Posts tagged ‘high school’

Where AP CS is taught in Georgia and California, and where there is none at all


April Heard at Georgia Tech built this map for us about where AP CS is taught in the state of Georgia.  Some of it is totally to be expected. Most of the schools are in the Atlanta region, with a couple in Columbus, a handful in Macon, and a few more in Augusta and Savannah area.

But what’s disappointing is that huge swath in the south of the state with nothing.  Not a single school south of Columbus and west of Brunswick.  In terms of area, it’s about 1/3 of the state.  Albany is home to Albany State University, the largest HBCU in Georgia.  No AP CS at all there.  And Georgia is one of the top states for having AP CS.

Sure, there might be some non-AP CS teachers in South Georgia, but we’re talking a handful.  Not double, and certainly not a magnitude more than AP CS.

I suspect that much of the US looks like this, with wide stretches without a CS teacher in sight.  April is continuing to generate these maps for states that we’re working with in ECEP.  Here’s California, with big empty stretches.


Tom McKlin just generated this new map, which overlays the AP CS teacher data on top of mean household income in a school district.  The correlation is very high — districts with money have AP CS, and those that don’t, don’t.

AP CS Median Income


October 10, 2014 at 8:29 am 11 comments

Georgia Governor shows Support for CS in Schools


It’s not too often that a policy announcement about education happens on the Georgia Tech campus.  In the picture above, tech entrepreneur Chris Klaus is introducing Georgia Governor Nathan Deal (who is second from the right — the guy on the far right is our Provost Rafael Bras), in the Klaus Advanced Computing Building (same Klaus — he funded the building).  Chris has been spearheading an effort to get more “coding” into Georgia schools.

The Governor said that he’s asking the State Board of Education for computer science to count as core science, mathematics, and foreign languages.

The gossip before the talk was that he was going to announce that CS would count for (i.e., replace) foreign languages (which is not a good idea).  This announcement was a bit better than that, but it’s still not clear what it means.  AP CS already counts as a science towards high school graduation.  Does it mean that more CS courses will count?  That AP CS will count as any of math, science, or foreign languages?  And will the State Board of Education go along with this?  Who knows?

The guy on the far left of that picture is Representative Mike Dudgeon.  He’s taken on the task of changing the “highly-qualified” list in Georgia so that business teachers OR math teachers OR science teachers can teach CS in Georgia.  Currently, CS is a “Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education” subject, meaning that only teachers with a business certificate can teach CS.  Barbara Ericson has fought hard so that mathematics teachers can also teach AP CS — but this all leaves us in the weird position that AP CS counts as a science, but science teachers can’t teach it.  Only math and business teachers can teach AP CS in Georgia. That would be great if Dudgeon is successful.  It’s easier to teach CS to math and science teachers than business teachers.

I was a meeting recently with Chris Klaus where he said that he wants to make Georgia the first state in the USA to require CS for high school graduation.  When I balked at that (citing the issues in my Blog@CACM post), he had an interesting counter-proposal.  We give schools and districts who aren’t ready to teach CS a waiver, but to get a waiver, you have to have a plan in place to be able to teach CS within three years.  Might work.

My proposal in the group that Chris has founded to have more “coding education in Georgia” isn’t getting much traction.  I proposed we do what Calculus did. How did Calculus get taught in every high school? First, schools in the 1800’s started teaching calculus to undergrads. By the 1900’s, every STEM undergrad had to take Calculus, and the top high schools were preparing their kids for Calculus. By the late 1900’s, all high schools were offering calculus.  My proposal is that that the Board of Regents make CS part of the general education requirement of all undergraduates in the University System of Georgia. Every student in every college in Georgia would be required to take a course in CS. Unlike elementary and high schools, USG institutions have CS teachers — they might have to hire more faculty to handle the load, but they know how to do it. It’s much less expensive to teach CS at the undergraduate level than at the high or elementary school level. But this creates the curriculum (you have to teach a different CS to everyone from what you teach to CS majors) that the high-end schools will immediately start to emulate, and that will get copied into other high schools.  Biggest advantage is that every new teacher (business, math, or science) will take a CS class! That should accelerate the rate of getting teachers who know CS into schools, and give them a new tool for teaching STEM classes.

