $81M to help existing teachers become CS teachers over the next ten years. Let’s imagine that he succeeds and his program prepares enough CS teachers so that every school has enough teachers to provide CS learning opportunities to every NYC students.
What happens after that? A lot of the teachers going through CS teacher professional development today are new teachers, less than five years into the job. Across all STEM subjects, we lose about 50% of all new teachers within five years. In an ECS study, it was closer to 60% attrition in 3 years. We’re going to burn through those teachers quickly. Code.org counts on CS teachers being in the classroom for only three years.
Where will NYC get the teachers to sustain the effort? Do they need to raise another $81M to keep retraining existing teachers? It’s far cheaper to get teachers pre-service, straight from undergraduate. There are less than five pre-service CS teacher education programs in the United States. None are currently in New York (city or state).
de Blasio’s decision is like an architect’s decision to design a building using a particular kind of material that is hard to make and for which there are no current manufacturers. Or a doctor prescribing a drug that you’ll need for the rest of your life — but which can only be made by a specific pharmacy company at a high cost.
Some of that $81M should be used to build the infrastructure, to create the system that will keep supplying CS teachers for NYC — to create teacher certifications, start teacher education programs, and hire education faculty who will focus on CS education. I pointed out previously that that’s how Germany is bootstrapping CS education. They’re making the investment in CS ed faculty who will keep programs running for decades. My Blog@CACM post (link here) this month is on how CS departments can help grow CS teachers.
CS education is important to 21st century literacy. It’s so important that we shouldn’t promise it only to kids who are in NYC over the next 10 years. What I hope is that de Blasio’s decision leads to that kind of investment. I hope that NYC, Chicago, San Francisco, and Arkansas are going to direct attention to what’s needed to create the steady-state flow of new computing teachers into classrooms.
Meeting that goal will present major challenges, mostly in training enough teachers. There is no state teacher certification in computer science, and no pipeline of computer science teachers coming out of college. Fewer than 10 percent of city schools currently offer any form of computer science education, and only 1 percent of students receive it, according to estimates by the city’s Department of Education.
Computer science will not become a graduation requirement, and middle and high schools may choose to offer it only as an elective. But the goal is for all students, even those in elementary school and those in the poorest neighborhoods, to have some exposure to computer science.