One big announcement last week was College Board and Code.org announc[ing] an alliance to improve diversity in computer science. The plan is to partner with the 35 largest school districts in the US. Now to some 35 school districts may not sound like a lot but these districts are HUGE. New York City along has something like 490 high schools. The public schools (at all levels) serve 1.1 million students. So what will happen?
- The College Board and Code.org will identify and help schools to adopt two specific computer science courses at the high school level: the introductory Exploring Computer Science and AP Computer Science Principles.
- The College Board and Code.org will co-fund Code.org’s professional development of new computer science teachers, and recommend Code.org’s computer science pathway;
- The College Board and Code.org will encourage schools to offer the new PSAT™ 8/9 assessment as a way of identifying more students, particularly those from traditionally under-represented groups, for enrollment in these new courses.
Since these large school districts have a lot of minority students the hope is that this effort will bring in a lot more minority students to computer science. Investing in efforts to increase minority participation was one of the reasons given for dropping the AP CS AB course a few years ago. This partnership seems in-line with that promise. All those extra PSAT test takers as well as additional AP CS test takers will be good for the CollegeBoard I’m sure.
There are other efforts at broadening participation as well. The new Computer Science Principles AP course is one of those. Efforts to promote that include the Beauty and Joy of Computing from the University of California at Berkley and the Mobile CSP curriculum that uses Android devices and App Inventor.
The Exploring Computer Science program, developed originally for the LA School District, is also widely used and growing. Not tied in with AP CS Principals there is also Expanding Computing Education Pathways (ECEP) Alliance, an NSF Broadening Participation in Computing Alliance. And there are many more.
It all sounds so great. Why am I still worried? I know many of the people behind most of these programs and they are great people. They know their stuff and they know how to teach. But, and there always seem to be a but, I’m still worried.
Two things worry me. One is lack of teacher preparation and the other is complacency. Let me start with the second one. Over that last several years a healthy number of states have passed legislation allowing computer science to count for graduation credits. Sounds great. But there are misunderstandings about those laws.
I have read several reports that say all these states require computer science for graduation. That is not the case. Allowing a course to count for graduation is far from being the same thing as requiring them for graduation. Many schools are still not offering computer science courses that could count for graduation. We’re a long way from requiring CS for graduation. Or even from requiring that schools offer the option. This is not a time to rest on our laurels. There is still a long way to go.
Mike Zamansky covers some of the professional development issues or perhaps I should say assumptions on his blog at What's Expedient vs what's good - curriculum vs teachers. Many people seem to think that training computer science teachers is easy or fast or both. It is neither. Worse still it must be continuous because the technology is constantly changing. Snap! is not the same as FORTRAN. PROCESSING is not the same as COBOL. Programming for a mobile device is not the same as programming a batch job in a mainframe.
I think that it is great that Code.Org is doing teacher training. I am sure they are doing a great job. I believe they plan for some on-going support which is absolutely necessary. What are we going to do for schools and students not in the top 35 largest school districts?
I live in New Hampshire and we have a lot of rural, often poor, school districts. Those kids need more options as much as they city kids do. And don’t get me started about schools on native American reservations who lack resources for the bare bones of education at times. Technology and computer science open the potential for
jobs careers that they don’t even know about.
The task ahead is still large and victory (how ever we might define it) is a long way away. Please though can we not forget the small districts and the rural schools?