Anyway, it’s probably a good thing that there is all of this interest in computing education from Georgia political leaders.


August 26, 2014 at 8:14 am 9 comments

Common Core and CS-for-all: What’s our goal

I’m not convinced that the purpose of Common Core is to prepare students for four year universities.  Shouldn’t the common core be the minimum standard?  This issue is coming up for us at ECEP as we work in South Carolina.  In fact, we’re addressing it today in our Computing Education in South Carolina summit.  Should everyone be required to take serious CS in high school?  Or is it that everyone should have access to serious CS (e.g., preparation for undergrad CS courses), and everyone should know more about CS, but the college-going students are the ones who need the serious CS?

One of the three drafters of the Common Core math standards has publicly admitted that Common Core – which moves Algebra I from 8th to 9th grade and includes little trigonometry, no pre-calculus, and no calculus – is designed to prepare students for non-selective community colleges, not four-year universities. In fact, President Bud Peterson of Georgia Tech has stated that a student cannot go to Tech without having had Algebra I in 8th grade and calculus by senior year.  In other words, Common Core won’t get kids into Georgia Tech. This is the “quality” that has so impressed the Fordham lobbyists?

via Common Core: Substandard educational scheme. Georgia can do… | Get Schooled |

November 8, 2013 at 1:33 am 5 comments

MUST READ: Hacking at Education: TED, Technology Entrepreneurship, Uncollege, and the Hole in the Wall

Audrey Watters has an insightful essay that show how the “Hack Education” and TED movements misunderstand school.  Public school is not better than learning on your own.  Public school is about making sure that everyone has the opportunity to learn.  I believe that the issues are the same for MOOCs, which tend to draw a well-educated, majority-class, and male audience.  I highly recommend reading her entire essay linked below.

“I’m the first MacCaw not to go to Cambridge,” says one of the informant. This and a myriad of other utterances are rather mind-boggling markers of privilege, markers that Hacking Your Education fails to examine and that the book seems extraordinarily unaware of.

One hack it offers for the young uncollege-er: “take people out for coffee” — budget $150 a month to do so. Another hack: “go to conferences.” Sneak in. “Hardly anyone will notice.” Another hack: “buy an airplane ticket.” “You can go anywhere in the world for $1500.” “Collect frequent flyer points.” Too bad if you’re big or black or brown or a non-native English speaker or the working poor or a single mom. Just practice your posture and your grammar and your email introductions, and you’re golden.

via Hacking at Education: TED, Technology Entrepreneurship, Uncollege, and the Hole in the Wall.

March 8, 2013 at 1:42 am 2 comments

Calling all US High School CS Teachers: Please give us your thoughts!

An important announcement from Baker Franke:

Right now a lot of important decisions are being made about the future of computing education in the United States. Sadly, though perhaps predictably, the people with the most vital information about the state of computing education – YOU THE TEACHERS – are potentially being left out of the process.

I’m working with the Center for Elementary Math and Science Education (CEMSE) here at the University of Chicago to ensure that REAL TEACHERS’ needs and voices will contribute to the information used to by these decision- and policy-makers.

There is a very brief (10 min or less), but very important survey I’d like you to fill out that will help convey what’s really going on in schools to those making decisions that will impact all of us in computing education. This information will be widely disseminated, it will be used, and it will matter. So please join me in collecting this information so that TEACHERS’ VOICES WILL BE HEARD.

All surveys must be completed by January 15, 2013.

As an incentive for your participation, we are giving away one $50 Amazon gift card to one lucky person every time 100 people complete the survey. So the earlier you complete the survey, and the more computing teacher friends you pass this along to, the more chances you have to win!

