Posts tagged ‘public policy’

Defining CS Ed out of existence: Have we made CS too hard to learn and teach?

It was this quote in a tweet from Miles Berry that really made me sit up and take notice of the latest news about the Computing at School initiative:

“If computing increasingly means CS, it looks likely that hundreds of thousands of students, particularly girls and poorer students, will be disenfranchised from a digital education over the next few years.”

He was quoting an article from the New Statesman which can be found here. It describes the history of the rise of the CS curriculum in England. The key paragraph for me is:

The new curriculum was failing. While a tougher course had been introduced, few students were taking it and even fewer teachers could teach it. In many cases, even those who could felt uncomfortable doing so.

The government read the reports and has decided to respond. There’s now an enormous investment in England in trying to train new teachers. The question is whether that’s the right investment.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, the headline of this May 2019 article is “Teachers and students in decline: the computing ‘crisis’ in Scotland’s schools.”

Experts are urging the Scottish Government to take radical steps to boost computing science education to prevent the subject from being squeezed out of schools.

The teaching of computing in schools is in “crisis”, practitioners have told The Ferret, with classes shrinking and teachers in short supply. The latest official data shows that the number of children studying the subject declined last year, while the number of teachers has fallen over the last decade.

Despite a national focus on delivering science and technology education and economic development, schools are finding it increasingly difficult to teach computing science to young people, critics say.

Let’s explicitly consider the questions raised in these two articles. Have we defined CS education in such a way that it’s too hard to teach? That it’s not interesting to learn? Maybe that it’s too hard to learn?

I’ve been writing in the last few months about the surprisingly low uptake of CS education in the United States (for example, in this CACM Blog post). No more than 5% of high school students in any US state are getting any CS classes, from the data available. There is value in setting high standards for CS education (as Alan Kay has been arguing), but that’s an argument for the end goal. Where do we start with CS education? How quickly can and will students learn CS education? What does it mean for something to be too hard to teach or too hard to learn?

Overall, US is following a similar strategy as in England and Scotland for computing in K-12: standalone CS classes, heavy emphasis on in-service teacher development, and counting the number of students in CS classes and the number of teachers leading those classes. There is integrated CS in the US, but as far as I know, no state is tracking those numbers. Public policy tends to focus on things that can be measured. Most of the argument against integration says that too little CS is covered in integrated forms. 95% of US students getting no CS at all is even less coverage than CS in integrated forms.

Let’s consider two hypotheses:

Hypothesis #1: We know how to teach computer science in such a way that all students can learn what they need to be technically-literate citizens, or even to develop the prerequisite knowledge they need to be software professionals. We have not yet achieved this goal because we do not have enough teachers to implement the curriculum. Larger investments in teacher development (perhaps including stipends or better pay to CS teachers) would allow us to scale CS Ed to reach everyone.

Hypothesis #2: We have defined computer science education in a way that is too hard to teach (so too few teachers are unwilling to teach it), and that is too hard to learn (which includes not being motivating enough to recruit students or engage student interest in order to achieve learning).

Given the evidence we have in the US, England, and Scotland, which hypothesis is better supported? You may have a Hypothesis #3 or #4 which is also well-supported by the evidence — I am very interested in hearing it.

In general, we tend to take the “insider view” of CS Ed, as Kahneman warned about (see excerpt here). If you step outside CS Ed, are we making progress along a trajectory that leads to CS education for all? And how long is that trajectory? If you were an Education faculty member and learned that CS had less than 5% of US high school students enrolled, wouldn’t it be reasonable to consider it a fad and likely to pass?

As I wrote in my blog post about what I got wrong in the last decade, I no longer think that CS for All is a matter of access. We have to figure out how to improve participation. I’m in support of Hypothesis #2. We need to re-think what and how we teach CS education. Because of my work these days, I suspect that we made a mistake at the design level. I was involved in the early days of the AP CS Principles (AP CSP) process. Most of the AP CSP curricula I’m aware of were developed by and tested with some of the best CS teachers in the US. That design and development process doesn’t promise a curriculum that many teachers can teach and that most students will learn from.

I just got back from a three day visit in Norway, where they are about to roll-out an integration of CS activities (explicitly programming) into mathematics, science, music, and arts & crafts classes. (See workshop about this topic here.). Maybe that would result in more students learning some computer science. Did US, England, and Scotland make a mistake by emphasizing standalone CS classes over integration?

March 9, 2020 at 7:41 am 21 comments

An Analysis of Supports and Barriers to Offering Computer Science in Georgia Public High Schools: Miranda Parker’s Defense

Miranda Parker defends her dissertation this Thursday.  It’s a really fascinating story, trying to answer the question: Why does a high school in Georgia decide (or not) to offer computer science?  She did a big regression analysis, and then four detailed case studies.  Readers of this blog will know Miranda from her guest blog post on the Google-Gallup polls, her SCS1 replication of the multi-lingual and validated measure of CS1 knowledge, her study of teacher-student differences in using ebooks, and her work exploring the role of spatial reasoning to relate SES and CS performance (work that was part of her dissertation study). I’m looking forward to flying down to Atlanta and being there to cheer her on to the finish.

