Making Hard Choices in State Computing Education Policy towards #CSforAll #CSEdWeek

December 9, 2016 at 7:51 am Leave a comment

At the ECEP Summit, I sat with the team from North Carolina as they were reviewing data that our evaluation team from Sagefox had assembled.  It was fascinating to work with them as they reviewed their state data.  I realized in a new way the difficult choices that a state has to make when deciding how to make progress towards the CS for All goal.  In the discussion that follows, I don’t mean to critique North Carolina in any way — every state has similar strengths and weaknesses, and has to make difficult choices.  I just spent time working with the North Carolina team, so I have their numbers at-hand.

North Carolina has 5,000 students taking CS in the state right now.  That was higher than some of the other states in the room.  I had been sitting with the Georgia state team, and knew that Georgia was unsure if we have even one full-time CS teacher in a public high school in the whole state.  The North Carolina team knew for a fact that they had at least 10 full-time high school CS teachers.

Some of the other statistics that Sagefox had gathered:

  • In 2015, the only 18% of Blacks in North Carolina who took the AP CS exam passed it. (It rose to 28% in 2016, but we didn’t have those results at the summit.) The overall pass rate for AP CS in North Carolina is over 40%.
  • Only 68 teachers in the state took any kind of CS Professional Development (that Sagefox could track).  There are 727 high schools in the state.
  • Knowing that there are 727 high schools in the state, we can put the 5,000 high school students in CS in perspective.  We know that there at 10 full-time CS teachers in North Carolina, each teaching six classes of 20 students each.  That accounts for 1,200 of those 5,000.  3,800 students divided by 717 high schools, with class sizes typically at 20 students, suggests that not all high schools in North Carolina have any CS at all.

Given all of this, if you wanted to achieve CS for All, where would you make a strategic investment?

  • Maybe you’d want to raise that Black student pass rate.  North Carolina is 22% African-American.  If you can improve quality for those students, you can make a huge impact on the state and make big steps towards broadening participation in computing.
  • Maybe you’d want to work towards all high schools having a CS teacher.  Each teacher is only going to reach at most 120 students (that’s full-time), but that would go a long way towards more equitable access to CS education in the state.
  • Maybe you’d want to have more full-time CS teachers — not just one class, but more teachers who just teach CS for the maximum six courses a year.  Then, you reach more students, and you create an incentive for more pre-service education and a pipeline for CS teachers, since then you’d have jobs for them.

The problem is that you can’t do all of these things.  Each of these is expensive.  You can really only go after one goal at a time.  Which one first?  It’s a hard choice, and we don’t have enough evidence to advise which is likely to pay off the most in the long run.  And you can’t achieve all of the goal all at once — as I described in Blog@CACM, you take incremental steps. These are all tough choices.

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NSF Education Research Questions and Warnings for #CSforAll during #CSEdWeek If you really want a diverse workforce, why not go where there is diversity?

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