Survey Link:

Thanks much. Yours in solidarity,

Baker Franke
Computer Science Teacher
University of Chicago Laboratory Schools
Center for Elementary Math and Science Education

December 10, 2012 at 7:18 am 1 comment

“Florida is killing Computer Science”

“Florida is killing Computer Science,” was the first thing that Joanne Barrett told us when we asked her how things were going in Florida. Barbara and I went to Orlando to give the Technology track keynote (joint! It was fun!) and two breakouts at the FCIS Conference on Thursday. Joanne ran the Technology track at FCIS. (Our travel was sponsored by CSTA and Google – thanks!) The mood of the CS teachers we met was dismal.

Currently, computer science is part of the academic high school degree in Florida — the classes that one would take as College preparation. It’s mostly taught by mathematics teachers. This year is the end of that. This is the last year that the current CS classes will be offered.

As of next year, all the computer science classes in Florida will be moved into business, as part of career preparation. As we understand it from Joanne, they literally won’t count for credit towards an academic high school degree. The AP CS will stay in the academic track, but all the other computer science courses will move to business.

Why? Exactly the same issue as in Georgia: Perkins funding will pay for hardware, so career prep has the computers, and it gets computer science. We spoke to one business teacher who is desperately seeking professional development to prepare herself for teaching all these new computing courses. We met one of the teachers at the Florida Virtual High School (which has a really cool CS sequence, and an astounding success rate for their students on AP CS), and she said that they may not even be able to offer any CS next year. FVHS is about academic subjects, and CS is being re-classified. Florida is also looking for industry certification for the end of the Perkins-funded pathway, and the teachers we talked to said that they’re currently considering an IEEE Certification — which is explicitly for graduates of four year degree programs, not high school students.

What will this do to CS education in Florida? it won’t be “killed,” but it will be changed. I worry about the quality, when swapping out all the experienced math teachers for inexperienced business teachers. I can’t the impact on CS10K goals.

Can AP CS succeed (in particular, the new CS:Principles effort) as a standalone AP, with all the other CS courses in another track? Maybe. I wonder how much effort school districts will put into AP CS, if they have a different, funded CS pathway. I also wonder if CS:Principles can meet its goal of helping to broaden participation in this context — the career prep programs that I’ve seen are far more heavily under-represented minority than the college prep programs. What if the minority students you want to draw into computing via AP CS are off taking the career prep classes?

November 9, 2012 at 8:12 am 11 comments

Yay, College Board! 857 Desks Call Attention to Dropout Problem

How cool that the College Board is being active on this significant problem (that isn’t made better with online education)!  I do understand that increasing the pass rate without maintaining quality is an empty achievement, but the economic cost of the high dropout rate is enormous.

Each desk represents one of the 857 students who drop out of high school in the United States every single hour, every single school day, according to the College Board, which arranged the display to underline its effort to urge presidential candidates to put education at the top of their to-do lists.

The board had nearly a dozen people, iPads in hand, gathering signatures in nearly 100-degree weather for an online petition that said: “If you want my support, I need to hear more from you about how you plan to fix the problems with education. And not just the same old platitudes. I want to know that you have real, tangible solutions, and that once in office, you’re ready to take serious action. I’ll be watching your acceptance speech at your party’s convention.”

via 857 Desks Call Attention to Dropout Problem –

June 26, 2012 at 5:02 am 3 comments

What we don’t know about going to distance education, and the challenge of comparing apples to apples

The Georgia legislature had been considering a bill that required high school students to take on-line courses as a graduation requirement.  Maureen Downey of the AJC had a piece in last Monday’s column which reported on a study by the National Educational Policy Center at the University of Colorado about how well such requirements were faring:

Minnesota, which has tripled its full-time virtual high school enrollment, found that online students scored lower in state testing and dropped out of school at higher rates; a quarter of online seniors dropped out, compared to only 3 percent of their peers.