Title: An Analysis of Supports and Barriers to Offering Computer Science in Georgia Public High Schools

Miranda Parker
Human-Centered Computing Ph.D. Candidate
School of Interactive Computing
College of Computing
Georgia Institute of Technology

Date: Thursday, October 10, 2019

Time: 10AM to 12PM EST

Location: 85 5th Street NE, Technology Square Research Building (TSRB), 2nd floor, Room 223


Dr. Mark Guzdial (Advisor), School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology
Dr. Betsy DiSalvo, School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology
Dr. Rebecca E. Grinter, School of Interactive Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology
Dr. Willie Pearson, Jr., School of History and Sociology, Georgia Institute of Technology
Dr. Leigh Ann DeLyser, CSforAll Consortium


There is a growing international movement to provide every child access to high-quality computing education. Despite the widespread effort, most children in the US do not take any computing classes in primary or secondary schools. There are many factors that principals and districts must consider when determining whether to offer CS courses. The process through which school officials make these decisions, and the supports and barriers they face in the process, is not well understood. Once we understand these supports and barriers, we can better design and implement policy to provide CS for all.

In my thesis, I study public high schools in the state of Georgia and the supports and barriers that affect offerings of CS courses. I quantitatively model school- and county-level factors and the impact these factors have on CS enrollment and offerings. The best regression models include prior CS enrollment or offerings, implying that CS is likely sustainable once a class is offered. However, large unexplained variances persist in the regression models.

To help explain this variance, I selected four high schools and interviewed principals, counselors, and teachers about what helps, or hurts, their decisions to offer a CS course. I build case studies around each school to explore the structural and people-oriented themes the participants discussed. Difficulty in hiring and retaining qualified teachers in CS was one major theme. I frame the case studies using diffusion of innovations providing additional insights into what attributes support a school deciding to offer a CS course.

The qualitative themes gathered from the case studies and the quantitative factors used in the regression models inform a theory of supports and barriers to CS course offerings in high schools in Georgia. This understanding can influence future educational policy decisions around CS education and provide a foundation for future work on schools and CS access.

October 7, 2019 at 7:00 am 1 comment

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

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, a Seattle-based nonprofit that works to expand computer science in schools. Lobbyists representing 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.


July 29, 2019 at 7:00 am 3 comments

Barbara Ericson’s AP CS Report for 2018 and her new blog

Barb has written her blog post about the 2018 AP data (see 2017 report here and 2016 report here), and this year, she’s using it to launch her own blog!  Find it at

Every year I gather and report on the data for AP CS from the College Board which is at

There was a huge increase in Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science Principles (CSP) exam takers nationally (from 43,780 in 2017 to 70, 864 in 2018 – a 62% increase). The Computer Science A (CSA) exam also grew (from 56,088 in 2017 to 60,040 in 2018 – a 7% increase).

Source: AP CS Report for 2018

March 4, 2019 at 7:00 am 1 comment

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

How to organize a state (summit): From ECEP and NCWIT

Soon after we started the Expanding Computing Education Pathways (ECEP) Alliance, we were asked: What should a state do first?  If they want to improve CS Education, what are the steps?

We developed a four step model — you can see a three minute video on ECEP that includes the four step model here. It was evidence-based in the sense that, yup, we really saw states doing this.  We had no causal evidence. I’m not sure that that’s possible in any kind of education public policy research.

One of those steps is “Organize.” Gather your allies. Have meetings where you CS Ed people rub elbows with the state public policymakers, like legislators and staffers in the Department of Education (or Department of Public Instruction, or whatever it’s called in your state).

A lot of states have had summits since then (see a list of some here).  Now, working with the fabulous NCWIT team of communicators, graphic designers, and social scientists, ECEP has released a state summit toolkit.  We can’t yet tell you how to organize a state. We can tell you how to organize a state summit.

From finding change agents to building a steering committee of diverse stakeholders, convenings play an important role in broadening participation in computing at the state level. ECEP and NCWIT have developed the State Summit Toolkit to assist leadership teams as they organize meetings, events, and summits focused on advancing K-16 computer science education.


February 15, 2019 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

Need for Reviewers for US Department of Education CS Education Grants – Guest Post from Pat Yongpradit

Pat Yongpradit of asked me to share this with everyone.

The US Department of Education has announced the EIR grant competition for FY 2019. This year EIR incorporates an exclusive priority for computer science with a focus on increasing diversity and equity in access, as compared to last year where the highlight was that CS was merged with STEM as a combined priority. See more detail in our blog.

There are many moving parts to the federal grant review and award process, including a merit-based review process. In order to adequately score grants featuring computer science, the US Department of Education must have enough reviewers with K-12 computer science education experience. There is more information on the merit-review process and the Department’s mechanism for selecting reviewers in this blog. has been asked to put interested folks in touch with leaders of the EIR grant program. If interested, please send your CV to

Having CS knowledgeable reviewers participating in the federal grant review process is crucial to maximizing the opportunity these grants present the field and our collective goal of expanding access to K-12 computer science.



February 14, 2019 at 9:45 am Leave a comment

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