Posts tagged ‘public policy’

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

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

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

 

July 29, 2019 at 7:00 am 3 comments

Barbara Ericson’s AP CS Report for 2018 and her new blog cs4all.home.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 https://cs4all.home.blog/

Every year I gather and report on the data for AP CS from the College Board which is at http://research.collegeboard.org/programs/ap/data/

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 Leave a 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 https://sigcse.org/sigcse/files/bulletin/bulletin.51.1.pdf).  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 Code.org, 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.

From https://ecepalliance.org/summit-toolkit 

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 Code.org 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.

Code.org has been asked to put interested folks in touch with leaders of the EIR grant program. If interested, please send your CV to EIRpeerreview@ed.gov.

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.

Best,

Pat

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

Frameworks and Standards can be limiting and long-lasting: Alan Kay was right

Through the K-12 CS Framework process (December 2016, see the post here), Alan Kay kept saying that we needed real computer science and that the Framework shouldn’t be about consensus (see post here). I disagreed with him. I saw it as a negotiation between academic CS and K-12 CS.

I was wrong.

Now that I can see standards efforts rolling out, and can see what’s actually going into teacher professional development, I realize that Alan was right. Standards are being written to come up to but rarely surpass the Framework. All those ideas like bits and processes that I argued about — they were not in the Framework, so they are not appearing in Standards. The Framework serves to limit what’s taught.

Teachers are experts on what is teachable, but that’s not what a Framework is supposed to be about. A Framework should be about what the field is about, about what’s important to know. Yes, it needs to be a consensus document, but not a consensus about what goes into classrooms. That’s the role of Standards. A Framework should be a consensus about what computing is.

I think what drove a lot of our thinking about the Framework is that it should be achievable.  There was a sense that states and organizations (like CSTA and ISTE) should be able to write standards that (a) meet the Framework’s goals and (b) could be measurably achieved in professional development — “Yup, the teachers understand that.” As I learn about the mathematics and science frameworks, it seems that their goal was to describe the field — they didn’t worry about achievable.  Rather, the goal was that the Framework should be aspirational. “When we get education right for all children, it should look like this.”

Standards are political documents (something Mike Lach taught me and that Joan Ferrini-Mundy told ECEP), based on Frameworks. Because the K-12 CS Framework is expected to reflect the end state goal, Standards are being written a step below those. Frameworks describe the goals, and Standards describe our current plans towards those goals. Since the Framework is not aiming to describe Computer Science, neither do the state Standards that I’m seeing.

I told Alan about this realization a few weeks ago, and then the Georgia Standards came out for review (see page here). They are a case in point. Standards are political documents. It matters who was in the room to define these documents in this way.

Here’s the exemplar standard from the Grade 6-8 band:

Use technology resources to increase self-direction and self-regulation in learning, including for problem solving and collaboration (e.g., using the Internet to access online resources, edit documents collaboratively)

Can technology resources increase self-direction and self-regulation in learning? Maybe — I don’t know of any literature that shows that. But even if it can, why are these in the Computer Science standards?

The K-2 band comparable Standard is even more vague:

Recognize that technology provides the opportunity to enhance relevance, increase confidence, offer authentic choice, and produce positive impacts in learning.

I have no idea if computers can “increase confidence,” but given what we know about self-efficacy and motivation, I don’t think that’s a common outcome. Why is this in the Computer Science Standards?

There are lots of uses of the word “information.” None of them define information. The closest is here (again, grades 6-8), which lists a bunch of big ideas (“logic, sets, and functions”) but the verb is only that students should be able to “discuss” them:

Evaluate the storage and representation of data; Analyze how data is collected with both computational and non-computational tools and processes

  1. Discuss binary numbers, logic, sets, and functions and their application to computer science
  2. Explain that searches may be enhanced by using Boolean logic (e.g., using “not”, “or”, “and”)

What’s missing in the Framework is also missing in the Georgia standards.

