Why high school teachers might avoid teaching CS: The role of industry

July 29, 2019 at 7:00 am 3 comments

Fascinating blog post from Laura Larke that helps to answer the question: Why isn’t high school computing growing in England?  The Roehampton Report (pre-release of the 2019 data available here) has tracked the state of computing education in England, which the authors describe as a “steep decline.” Laura starts her blog post with the provocative question “How does industry’s participation in the creation of education policy impact upon what happens in the classroom?” She describes teachers who aim to protect their students’ interests — giving them what they really need, and making judgments about where to allocate scarce classroom time.

What I found were teachers acting as gatekeepers to their respective classrooms, modifying or rejecting outright a curriculum that clashed with local, professional knowledge (Foucault, 1980) of what was best for their young students. Instead, they were teaching digital skills that they believed to be more relevant (such as e-safety, touch typing, word processing and search skills) than the computer-science-centric content of the national curriculum, as well as prioritising other subjects (such as English and maths, science, art, religious education) that they considered equally important and which competed for limited class time.

Do we see similar issues in US classrooms?  It is certainly the case that the tech industry is painted in the press as driving the effort to provide CS for All.  Adam Michlin shared this remarkable article on Facebook, “(Florida) Gov. DeSantis okay with substituting computer science over traditional math and science classes required for graduation.” Florida is promoting CS as a replacement for physics or pre-calculus in the high school curriculum.

“I took classes that I enjoyed…like physics. Other than trying to keep my kids from falling down the stairs in the Governor’s mansion I don’t know how much I deal with physics daily,” the governor said.

The article highlights the role of the tech industry in supporting this bill.

Several top state lawmakers attended as well as a representative from Code.org, a Seattle-based nonprofit that works to expand computer science in schools. Lobbyists representing Code.org in Tallahassee advocated for HB 7071, which includes computer science initiatives and other efforts. That’s the bill DeSantis is reviewing.

A Microsoft Corporation representative also attended the DeSantis event. Microsoft also had lobbyists in Tallahassee during the session, advocating for computer science and other issues.

The US and England have different cultures. Laura’s findings do not automatically map to the US. I’m particularly curious if US teachers are similarly more dubious about the value of CS curricula if it’s perceived as a tech industry ploy.


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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. zamanskym  |  July 29, 2019 at 8:43 am

    I’ve certainly seen a fair amount of resistance to things pushed by industry. Even a number of years ago, before the bloom came off the tech rose with things coming to light such as privacy issues, ethical concerns in computing etc, teachers have seen things like how tech fueled gentrification pushes aside marginalized commutes and replaces them with well to do transplants or the stories of how Amazon treats its employees.

    Then you have Bill Gates who is in many ways the face of school reform with his support of common core, standardized testing, charters, stack ranked teacher evaluations etc along with other tech players and many in teaching don’t see the tech community as one that has the students best interests at heart.

    Of course, we also have the other side where many teachers do see CS as a possible ticket to the vanishing middle class.

  • 2. Alfred Thompson  |  July 29, 2019 at 11:13 am

    Having spent a number of years working for a company where my job was to promote tools and curriculum to teachers as well and a number of years in the classroom before and after that time in industry my experience and opinions are atypical at best.

    But I have seen this issue from both sides now. I’ve also blogged about it a number of times. Most recently at https://blog.acthompson.net/2019/07/what-do-companies-get-out-of-supporting.html

    Of course industry still has trouble understanding education and also has a narrow view of it. Their need for a population educated at technology is real and has a higher priority for them than may be the case for the general population.

    Teachers today are being inundated with new things that they are told they need to teach. Making the decisions on what to teach are not easy. I see teachers who are very interested in adding more CS but that may well be a factor of the type of teachers I hang out with. I am seeing more interest from administrators as well lately though. Again, I probably don’t see a representative sample. The Google sponsored Gallup survey a few years ago showed that administrators, at that time at least, didn’t see the need for more CS even though parents did.

  • 3. alanone1  |  July 29, 2019 at 11:29 am

    I think a number of other possibilities need to be added in order to have any kind of a discussion on “teachers as gate keepers in their classrooms”. For example, just to add one of several: many studies have shown that teachers — especially in elementary graders — are very resistant to learning the substance of the subjects they teach, and will tend to teach what they like to teach and think they know how to teach.

    And then there is Rick Desantis with: “I took classes that I enjoyed…like physics. Other than trying to keep my kids from falling down the stairs in the Governor’s mansion I don’t know how much I deal with physics daily,” the governor said.

    This from a guy in a state — Florida — that is highly in early danger of effects of climate change, including flooding and storms. He is an improvement on the previous character — who outlawed the phrase “climate change” — but not enough of an improvement to take the needed steps for what is actually going on.

    He says he doesn’t know how much he deals with physics daily, and I think that his interest is physics didn’t take strongly (his major in college was History). I surmise that anyone who absorbed the epistemology of science and was a politician would be doing everything possible to mitigate climate change, including trying to raise future generations of voters as much more science aware — and realizing that he is indeed “dealing with physics daily”.


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