Posts tagged ‘public policy’
The Individual Teacher versus the Educational System: What if Finland’s great teachers taught in U.S. schools?
I highly recommend the article below, for the perspective above all. The issue of “If we fix teachers, do we fix the American educational system” is discussed below and in a recent Freakonomics podcast (see link here). The Freakonomics team comes to the same conclusion as below — no, the home life is a far bigger factor than any particular teacher.
But I’m more struck by the focus on the education system more than the individual teacher in the below essay. If your focus is on the education system, then the goal shouldn’t be to identify and get rid of the “bad” teachers. In the end, that’s just one teacher in a whole system. You’re better off improving the system, by making the teachers as good as possible (e.g., with high-quality professional development, and lots of it). Develop your teachers, and the system improves itself.
The comments about Teach for America are relevant to the TEALS program, too. If we value teaching as a profession and want highly-skilled, prepared, and experienced teachers, then you don’t take newbies and make them teachers. Make them assistants, or make them para-professionals. Take a legitimate peripheral participation approach and let them help on the edges. But keep the teacher front-and-center, valuing her or him for the experience and development that she or he brings to the classroom — don’t try to replace the teacher with someone who doesn’t have that experience and preparation.
When I told Barbara Ericson about these comments, she countered that I’m assuming that (with respect to computer science) schools have these well-prepared and experienced teachers. She says that she’s seen whole districts without a single teacher with preparation as a CS teacher — but they’re teaching CS. She argues that in most schools, a TEALS professional could not be just an assistant or para-professional, because the teacher can’t adequately support the course on his or her own.
In recent years the “no excuses”’ argument has been particularly persistent in the education debate. There are those who argue that poverty is only an excuse not to insist that all schools should reach higher standards. Solution: better teachers. Then there are those who claim that schools and teachers alone cannot overcome the negative impact that poverty causes in many children’s learning in school. Solution: Elevate children out of poverty by other public policies.
For me the latter is right. In the United States today, 23 percent of children live in poor homes. In Finland, the same way to calculate child poverty would show that figure to be almost five times smaller. The United States ranked in the bottom four in the recent United Nations review on child well-being. Among 29 wealthy countries, the United States landed second from the last in child poverty and held a similarly poor position in “child life satisfaction.” Teachers alone, regardless of how effective they are, will not be able to overcome the challenges that poor children bring with them to schools everyday.
Ian Bogost believes that an “algorithmic society” is a myth, and believes that we treat algorithms as a religion.
I don’t want to downplay the role of computation in contemporary culture. Striphas and Manovich are right—there are computers in and around everything these days. But the algorithm has taken on a particularly mythical role in our technology-obsessed era, one that has allowed it wear the garb of divinity. Concepts like “algorithm” have become sloppy shorthands, slang terms for the act of mistaking multipart complex systems for simple, singular ones. Of treating computation theologically rather than scientifically or culturally.
This attitude blinds us in two ways. First, it allows us to chalk up any kind of computational social change as pre-determined and inevitable. It gives us an excuse not to intervene in the social shifts wrought by big corporations like Google or Facebook or their kindred, to see their outcomes as beyond our influence. Second, it makes us forget that particular computational systems are abstractions, caricatures of the world, one perspective among many. The first error turns computers into gods, the second treats their outputs as scripture.
I respond with another quote:
“And this is that decision which are going to affect a great deal of our lives, indeed whether we live at all, will have to be taken or actually are being taken by extremely small number of people, who are normally scientists. The execution of these decisions has to be entrusted to people who do not quite understand what the depth of the argument is. That is one of the consequences of the lapse or gulf in communication between scientists and nonscientists. There it is. A handful of people, having no relation to the will of society, having no communication with the rest of society, will be taking decisions in secret which are going to affect our lives in the deepest sense.”
That’s C.P. Snow in 1961 (Computers and the World of the Future, ed Martin Greenberger, MIT Press), talking about why everyone on campus should (explicitly) learn algorithms. He foresaw the “algorithmic culture” where algorithms control “a great deal of our lives, indeed whether we live at all.” He had two concerns. One was that the people writing those algorithms are making decisions when they implement them that don’t reflect social or political will. The second was that the “nonscientists” were unwilling to learn the algorithms. Explicitly, Snow’s argument was that those who don’t understand algorithms are at the mercy of those who do. His book, The Two Cultures, blamed the nonscientists for not making the effort to learn the science and algorithms so that they could participate in scientific discourse.