  • The word “bit” doesn’t appear anywhere in these standards — if there is no information, then it makes sense that students don’t need bits.
  • The word “process” does, but mostly in the phrase “design process.” Then it shows up in the Grade 6-8 band, but in highly technical forms: “process isolation” and “boot process.”
  • There are no names: No Turing, no Hopper. There is no history, so no grounding in where computer science came from and what the big and deep ideas are.

There are strange phrases like “binary language,” which I don’t understand.

This is from Georgia, where there is a strong video game development lobby. Thus, all students are expected (by Grades 6-8) to:

Develop a plan to create, design, and build a game with digital content for a specific target market.

And

Develop a visual model of a game from the Game Design Document (GDD).

And

Create a functional game, using a game development platform, based on the storyboards, wireframes, and comprehensive layout.

It’s clear that the Georgia Standards are the result of a political process.

The bottom line is that I now wish that we had made sure that the K-12 CS Framework reflected computer scientists’ understanding of Computer Science. It instead reflected K-12 classroom computer science as defined in 2016. They presume languages like Scratch and curricula like AP CS Principles.  That’s reasonable in Standards that describe what goes into the classroom tomorrow, but Frameworks should describe a broader, longer-range thinking. Our

There are no plans that I’m aware of to define a new Framework. The Standards are still just being developed for many states, so they’re going to last for years. This is what Computer Science will be in the United States for the next couple decades, at least.

January 21, 2019 at 7:00 am 45 comments

Analyzing CS in Texas school districts: Maybe enough to take root and grow

My Blog@CACM for this month is about Code.org’s decision to shift gradually the burden of paying for CS professional development to the local regions — see link here.  It’s an important positive step that needs to happen to make CS sustainable with the other STEM disciplines in K-12 schools.

We’re at an interesting stage in CS education. 40-70% of high schools have CS, but the classes are pretty empty.  I use Indiana and Texas as examples because they’ve made a lot of their data available.  Let’s drill a bit into the Texas data to get a flavor of it, available here.  I’m only going to look at Area 1’s data, because even just that is deep and fascinating.

Brownsville Intermediate School District. 13,941 students. 102 in CS.

Computer_Science_Regional_Data___STEM_Center___The_University_of_Texas_at_Austin

Of the 10 high schools in Brownsville ISD, only two high schools have anyone in their CS classes.  Brownsville Early College High School has 102 students in CS Programming (no AP CS Level A, no AP CSP).  That probably means that one teacher has several sections of that course — that’s quite a bit.  The other high school, Porter Early College High School has fewer than five students in AP CS A.  My bet is that there is no CS teacher there, only five students doing an on-line class.  That means for 10 high schools and 13K students, there is really only one high school CS teacher.

Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District, over 10K students, 92 students in CS.

Computer_Science_Regional_Data___STEM_Center___The_University_of_Texas_at_Austin-3

This is a district that could grow CS if there was will.  There are 6 high schools, but two are special cases: One with less than 5 students, and the other in a juvenile detention center.  The other four high schools are huge, with over 2000 students each.  In Economedes, that are only 9 students in AP CS A — maybe just on-line?  Edinburg North and Robert R Vela high school each have two classes: AP CS A and CS1.  With 21 and 14, I’m guessing two sections.  The other has 43 and 6. That might be two sections of AP CS A and another of CS1, or two sections of AP CS A and 6 students in an on-line class.  In any case, this suggests two high school CS teachers (maybe three) in half of the high schools in the district.  Those teachers aren’t teaching only CS, but with increased demand and support from principals, the CS offerings could grow.

It’s fascinating to wander through the Texas data, to see what’s there and what’s not.  I could be wrong about what’s there, e.g., maybe there’s only one teacher in Edinburg and she’s moving from school-to-school.  Given these data, there’s unlikely to be a CS teacher in every high school, who just isn’t teaching any CS. These data are a great snapshot. There is CS in Texas high schools, and maybe there’s enough there to take root and grow.

 

October 19, 2018 at 7:00 am 2 comments

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