A study of Colorado’s full-time cyber-students noted similar performance lags. Once in the virtual school, students scored lower on state reading exams, with scores declining the longer that they were in the program.  An analysis by the I-News Network and Education News Colorado found that Colorado’s virtual high schools produced three times more drop-outs than graduates, which was the exact reverse of the state average, in which there were three graduates for every dropout.

Distance education is important to develop and explore. We can’t realistically ask broad questions like, “Does distance education work?”  Distance education (or virtual high schools) is not just one thing.  The evidence is strong that the Open University UK works, but it works because the courses are well-designed and well-tested.  We don’t know enough about how to design well and what factors influence success in distance education.  It is reasonable to ask about the impact of current practice, but in that case, the specifics on practice and context of the study is important.

In her blog, Downey recently considered the flaws of the 2009 US Department of Education meta-study on distance education programs.  I had critiqued the meta-study earlier for ignoring issues of drop-out rates.  Turns out that the definition of a distance education “course” varied considerably in the 2009 report, and that all the fully-online studies were at universities, where the students are much more motivated to complete than in high school or community college.

Nice try. But that study has serious flaws, especially as it pertains to community colleges. In the “Effectiveness of Fully Online Courses for College Students: Response to a Department of Education Meta-Analysis,” Shanna Smith Jaggers and Thomas Bailey of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University point out that only 28 of the 99 studies examined in the Education Department report focused on courses that were fully online. Furthermore, only seven looked at semester-long courses, as opposed to short-term online programs on narrow topics, “such as how to use an Internet search engine.”

In other words, out of all the studies reviewed by the Education Department, only a handful dealt with the kind of fully online, semester-long courses that are being touted as a means of increasing college-completion rates.

Even more alarming, for those of us on the front lines at community colleges, is the fact that all seven of those studies were conducted at midsize or large universities, five of which were rated as “selective” or “highly selective” by U.S. News & World Report. Those are not exactly the kinds of places that typically attract at-risk students—the ones least likely to complete their degrees. Community colleges do attract such students, and in large numbers.

via Online learning: Before we rush down that path, make sure we know where we are going | Get Schooled.

April 3, 2012 at 8:04 am 7 comments

High school computing in the US is like the developing world

My colleague, Ellen Zegura, works to use technology to help the developing nation of Liberia. She and I were talking recently about her project to teach programming in Python in the iLab in Liberia.  The iLab is the most advanced computing lab in Liberia with the best bandwidth — but it’s still pretty awful.  Ellen said that they figured out that simply downloading OpenOffice to the iLab would take 14 hours. With that kind of bandwidth, you think carefully before you download IDE’s and different Python distributions.  This limits what kind of technology you can provide for learning.

We got to talking about our work in CSLearning4U, and the challenges of teaching computing in high schools.  I told her about the Alice project report which found that they couldn’t install Alice because the computers in their high schools had CD/DVD drives removed and all the USB ports filled by glue gun.  I told her about Lightbot, which is a cool programmable activity being used in several of the CS:Principles pilots — but Lightbot can’t be used in most Atlanta-area schools, because the activity is hosted on a games website which is blocked by the county’s firewall.  As far as we can tell, nobody in the county has the ability to un-block a site.  It’s pretty easy to add site to the blocked list, though.  All of this limits the kinds of technology that we can provide for learning in high school computing courses.

We then realized that learning computing in US high schools is like learning programming in the developing world.  While Atlanta-area schools have better connectivity than in Liberia, and better computers in general, they are so locked down that the constraints are pretty similar.  In fact, the folks in Liberia can access Lightbot (even if too slowly), so they really have more flexibility than Atlanta-area schools.

If you develop a great technology for teaching programming in US high schools, you better be browser-based, and host it on a server that’s not blocked by firewalls.  Otherwise, you might be better off offering it to Liberia.