Today, Snow might agree with Bogost. When we don’t understand the algorithms that control our lives, we might see them as divine or magical. Arthur C. Clarke famously said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The corollary (see here) is a better explanation of the phenomena that Bogost describes, ” Any technology, no matter how primitive, is magic to those who don’t understand it.”
I use the above quote in my talks on why we need computing for everyone. Snow is arguing that CS Education is a critical part of a functioning “algorithmic society.” If our social processes and rules are built into the software, not understanding algorithms keeps you from understanding and influencing the algorithms that control your life. Thomas Jefferson said, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” Knowledge about computing is part of that education that keeps the citizenry free in today’s algorithm-driven world.
The onus to enable citizens to be free in an algorithm-driven world is on us in computer science, not on the citizenry alone. We have too much power to hide our algorithms behind interfaces and firewalls. We have a responsibility to make the computational world (and the algorithms that run it) accessible and understandable. As Diana Franklin said in her recent CACM essay (which I mentioned here), it’s up to computer science to make computing education work.
There are lots of these kinds of lists around the beginning of a new year, but I thought that these predictions were interesting. I’m betting that the first one below is right, but I know a lot of people are betting against it. I’m seeing the second one in my discussions with K12 education policymakers in states. They want their students to come out with “job skills,” which is hard to do with an introduction to computing designed for students who have no previous background.
10. Online learning will grow modestly (Eduventures): The company predicts that enrollment in wholly online degree programs will be modest this year, with only 2 percent growth due mostly to uncertainty and indecision among adult learners. At the same time, the percentage of colleges entering the online market will grow very little, if at all. “Growth will be stunted due to increased regulatory concerns such as state authorization, competition from large adult-serving providers, and enrollment strategies incapable of keeping pace with the savvyness of today’s adult learners,” it stated. “Institutions will back away from online programming to focus on blended learning and improving quality and access for traditional age students.”
11. Outcomes will dominate (Eduventures): Eduventures research shows that in 2013, “career preparation” surpassed “academic strength” as the top priority for both students and parents in selecting a school. Adding to parent and student concerns, the government has increased its focus on this issue, including the possibility of Title IV funding consequences. “Look for schools to become more aggressive in differentiating themselves in reporting outcomes data in 2015,” said the company.
I’m sure that there were a lot of outreach activities going on in Georgia, too. I wasn’t involved in those. I want to report on two points of progress in Georgia that was more at an infrastructural level.
Chris Klaus (as I mentioned in this blog previously) has gathered stakeholders in a “Georgia Coding” group to push on improving computing in Georgia. That effort bore fruit during CSedWeek. Georgia had its first “Day of Code,” but Barb and I were most excited to visit the Georgia Professional Standards Commission website on Monday to see this:
All the high school IT/CS classes in Georgia can now be taught by teachers with Mathematics or Science certifications. Previously, only Business Education and Mathematics teachers could teach AP CS, and only Business Education teachers could teach other IT/CS classes. (Even though AP CS counted as a science credit, science teachers couldn’t teach it.) Now, it’s all open. It’s much easier to teach Math and Science teachers about CS than Business Education teachers. Now, we have a much larger pool of possible teachers to recruit into CS classes. I’m grateful that Georgia House Representative Mike Dudgeon took this from the Georgia Coding group and made it happen.
On Thursday, I hosted a Transfer Summit at Georgia Tech. We had 15 attendees from 11 different institutions in the University System of Georgia, some two-year-mostly institutions and others four-year degree institutions.
The goal was to ease transfer between the schools. This was a strategy that CAITE used successfully to increase the diversity in computing programs in Massachusetts. Two year programs are much more diverse than universities (see some data here), but only about 25% of the students who want to transfer do so. Part of our strategy with ECEP is to set up these meetings where we get schools to smooth out the bumps to ease the transition.
I learned a lot about transfer at this meeting. For example, I learned that it’s often unsuccessful to have students take all their General Education requirements at the two-year institution and then transfer to the four-year institution, because that leaves just intense CS classes for the last two years — no easier classes. At some schools, the pre-requisite chains prevent students from even getting a full load of just-CS classes, since students have to pass the pre-req before they can take the follow-on class.
