Posts tagged ‘public policy’

No Rich Child Left Behind, and Enriching the Rich: Why MOOCs are not improving education

When I talk to people about MOOCs these days, I keep finding myself turning to two themes.

Theme #1. Our schools aren’t getting worse.  The gap between the rich and the poor is growing.  We have more poorer kids, and they are doing worse because of everything, not just because of school.

Before we can figure out what’s happening here, let’s dispel a few myths. The income gap in academic achievement is not growing because the test scores of poor students are dropping or because our schools are in decline. In fact, average test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the so-called Nation’s Report Card, have been rising — substantially in math and very slowly in reading — since the 1970s. The average 9-year-old today has math skills equal to those her parents had at age 11, a two-year improvement in a single generation. The gains are not as large in reading and they are not as large for older students, but there is no evidence that average test scores have declined over the last three decades for any age or economic group.

The widening income disparity in academic achievement is not a result of widening racial gaps in achievement, either. The achievement gaps between blacks and whites, and Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites have been narrowing slowly over the last two decades, trends that actually keep the yawning gap between higher- and lower-income students from getting even wider. If we look at the test scores of white students only, we find the same growing gap between high- and low-income children as we see in the population as a whole.

It may seem counterintuitive, but schools don’t seem to produce much of the disparity in test scores between high- and low-income students. … It boils down to this: The academic gap is widening because rich students are increasingly entering kindergarten much better prepared to succeed in school than middle-class students. This difference in preparation persists through elementary and high school.

Source: No Rich Child Left Behind – The New York Times

Theme #2:  There are definitely tangible effects of MOOCs, as seen in the study linked below. They help rich white men find better jobs.  They help educate the rich.  They help a small percentage of the poor.

All the money being poured into developing MOOCs fuels the gap between the rich and the poor.  If you want to improve education generally, nationally or worldwide, aim at the other 90%.  MOOCs aren’t improving education. They enrich those who are already rich.

Using data from MOOCs offered by the University of Pennsylvania, Alcorn, Christensen and Emanuel were some of the first to suggest that MOOC learners were more likely to be employed men in developed countries who had previously earned a degree — countering the early narrative that MOOCs would democratize higher education around the world.

Source: Study finds tangible benefits for learners from Coursera’s massive open online courses | InsideHigherEd


Commenters pointed out that I didn’t make my argument clear.  I’m posting one of my comment responses here to make clearer what I was trying to say:


As Alan pointed out, the second article I cited only once says that MOOC learners are “more likely to be employed men in developed countries.” I probably should have supported that point better, since it’s key to my argument. All the evidence I know suggests that MOOC learners are typically well-educated, more affluent from the developed world, and male.

  • In the original EdX MOOC, 78% of the attendees had already taken the class before. (See full report here.)
  • Tucker Balch released demographics on his MOOC: 91% male, 73.3% from OECD countries, and over 50% had graduate degrees. (See post here.)
  • Still the most careful analysis of MOOC demographics that I know is the 2013 Penn study (see article here) which found, “The student population tends to be young, well educated, and employed, with a majority from developed countries. There are significantly more males than females taking MOOCs, especially in developing countries.”
  • As you know, Georgia Tech’s Online MS (OMS) in CS is 85% domestic (the opposite of our face-to-face MS, which actually serves more students from the developing world). (See one page report here.)

If your MOOCs have significantly different demographics, I’d be interested in hearing your statistics. However, given the preponderance of evidence, your MOOC may be an outlier if you do have more students from the developing world.

The argument I’m making in this post is that (a) to improve education, we have to provide more to the underprivileged, (b) most MOOC students are affluent, well-educated students from the developing world, and (c) the benefits of MOOCs are thus accruing mostly to people who don’t need more enrichment. Some people are benefitting from MOOCs. My point is that they are people who don’t need the benefit. MOOCs are certainly not “democratizing education” and are mostly not providing opportunities to those who don’t have them anyway.


November 25, 2015 at 8:38 am 9 comments

New Federal Law Means CS Is Legally Part of STEM

This is a big deal for several reasons.  The article below points out the funding that is now available for computing education research.  I met someone from a big science education firm a few weeks ago who said that they were now gearing up to address issues in CS, because it’s now in their purview.  That’s a good thing — more people paying more attention to computing education research can help us advance our goals of greater access.

The STEM Education Act of 2015, which expands the definition of STEM—an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—to include computer science programs, was signed into law yesterday.The bill that became the STEM Education Act was introduced in the House of Representatives by Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas, and Elizabeth Esty, a Democrat from Conneticut, both members of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee.The new law does not add funding, but it does expand the kinds of STEM programs that can be run and funded by federal government agencies to include computer science. It also makes people who are pursuing a master’s degree and those with a background in computer science eligible for Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarships, which support science and math graduates and professionals who hope to teach.