February 10, 2012 at 9:27 am 16 comments

No cost for cheerleading or band instead of CS? Offer remedial classes for those who missed CS?

I got beat up a bit after my talk at TTU Tapestry a couple weeks ago. Two teachers from the same school stopped me at lunch, after my keynote, and complained about how we at Georgia Tech run our CS1 for Engineers in MATLAB.  “How can you expect students to be able to succeed in a programming course, with no high school CS?  Why don’t you offer some starter course with no programming first?”  I tried to explain that students do succeed in all three of our CS1’s with no previous programming experience, and our data suggest that students learn and succeed (e.g., relatively small percentage drop-out or fail) in these courses.  (This is in sharp contrast to the Peter Norvig piece about learning Java in 21 days.)

As the teachers went on with their complaints about me and Georgia Tech,  more of the story came out. Some of their students had gone to Georgia Tech in Engineering, had floundered in the CS for Engineers course, and were calling these high school teachers regularly for help.  “They spend a huge amount of hours working in labs!  More than others in their class, because they didn’t get the chance to take CS in high school.  Some kids have band or cheerleading, and they can’t fit CS in.  That shouldn’t mean that they have to spend so much extra time in lab to catch up!”

It’s that last argument that I had the most trouble with.  Their students didn’t have the background knowledge in CS. It seems clear to me that those students should have to work harder than those that have the background knowledge. That the teachers thought that the extra work was unusual or extreme surprised me.  There was an implicit assumption that, because these students didn’t get the background classes due to band and cheerleading, we at Georgia Tech should provide remedial classes.  To be clear, it’s not that the CS wasn’t offered at their high school. Their school has two CS teachers. It’s just that cheerleading and band took priority over preparing for the Engineering program at Georgia Tech, which requires computer science.

What is the expectation of high school teachers for the workload in CS1?  What is the expectation of high school teachers for what College CS classes will demand?  Is it reasonable to expect Colleges to provide the introductory classes that others get in high school?  Maybe it is reasonable for Colleges to provide more high school level classes, especially if we want to grow enrollment.  But I do worry about the perspective that says that it’s reasonable to skip the intellectual background classes because of non-academic activities.  I have nothing against non-academic activities like band and cheerleading.  However, the non-academic activities are not an excuse for a lack of background knowledge for higher-education — and if you do miss the background classes, you should expect to have to work harder when you get to College.

July 19, 2011 at 8:56 am 8 comments

Hard for GT Prof to Get into High School

I haven’t done much work directly with K-12 students since my dissertation, where I had high school students learn physics and CS by building kinematics simulations. In Georgia Computes!, we work with K-12 students in afterschool programs, through youth-serving organizations (like Girl Scouts), and in summer camps, but not directly with the schools. We help develop middle school and high school CS teachers. But we’ve come up against a research question that requires us to work directly with high school students.

Few minority students take AP CS, even when there are teachers in the school who have gone through our workshops and summer programs. Even fewer take the AP CS exam, and very few pass it. Why is that?

A graduate student working with me, Jill Donnelly, decided to help us answer this question. She’s put together an interview protocol to ask high school students (both taking AP CS and not taking it) about their attitudes towards AP CS. She’s tried out her protocol with summer camp students this year, but that’s not really a fair distribution. She also wants to talk to teachers (what do they think? do they encourage or dissuade students from taking it?) and guidance counselors (ditto). Barb helped us find a high school with good CS teachers and with little AP CS attendance.

First Jill spoke to the AP CS teacher (after multiple emails and phone calls), who sent her to the principal. Repeat application of emails and phone calls, and add a physical visit to get on his calendar. He sent her to the administrator in the school who manages research projects. Repeat. We find out that we have to apply to the Fulton County Board for research project review. Repeat the emails, calls, and visits. I write a letter to the principal. I help Jill get the form together for the County. The application goes in in my name All of this takes about six months.

Yesterday, we get a four sentence form letter, where the second sentence begins, “We regret to inform you.” No explanation. Nothing which is specific to our case at all.

