CS Curricula, Standards, and Frameworks will Need to Change: Larry Cuban and Coding as Vocationalism

July 24, 2017 at 7:00 am 2 comments

I just wrote a blog@CACM post (see link) below on a series of essays that Stanford educational historian Larry Cuban has written on “Coding as the New Vocationalism.”  His points are well-taken.  Schools have often been swayed by the needs of industry, and he sees the current “CS for All” effort as mostly being industry-driven.  The questions that he keeps returning to in his posts are, “What are schools for? How does real reform happen?”

It’s the latter set of insights that I think are missing from our current “CS for All” efforts.  I quote Cuban at the bottom of this post with his summary for how reforms succeed. Top-down edicts on what ought to be taught rarely work.  Remember the U. Chicago’s Outlier group research on the landscape of CS education from 2014?  Most professional development is requested by the school or district,  but in CS Ed, professional development mostly sent in by NSF, Google, and Universities (and today, likely, Code.org).  CS education will have to change to achieve the goal of being driven by district and teacher needs.

The most successful reform efforts are those that achieve the top-down goals in a process of mutual adaptation with teachers, an idea developed at Northwestern by a team of learning scientists led by Brian Reiser.

Whatever our curriculum, frameworks, and standards are today, they will change before we achieve CS for All.

Standards change in response to what teachers know, what we can actually teach them (at scale), and what they will actually teach (a process that has already happened in Georgia). We certainly can’t get the curriculum right yet — we’re decades away from reaching 100% of schools in any US state, with many, many teachers to prepare and to work with in a process of mutual adaptation.  I’m not opposed to defining curriculum, frameworks, and standards.  I’m opposed to thinking that we’re going to get it right — not today, when we have such a long road ahead of us.

The lessons that have to be learned time and again from earlier generations of school reformers are straightforward.

  • Build teacher capabilities in content and skills since both determine to what degree, if any, a policy gets past the classroom door.

  • With or without enhanced capabilities and expertise, teachers will adapt policies aimed at altering how and what they teach to the contours of the classrooms in which they teach. If policymakers hate teacher fingerprints over innovations, if they seek fidelity in putting desired reforms into practice, they wish for the impossible.

  • Ignoring both of the above lessons ends up with incomplete implementation of desired policies and sorely disappointed school reformers.

Source: Coding in Schools as New Vocationalism: Larry Cuban on What Schools are For | blog@CACM | Communications of the ACM

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Alfred Thompson  |  July 25, 2017 at 1:31 pm

    I think a lot of school reform or at least change has been industry driven. Industry needs people with skill sets and if schools are preparing students with those skills industry has a problem.

    In the current situation I see industry saying “teach computer science” but not doing as much telling specifically how and what CS to teach. There are examples of platform specific curriculum of course. Apple’s Swift Playgound comes to mind. On the other hand Microsoft has been promoting CS 50 which uses no Microsoft products last I looked, supports TEALS which leads to more APCSA course devoid of Microsoft content, and more lately showing off a bunch of stuff using Arduino and Micro:Bit hardware that doesn’t use stuff Microsoft sells. And Rolls Royce was a huge supporter of the recent CSTA conference and they were not talking curriculum at all.

    We can probably point to more examples on either side (product specific or non specific) but generally industry is leaving what to teach up to educators.

    As you point out a lot of the most adopted curriculum lately comes from universities and code.org. Code has hired a lot of teachers who have time in the classroom to develop their curriculum which I think is a good thing.

    Curriculum is going to grow and change of course. I think this is especially true in K-8 CS where we have the least about of knowledge of what students are ready for and how to teach them what they can deal with. I think we’ll also discover (as if we didn’t know) that one size doesn’t fit all. Different populations will need different sorts of curriculum and support. We’re just starting but at least there is movement.

  • […] we need to re-think how we are developing and disseminating CS curriculum in the United States (see link here). We have to develop a lot more curriculum in collaboration with schools, districts, and states […]


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