At the end of the meeting, we had 9 new transfer agreements in-progress. Some of the participants had come to a similar meeting last year, and they said that they were able to make more progress this year because they knew what to have ready. Wayne Summers from Columbus State actually came with a whole new agreement with Georgia Perimeter College (a two-year institution) already worked out and ready to discuss with GPC representatives. I was grateful that GPC brought three faculty to the meeting, so that they could have multiple agreements worked out in parallel.
Getting math and science teachers into high school CS classes and helping students in two-year institutions move on to bachelors degrees isn’t as flashy as the Hour of Code and programming at White House. Teacher certifications and transfer agreements are important when we move beyond the first hour and want to create pathways for students to pursue computing through graduation.
The 2014 report from Computing At School (CAS) Scotland is out on the status of computer science education nationwide (see the report here). The results are remarkable and distressing. CAS Scotland succeeded at getting computer science to be a recognized subject, with the goal of replacing the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) curriculum. However, computer science education in schools has declined dramatically. Roger McDermott, who pointed out the report to me, is wondering if the push to improve the rigor of computing in schools may have led to the decline.
Some of the key findings (all of the points below are quotes from the report):
- There has been a drop of 14% in Computing Science teachers over the last two years. Overall the number of Computing Science teachers in Scotland has gone down from 866 in 2007 to 773 in 2012 and to 663 in 2014. Low uptake, staff leaving and a need to reduce staffing were reasons given by some Local Authorities for the reduction. The number of schools without any Computing Science teachers has gone up slightly from 7.6% in 2012 (27 schools) to 12 % in 2014.
- One school mentioned that one factor was Universities don’t require Higher Computing Science as an entry requirement:
“[We] stopped offering certificate computing over ten years ago. The Head Teacher decided that with reducing staffing, low uptake by pupils and the fact that the higher was not required for further and higher education entry that certificate classes were not viable.”
- Another area of concern is the lack of Computing Science teachers. There are currently not enough Computing Science teachers to address demand. Ten local authorities out of the 32 said that they had problems recruiting Computing Science teachers.
- Many schools claim to be delivering Computing Science outcomes across the curriculum, but there is evidence of confusion with ICT skills.
- The target for PGDE Computing in Scotland (the path to becoming a CS teacher in Scotland — see this link for an explanation) this year was 25 students (with a maximum cap set at 42 places). To date, 20 offers have been accepted for courses at Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities.
The problems that CAS-Scotland is facing are quite similar to ones we’re facing the United States: Too few CS teachers, too few teachers interested in becoming CS teachers, a high drop-out rate among CS teachers (as already seen in ExploringCS), and a lack of value at the University level which influences perception at the high school level. A mandate to teach computer science in all schools doesn’t make it happen. Scotland is a smaller country which makes the problem more manageable, and they are already far ahead of the United States in terms of curriculum, teacher preparation programs, and having CS teachers in schools. (Does anyone else look wistfully at that 12% of schools not teaching CS? Only 12%?) We need to watch how Scotland solves these problems, because we might able to use their solutions.
Both sides in this debate make good points. Of course, I’m on Pat Yongpradit’s side — computing education is very important and should be in all schools. But I totally see his opponent’s position (and I’ve made similar arguments myself about why the US is not ready for mandatory CS education): it’s expensive, teachers are not well-prepared, and it’s not obvious (to schools or teachers) how computer science helps with the primary goals of literacy and numeracy.
I’m not saying that elementary students are not capable of using or even mastering code. But I believe that really teaching — not just introducing — coding is simply beyond the scope of what most K-5 schools and their students are able to do, and it’s even asking a lot of middle schools when both lab time and class time are so limited. What’s more, pushing students into the study of abstract concepts before they are developmentally ready will not make them any more prepared for the rest of the 21st century than they are now.
I’ve raised the question about using Title IX to force greater gender diversity in CS classes. This is a bolder position — that we should use Title IX to change hiring practices. Certainly, there is evidence of a lack of gender diversity in the computing industry.
Bridging the gender gap in IT might require a bold act on the part of policymakers, something along the lines of Title IX, the landmark civil rights law barring gender discrimination in education.
So mused Lisa Schlosser, deputy associate administrator of e-Government and Information Technology at the Office of Management and Budget Office, who spoke on a panel discussion Thursday at the annual FOSE government IT conference.
“Is there a Title IX for technology that we need to think about? Title IX was very transformational for women. You know, it’s kind of how I got the opportunity,” Schlosser said. “I’d just challenge us all to think, is there something bold … is there something like that that we really need to promote so that we can get more folks into technology early?”