Archive for February 18, 2019

The biggest concerns for institutionalized CS education in the United States: Standards, limited models, and undergraduate enrollment caps

I was interviewed for the SIGCSE Bulletin by my long-time collaborator, Leo Porter (see  I talk about this blog, how I started teaching in 1980, about Media Computation, and about what inspires me.

One of the questions relates to the recent discussion about standards and frameworks (see post here).

LP: You have worked with education public policymakers in “Georgia Computes!” and Expanding Computing Education Pathways (ECEP) over the last dozen years. What’s your biggest worry as US states start institutionalizing CS education?

I have two. The first is that the efforts to standardize CS education are making the bar too low. When the K-12 CS Ed Framework was being developed, decisions were being made based on how current teachers might respond. “Teachers don’t like binary, so let’s not include that” is one argument I heard. I realize now that that’s exactly the wrong idea. Standards should drive progress and set goals. Defining standards in terms of what’s currently attainable is going to limit what we teach for years. Computing education research is all about making it possible to teach more, more easily and more effectively. I worry about setting standards based on our limited research base, not on what we hope to achieve.

The second is that most of our decisions are being made around the assumption of standalone CS classes and having teachers with a lot of CS education. I just don’t see that happening at scale in the US. Even in the states with lots of CS teachers in lots of schools, a small percentage of students take those classes. This limits who sees computer science. To make CS education accessible for all, we have to be able to explore alternative models, like integrating computing education in other subjects without CS-specific teachers. If we only count success in CS education as having standalone CS classes, we are incentivizing only one model. I worry about building our policy to disadvantage schools that want to explore integrated models, or have to integrate because of the cost of standalone CS classes.

Since this interview, I have a third concern, that may be more immediate than the other two.  This is what I wrote my CACM Blog on this month. The NYTimes just published an article “The Hard Part of Computer Science? Getting Into Class” about the growing CS undergraduate enrollment and about the efforts by departments to manage the load.  Departments used to talk about building capacity, but increasingly, the discussion is about capping or limiting enrollments.  The reason why this is concerning is because we’ve been down this road before — see Eric Roberts’ history of CS capacity challenges. Our efforts to limit enrollment send a message about computer science being only for elites and being unwelcoming to non-CS majors. This is exactly opposed to the message that, CS for All, and the AP CS Principles exam is trying to send. We’re creating a real tension between higher education and the efforts to grow CS, and it may (as Eric suggests) send enrollments into the next dive.

February 18, 2019 at 7:00 am 8 comments

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