Source: New Federal Law Means Computer Science Is Officially Part of STEM – Curriculum Matters – Education Week

November 13, 2015 at 8:53 am 6 comments

Barbara Ericson’s 2015 AP CS demographics analysis: Still No African-Americans Taking the AP CS Exam in 9 States


Normally, this is the time of the year when Barb writes her guest post about the AP CS exam-taker demographics.  She did the analysis, and you can get the overview at this web page and the demographics details at this web page.

But before we got a chance to put together a blog post, Liana Heitin of EdWeek called her for an interview.  They did a nice job summarizing the results (including interactive graphs) at the article linked below.

Some of the more interesting points (from Liana’s article):

No girls took the exam in Mississippi, Montana, or Wyoming. (Though Montana had no test-takers at all, male included, this year. Wyoming, which previously had no students take the test, had three boys take the exam in 2015).

Hawaii had the largest percentage of female test-takers, with 33 percent.

The overall female pass rate went up 3 percentage points, to 61 percent, from the year before.

Twenty-four girls took the test in Iowa, and 100 percent of them passed.”You don’t usually see 100 percent passing with numbers that big,” said Ericson. “Maybe five out of five pass. But 24 out of 24 is pretty cool.”

No African-American students took the exam in nine states: Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. That’s better than last year, though, when 13 states had no African-American test-takers.

Notably, Mississippi has the highest population of African-Americans—about half of the state’s high school graduates last year were black, according to the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education. Yet of the five AP computer science test-takers, all were white or Asian and male.

Source: Still No African-Americans Taking the AP Computer Science Exam in Nine States – Curriculum Matters – Education Week

November 9, 2015 at 7:28 am 6 comments

Harvard student newspaper calls for University to curtail CS50

At first blush, the Harvard Crimson‘s call seems a stark contrast to the Berkeley student’s call for more access to CS (see previous post here).  I hear both student articles asking for the same thing — computing as a literacy to which everyone gets access.

CS50 is a phenomenon.  Set aside the “CS50 paraphernalia” described below.  CS50 has pizza parties and all night hackathons, sponsored by Facebook.  Events are held at the Microsoft New England Research and Development Center.  It’s probably the richest and most privileged CS class in the world.  If you got into Harvard, and were excited to learn to code, CS50 is absolutely the class you want to be in — and you’re going to get an experience that matches your expectations.

Check out the syllabus for CS50 (linked here). This is a hard-core, intense computer science class for computer science students.  It runs on the CS50 appliance in Ubuntu Linux.  The course covers C, PHP, and SQL.

When I visited Harvard’s Graduate School of Education last year, I met students who really wanted to learn computer science.  They wanted to learn CS in order to teach it.  They wanted to learn about Scratch and Blockly, Greenfoot and BlueJ, Media Computation and CS Principles.  That’s not the goal of CS50, but the CS50 size and culture sucks all the air out of the room.  There’s not going to be another introductory CS course taught when Harvard has CS50 on its hands and in its checkbook.

The Harvard Crimson is saying that they want classes, liberal arts style classes, not phenomena. If it was just a normal class, maybe you could offer more than one of them?  Maybe some aimed at other kinds of introductory CS needs?

Outside of the classroom, however, CS50 is anything but the liberal arts course its creators proclaim. Its unprecedented corporate sponsorship ensures that the course has an unmatched visibility on campus.No other course gives away and sells merchandise en masse to its students and fan base. T-shirts, umbrellas, aprons, stress balls, M&Ms, and other CS50 paraphernalia are ubiquitous on Harvard’s campus. No other course makes the first five weeks—that is, the add-drop period—significantly easier than the proceeding eight weeks of the semester, luring less confident students until it’s too late to turn back. In no other course on Harvard’s campus are students allowed to simultaneously register for conflicting courses, even if they too are filmed. No other course has disciplinary procedures that bypass the Ad Board. No other course has seen reports that TFs are instructed to decline to give comment on the course to The Crimson before conferring first with the professor.

Source: Harvard Should Curtail CS50 | Opinion | The Harvard Crimson

October 7, 2015 at 7:35 am 2 comments

Prescribing a lifetime drug at high cost: New York City sets 10 year goal to offer CS in all schools

NYC has joined Chicago and San Francisco and Arkansas in requiring CS in all schools.  I appreciate that they recognize the value of computing education.  I worry that the people making these decisions don’t realize what’s involved in covering them.  In particular, is de Blasio’s decision in New York City a commitment to a long-term cost that they can’t sustain?

de Blasio’s program is going to spend $81M to help existing teachers become CS teachers over the next ten years. Let’s imagine that he succeeds and his program prepares enough CS teachers so that every school has enough teachers to provide CS learning opportunities to every NYC students.