It’s frustrating. I have been complaining (okay, whining) about this on Facebook and to my colleagues. I’ve learned that this is a common problem. I understand better why so many of my colleagues work in private schools, charter schools, and even schools they create themselves. Of course, that doesn’t help us — that’s not where our question is..

Why did Fulton County say no to us? From what little we’re hearing back, schools are often afraid that we are going to make them look bad. This is the down side of Stuck in the Shallow End — schools don’t want to be painted with the same brush. I can’t promise that they’ll come off blameless, but we want to work with them on data collection, analysis, and reporting.

One of the analyses we can do without permission is to look at published data. In our schools that are getting good AP CS success, over 75% of the students who take AP tests pass them. In our schools that have this confound (good teachers, few students), the pass rate for AP overall is around 5%. It’s not just CS. Is it culture in the schools? Is it how AP is thought about? I don’t know, and we’re having a hard time finding out.

In response to my Facebook complaints, former Dean of the School of Education, Carl Berger, responded that that was how U-Michigan got my advisor, Elliot Soloway, away from Yale. Elliot wanted to work in high schools in New Haven, but was getting shut down. U-M always had great relationships with Ann Arbor schools. I was surprised. I knew lots of reasons why Elliot left Yale, but this one was new for me. Is it really necessary for a researcher to change jobs just to get access to research participants?

I was spoiled at Michigan. We had so many projects going on in the Ann Arbor schools. It was easy to get started, even for graduate students or post-docs I was working in the CS classes with the GPCeditor. MediaText was used in journalism and physics classrooms. Yasmin Kafai wanted to work with geometry classes, and immediately had teachers to work with.

On reflection, I realize that it really helps to have a School of Education to do work like this. From pre-service student teaching, to in-service teacher workshops, to graduate degrees for teachers, a School of Education provides a reason and an opportunity to have an on-going relationship with the area schools. At Georgia Tech, there are a handful of us who work with education — it’s hard to maintain a relationship, particularly a multi-faceted one like Michigan had.

Right now, I don’t know where we’re going to go next to answer this question. I suspect that the first step is for me to visit the research decision-makers in Fulton County, to find out what happened and how we could improve our chances. I don’t know what Jill is going to do for her HCI Masters project, but I’m hoping that we can get approval still.. It’s depressing and frustrating that it’s so hard for education researchers to find willing partners in K-12 schools We know that there are problems in the schools, and we are interested in helping — not to drop in our solutions, but to talk to people to try to identify the problems and work with the schools to develop appropriate interventions. It’s so hard to get into high schools.

August 7, 2010 at 2:16 pm 3 comments

Tools for Building Tutors, and Tutors for Computing Education

I took a workshop this morning on building intelligent tutoring systems.  That’s surprising if you knew me even 10 years ago, when I thought that intelligent tutoring systems were an interesting technology but a bad educational idea. I thought that tutors were the fancy worksheets that I thought deadened education and taught only the kinds of things that weren’t worth teaching.  Then I spent the last eight years trying to figure out how to teach computing to people who do want to learn about computing but don’t want to become professional software developers (i.e,, Media Computation).

  • I’ve come to realize that there are students who need drill-and-practice kinds of activities to succeed, for whom discovery or inquiry learning is more effort than it’s worth. I recognize that in myself — I find economics fascinating and enjoy reading about it, but I’m not interested enough in economics to (for example) sit for hours with an economic simulator to figure out the principles for myself.
  • I also now believe that even those students who do want to discover information for themselves still need a bunch of foundational knowledge on which to base their discoveries. A student who wants to figure out something about computing using Python, still has to learn enough Python to be able to use it as a tool. It’s not worth anybody’s time to learn Python syntax through trial-and-error discovery or inquiry learning.

I am now interested in tools like intelligent tutoring systems to help students learn foundational skills and concepts as efficiently as possible.

