The Tech Industry, Building Consensus, and Changing the Education Canon
My most recent Blog@CACM post is on the K-12 CS Education Framework stakeholder’s meeting I attended last month in Chicago — see link here. The parts of the meeting where I learned the most were the first three talks, from Michael Lach, Heidi Schweingruber, and Michael Gilligan on mathematics and science education standards and what those efforts have to teach us in computer science. That’s what I wrote the Blog@CACM post on.
At the break, I congratulated Mike Lach on an excellent talk. I told him that I appreciated his message that we have to go slow. The CS education effort is the first attempt in decades to change the American Education Canon — what we teach everyone in US public schools. He agreed, and pointed out that the last time we changed the canon was in response to the Civil Rights Movement. I was confused. He explained that the Civil Rights Movement led to the creation of the African-American History Month. That’s the last time that something got added to all US elementary schools. He said that we should be glad that there’s not that kind of anger and violence fueling the push for CS education — but on the other hand, there’s also not that same kind of consensus about the importance of CS education.
Consider the two recent Google-Gallup poll reports. From one, we learn that parents think that computer science is about applications and Web search (see report here). In the second, we learn that parents (once they are told what computer science really is) want it for their kids, but administrators and principals are less enthusiastic (see report here). Commentators on the latter report have interpreted the result as suggesting that school leaders “underestimate demand” (see article here) and may be out of touch with what parents want.
There’s another way to read these two reports together. Parents don’t really know what CS is, and they don’t understand what they’re trading off when they say that want CS education. They want their kids to know CS, but at what cost? School leaders have to deal with implementation issues, and they don’t see enough demand for computing education to give it a slice of their meager budgets.
Computing education is being discussed today because of the technology industry. We would not be talking about CS in K-12 without technology industry needs. It’s the NYC tech industry who pushed for the initiative there (see their open letter). It’s the tech industry funding Code.org (see funders here). That’s not necessarily a bad thing to have the tech industry funding the effort to put computer science in schools, but it is a different thing than having a national consensus about changing public school education to include computer science. What I hear Mike Lach and others in mathematics and science education saying is that we need to build consensus if we want the implementation of CS education in schools to succeed.