What happens after that? A lot of the teachers going through CS teacher professional development today are new teachers, less than five years into the job. Across all STEM subjects, we lose about 50% of all new teachers within five years. In an ECS study, it was closer to 60% attrition in 3 years. We’re going to burn through those teachers quickly. counts on CS teachers being in the classroom for only three years.

Where will NYC get the teachers to sustain the effort? Do they need to raise another $81M to keep retraining existing teachers?  It’s far cheaper to get teachers pre-service, straight from undergraduate. There are less than five pre-service CS teacher education programs in the United States. None are currently in New York (city or state).

de Blasio’s decision is like an architect’s decision to design a building using a particular kind of material that is hard to make and for which there are no current manufacturers. Or a doctor prescribing a drug that you’ll need for the rest of your life — but which can only be made by a specific pharmacy company at a high cost.

Some of that $81M should be used to build the infrastructure, to create the system that will keep supplying CS teachers for NYC — to create teacher certifications, start teacher education programs, and hire education faculty who will focus on CS education.  I pointed out previously that that’s how Germany is bootstrapping CS education. They’re making the investment in CS ed faculty who will keep programs running for decades.  My Blog@CACM post (link here) this month is on how CS departments can help grow CS teachers.

CS education is important to 21st century literacy. It’s so important that we shouldn’t promise it only to kids who are in NYC over the next 10 years.  What I hope is that de Blasio’s decision leads to that kind of investment. I hope that NYC, Chicago, San Francisco, and Arkansas are going to direct attention to what’s needed to create the steady-state flow of new computing teachers into classrooms.

Meeting that goal will present major challenges, mostly in training enough teachers. There is no state teacher certification in computer science, and no pipeline of computer science teachers coming out of college. Fewer than 10 percent of city schools currently offer any form of computer science education, and only 1 percent of students receive it, according to estimates by the city’s Department of Education.

Computer science will not become a graduation requirement, and middle and high schools may choose to offer it only as an elective. But the goal is for all students, even those in elementary school and those in the poorest neighborhoods, to have some exposure to computer science.

Source: De Blasio to Announce 10-Year Deadline to Offer Computer Science to All Students – The New York Times

October 5, 2015 at 8:11 am 4 comments

Providing computing education to the developing world: How do we avoid educational imperialism?

I got an email from CodersTrust, asking me to help promote this idea of developing grants to help students in the developing world learn to code. But the education materials they’re offering is the same CodeAcademy, Coursera MOOCs, and similar developed-world materials. Should they be? Should we just be sending the educational materials developed for US and Europe to the developing world? I thought that that was one of the complaints about existing MOOCs, that they’re a form of educational imperialism.

CodersTrust is the brainchild of Ferdinand Kjærulff. As a Captain of the Danish army he served as recovery officer in Iraq after the fall of Saddam. He pioneered a recovery project with the allied forces, bringing internet and e-learning to the citizens of the region in which he was stationed. The project was a massive success and inspired him to eventually create CodersTrust – supported by Danida – with a vision to democratize access to education via the internet on a global scale.

via CodersTrust | About.

September 7, 2015 at 7:50 am 2 comments

Evidence-resistant science leaders: When Authority goes the Wrong Way

The story in the blog post connects to my previous blog post about CS faculty arguing against doing something other than lectures in their classes.  Here the authority figures are preventing the rest from considering evidence.  What a weird place for a scientific meeting to be at, but we really do listen to authority more than evidence.

On the scientific side, the meeting brought together a number of thought leaders detailing how different components of the scientific community perform. For instance, we learned that peer-review is quite capable of weeding out obviously weak research proposals, but in establishing a ranking order among the non-flawed proposals, it is rarely better than chance. We learned that gender and institution biases are rampant in reviewers and that many rankings are devoid of any empirical basis. …The emerging picture was clear: we have quite a good empirical grasp of which approaches are and in particular which are not working. Importantly, as a community we have plenty of reasonable and realistic ideas of how to remedy the non-working components. However, whenever a particular piece of evidence was presented, one of the science leaders got up and proclaimed “In my experience, this does not happen” or “I cannot see this bias”, or “I have overseen a good 600 grant reviews in my career and these reviews worked just fine”. Looking back, an all too common scheme of this meeting for me was one of scientists presenting data and evidence, only to be countered by a prominent ex-scientist with a “I disagree without evidence”. It appeared quite obvious that we do not seem to suffer from a lack of insight, but rather from a lack of implementation.

via » Evidence-resistant science leaders?.

September 2, 2015 at 8:54 am 3 comments

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