The workshop this morning was short, only three hours long. Still, we all built simple model-tracing tutors for a single mathematics problem, and I think most of us started building a tutor for something that we were interested in. I started building a tutor that would lead a student through writing the decreaseRed() function that we start with in both the Python and Java CS1 books.

The Cognitive Tutor Authoring Tools (CTAT) that the CMU folks have built are amazingly cool! They’ve built Java and Flash versions, but the Flash version is actually totally generic. Using a socket-based interface, the CTAT for Flash tool can observe behavior to construct a graph of potential student actions, which can labeled with hints, structure for success/failure paths, made ordered/unordered, and made generic with formulas. The tool can also be used for creating general rule-based tutors. CTAT really is a general tutoring engine that can be integrated into just about any kind of computational activity. I’m still wrapping my head about all the ways to use this tool.

My biggest “Aha!” (or maybe “Oh No!”) moment came from this table:

First, I’d never realized that 30 minutes of activity in the famous Geometry Tutor took two months to develop! The whole point of the CTAT effort is to reduce these costs. This table gave me new insight into what it’s going to take to meet President Obama’s goal of computational, individualized tutors. A typical semester course in college is about three contact hours and 10-15 hours of homework per week for 15 weeks. Let’s call it 13 hours of scripted learning activity a week, for a total 195 hours. The best ratio on that table is 48:1 — 48 hours of development for one hour of student activity. 9360 development hours (for those 195 hours at a 48:1 ratio), at 40 hours per week, is just over four person-years of effort to build a single college semester course. That’s not beyond reason, but it is certainly a sobering number. A full year high school course, at 45 minutes a week, five days a week, for 30 weeks is 112.5 student hours, which is (again using best case of 48:1) 5400 development hours. Two person-years of effort is a minimum to produce a single all-tutored high school course.

Here’s another great role for computer scientists: Build the tools to make these efforts more productive, and make the tools easier to use and easier to understand so that a wider range of people can engage in the effort.  CTAT is great, but still requires a hefty knowledge and time investment.  Can we make that easier and cheaper?

June 29, 2010 at 4:15 pm 7 comments

More teacher education vs. centralized control

Linda Darling-Hammond’s new book The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity will Determine Our Future is excerpted in this piece at I have the book but hadn’t started it yet, but now I’m really intrigued.

In this excerpt, Linda Darling-Hammond is contrasting the success of Finland with the direction of educational change in the United States.  While the US has moved more toward standardized testing and increased curricular standards (even at a national level), Finland has (instead) decreased the national standards and instead increased education for its teachers — three graduate years, paid for by the state.  The goal is to increase the quality of the teachers, rather than try to check outcomes and enforce standards (in some sense) after the fact.

This is relevant for us because the current trends in improving computing education (e.g., the new AP “Computer Science: Principles” exam, and the efforts toward getting CS into the Common Core) look much more like the US mainstream strategy than the Finland option that Darling-Hammond is praising.  I admit my naiveté — I had not even considered the trade-off between our current centralized strategy in high school CS and this option for fewer standards and better education for teachers.  I’m not sure that Darling-Hammond is right (e.g., will a strategy that works in Finland also work in the larger and more diverse United States?  Can we create these post-graduate teacher education programs in the US, at scale, especially in CS where such programs are almost non-existent?), but I’m intrigued and want to learn more.

The process of change has been almost the reverse of policies in the United States. Over the past 40 years, Finland has shifted from a highly centralized system emphasizing external testing to a more localized system in which highly trained teachers design curriculum around the very lean national standards. This new system is implemented through equitable funding and extensive preparation for all teachers. The logic of the system is that investments in the capacity of local teachers and schools to meet the needs of all students, coupled with thoughtful guidance about goals, can unleash the benefits of local creativity in the cause of common, equitable outcomes.

