NSF Education Research Questions and Warnings for #CSforAll during #CSEdWeek
Joan Ferrini-Mundy spoke at our White House Symposium on State Implementation of CS for All (pictured above). Joan is the Assistant Director at NSF for the Education and Human Resources Directorate. She speaks for Education Research. She phrased her remarks as three research areas for the CS for All initiative, but I think that they could be reasonably interpreted as three sets of warnings. These are the things that could go wrong, that we ought to be paying attention to.
1. Graduation Requirements: Joan noted that many states are making CS “count” towards high school graduation requirements. She mentioned that we ought to consider the comments of organizations such as NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) and NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics). She asked us to think about how we resolve these tensions, and to track what are the long term effects of these “counting” choices.
People in the room may not have been aware that NSTA had just (October 17) come out with a statement, “Computer Science Should Supplement, not Supplant Science Education.”
The NCTM’s statement (March 2015) is more friendly towards computer science, it’s still voiced as a concern:
Ensuring that students complete college- and career-readiness requirements in mathematics is essential. Although knowledge of computer science is also fundamental, a computer science course should be considered as a substitute for a mathematics course graduation requirement only if the substitution does not interfere with a student’s ability to complete core readiness requirements in mathematics. For example, in states requiring four years of mathematics courses for high school graduation, such a substitution would be unlikely to adversely affect readiness.
Both the NSTA and NCTM statements are really saying that you ought to have enough science and mathematics. If you only require a couple science or math courses, then you shouldn’t swap out CS for one of those. I think it’s a reasonable position, but Joan is suggesting that we ought to be checking. How much CS, science, and mathematics are high school students getting? Is it enough to be prepared for college and career? Do we need to re-think CS counting as science or mathematics?
2. Teacher Credentialing: Teacher credentials in computer science are a mishmash. Rarely is there a specific CS credential. Most often, teachers have a credential in business or other Career and Technical Education (CTE or CATE, depending on the state), and sometimes mathematics or science. Joan asked us, “How is that working?” Does the background matter? Which works best? It’s not an obvious choice. For example, some CS Ed researchers have pointed out that CTE teachers are often better at teaching diverse audiences than science or mathematics teachers, so CTE teachers might be better for broadening participation in computing. We ought to be checking.
3. The Mix of Curricular Issues: While STEM has a bunch of frameworks and standards to deal with, we know what they are. There’s NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) and the National Research Council Framework. There’s Common Core. There are the NCTM recommendations.
In Computer Science, everything is new and just developing. We just had the K-12 CS Framework released. There are ISTE Standards, and CSTA Standards, and individual state standards like in Massachusetts. Unlike science and mathematics, CS has almost no assessments for these standards. Joan explicitly asked, “What works where?” Are our frameworks and standards good? Who’s going to develop the assessments? What’s working, and under what conditions?
I’d say Joan is being a critical friend. She wants to see CS for All succeed, but she doesn’t want that to cost achievement in other areas of STEM. She wants us to think about the quality of CS education with the same critical eye that we apply to mathematics and science education.