Does pre-service CS education reduce the costs and make more effective in-service PD? Paths to #CS4All

July 20, 2016 at 7:54 am 4 comments

What we’re trying to achieve in CS education in the United States is rarely done (successfully) and hasn’t been done in several decades (see previous post on this).  We’re changing the education canon, what everyone is taught in schools.  It’s a huge effort, involving standards and frameworks, convincing principals and legislators, and developing teachers and curricula.

Right now, we’re mostly developing the teachers we need with in-service education — which is expensive.  We’re shipping around trainers, people providing professional development to existing teachers.  We’re paying travel costs (sometimes) to teachers, and stipends (sometimes) for their time.

I have argued previously that we have to move to a pre-service model, where new teachers are prepared to be CS teachers from undergraduate education.  It’s the only way to have a sustainable flow of CS teachers into the education system.  NYC is working on developing per-service programs now, because it’s a necessity for their CS education mandate.  No reform takes root in US schools without being in schools of education.

At a meeting of the Georgia CS Task Force, where talking about the high costs of in-service CS teacher education, we started wondering if the costs might be cheaper in the long-run by growing pre-service education, rather than scaling in-service.  Of course, we have to build a critical mass cohort of in-service teachers (e.g., to provide mentors for student teachers) — in many states, we’ve already done that.

Creating pre-service programs at state universities creates opportunities for in-service education that are cheaper and maybe more effective than what we’re creating today. Pre-service programs would require CS Education faculty (and likely, graduate students) at state universities.  These people are then resources.

  • First, those faculty are now offering pre-service PD, which is necessary for sustainability.
  • Regional high school and elementary school teachers could then go to the local university for in-service programs — which can be run more cheaply at the university, than at a downtown hotel or conference center with presenters shipped in from elsewhere.
  • The CS Ed faculty are there as a resource for regional high school teachers for follow-up, and the follow-up is a critical part of actually instituting new curricula.
  • Many education schools offer resources (e.g., curriculum libraries, help with teacher questions) that would be useful to CS teachers and are available locally with people who can answer questions.

Pre-service programs require more up-front costs (e.g., paying for faculty, setting up programs).  But those costs likely amortize over the lifetime of the faculty and the program.  Each individual professional development session offered by local faculty (either pre-service or in-service) is cheaper than each in-service  session created by non-local presenters/developers.  Over many years, it is likely cheaper to pay the higher up-front costs for pre-service than the long, expensive burn of in-service.

I don’t know how to figure out the cost trade-off, but it might be worthwhile for providers like and PLTW to play out the scenarios.

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4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. alanone1  |  July 20, 2016 at 8:33 am

    Hi Mark

    I definitely agree that pre-service almost certainly should work out better than in-service — this is just taking Real Computing seriously (as we are supposed to be doing with English, Real Math, and Real Science).

    We found (and it would be interesting and good to find comparison studies) that “multiple week intensive courses” for teachers in the summer was much less effective than teaching teachers during the actual school week — we partly attributed this to their “rhythms” for “handling many things a day incrementally”.

    We paid the teachers extra for this extra work. And we also had money to pay for subs and para-professionals to free up time for teachers most days of the week.

    For a variety of reasons we also introduced (into 3rd grade) an already well vetted design curriculum — Doreen Nelson’s “City Building Education” — that we hoped would provide some ideas and processes that would transfer to the computer curriculum we were trying to put into the next grades. This was a partial reformulation (City Building had not yet been done with children this young, but had been used in many other settings for more than 10 years.)

    We got to see a lot of useful “learning curve” artifacts from what was required to do City Building to Doreen’s satisfaction. In sum, it took three years with the same teachers to get it up to the quality level needed (and this did not require learning math, science, or computing on the part of the teachers). The teacher learning was done in-service, both during the week and in the summer. And this was with good teachers who wanted to do this curriculum.

    I think one of the many disconnects in the processes that try to improve US education is the non-understanding of the difference between “learning -sentences- and -applications-” and “learning systems and relationships”.

    The first is traditional (and ancient) and works for some kinds of knowledge — but it is not at all a good way to try to learn real math, real science, and real computing. The epistemological foundations of these are qualitatively different. Incremental attempts at “the newer stuff” have wound up with school-version-caricatures that miss what the subjects are about. This has happened with math and science, and we can see it happening with computing.

    I can imagine that someone grounded in real math and/or real science could readily learn real computing, especially preservice. I can imagine that someone could get grounded in real computing perhaps even in 4 years of college.

    I have a hard time imagining someone who has not really touched the processes of “the newer stuff” getting grounded in any of them in just a few years as part of “teacher training” whether pre-service or not.

    One way to look at this is that the “newer stuff” was not at all easy to invent by humans — it is not well matched up to how genetics grows our brain/minds — and this means that getting started on it early on in life will make a big difference — and that learning it has large parts of “re-invention by the learners” as part of the process.

  • 2. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  July 20, 2016 at 10:04 am

    Although pre-service training is clearly essential for sustained implementation of a large-scale CS education (even one much less broad than CS4all), haven’t you also pointed out that building it first has failed, because no teacher candidates bother to get the training?

    I doubt that forcing all education majors to take CS training courses will have much desirable effect—students have to have at least some desire to learn the material. If it is left optional, who will bother taking it?

    • 3. Mark Guzdial  |  July 20, 2016 at 10:25 am

      Totally true, but now I’m hearing from places with pre-service CS teacher education (e.g., Texas and Indiana), and they’re getting more students. (At a time when education enrollment is declining, that’s surprising!). I suspect that whatever social forces have led to the surge in CS enrollment are similarly influencing interest in being a CS teacher.

  • 4. gflint  |  July 21, 2016 at 10:51 am

    Here in Montana it is the chicken or the egg situation. A few years ago I tried to get a pre-service CS program started in the local university, a university with a large education department. Their reply was there was no demand for CS teachers. There is no demand because there are no teachers trained in CS to introduce it into a high school curriculum. In-service PD is simply out of the question. Schools are simply not interested in paying teachers to train for something that is going to have such small class sizes. Too many with the power are simply too short sighted.


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