Meanwhile the United States has been imposing more external testing—often exacerbating differential access to curriculum—while creating more inequitable conditions in local schools. Resources for children and schools, in the form of both overall funding and the presence of trained, experienced teachers, have become more disparate in many states, thus undermining the capacity of schools to meet the outcomes that are ostensibly sought. Sahlberg notes that Finland has taken a very different path. He observes:

The Finns have worked systematically over 35 years to make sure that competent professionals who can craft the best learning conditions for all students are in all schools, rather than thinking that standardized instruction and related testing can be brought in at the last minute to improve student learning and turn around failing schools.

via Steady Work Finland.

June 25, 2010 at 9:37 am 3 comments

Using Incentives to Improve Education: TIME is paying kids to do better in school

I found this article in TIME fascinating.  I’m surprised that they didn’t have the Nudge or Freakonomics authors comment on the story — it’s directly libertarian paternalism.

If you haven’t read it, it’s a randomized clinical study of paying kids to do better in school, across four different settings with different criteria for pay-outs.  The results (so-far — the study is on-going to get data on long-term effects and drop-out rates) are pretty much what the libertarian paternalists would predict.  Paying kids for higher grades or better test scores doesn’t work.  Kids don’t necessarily know how to achieve those goals, and the feedback may arrive too late to influence performance (e.g., test scores that arrive in the summer).  But paying kids to attend class, to read more books, to avoid fights, to not get pregnant — these things result in measurable benefits.  Kids know how to do these things, and the feedback arrives quickly. It works most of the time.  The results are still complicated, and there are additional variables that influence the results. Key is that it’s really important work to do, and someone is doing it.

But should students work for intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic motivations?  As the study’s author says: If it doesn’t work for adults, why should it work for kids?

In principle, Fryer agrees. “Kids should learn for the love of learning,” he says. “But they’re not. So what shall we do?” Most teenagers do not look at their math homework the way toddlers look at a blank piece of paper. It would be wonderful if they did. Maybe one day we will all approach our jobs that way. But until then, most adults work primarily for money, and in a curious way, we seem to be holding kids to a higher standard than we hold ourselves.

via Should Kids Be Bribed to Do Well in School? — Printout — TIME.

Jan Cuny has talked about trying something similar for AP CS.  Turns out that paying AP teachers $50 for each student score of 5, and $25 to each student who gets a 3 or better, works for driving up students taking AP exams and for raising scores.  Why not try it for AP CS, too?

April 12, 2010 at 9:06 pm 7 comments

Need help! Get CS in the Common Core!

Cameron Wilson just wrote a blog post about computer science being made part of the draft Common Core Standards.  It’s not yet in the official Common Core Standards.  Cameron explains in his piece why this is important, and what we can do (YES, THERE’S SOMETHING URGENT TO DO HERE!) to make this stick.  It can be as simple as an email or filling out a Web form — please do help!

K-12 computer science education might get a boost from a recently released document called the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) . This initiative is historic for the United States. For the first time forty-eight governors have come together to propose a common set of English arts and mathematics standards — which are key drivers of the curriculum students are exposed to — for their states. Until the common core standards initiative, state standards were generally disconnected from each other. The exciting news is that computer science is listed as a potential fourth course in their model pathway

When it comes to computer science education in K-12 we have two major policy issues: 1) most states do not have specific computer science standards, and 2) if computer science courses are in schools, they don’t count toward a student’s core credits. Some states like Texas, Georgia and Virginia have moved to count computer science courses in high school as either a math or science; however, in most states computer science is an elective. This leaves computer science courses starved for attention, resources and student interest.

…Now the community can support this breakthrough by sending letters for support for the inclusion of computer science in the final document. The initiative is taking comments on the draft until April 2. There are two ways to comment. The first is by taking the survey, which as an additional comment area where you can express support for computer science. (Follow this link and click on the “submit feedback” to get to the survey.) The second is by sending letters to

via Computing and the Common Core | blog@CACM | Communications of the ACM.

March 26, 2010 at 1:48 pm Leave a comment

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