Monday, September 10, 2018

Do We Really Need CS Focused High Schools?

Last week Bill Gates visited the Academy for Software Engineering, a computer science focused high school in New York City. and wrote about his visit. At first reading I was thinking the visit was a good thing. I still think it is – for the most part. Mike Zamansky had an interesting take on the visit (That Time Bill Gates Visited AFSE) that got me thinking.  Basically I like what AFSE is doing but after reading what Mike wrote, I wonder if we really need CS focused schools or could we just do all that stuff at “regular” high schools?

The design class that Gates writes about is a lot like the one my wife teaches at a small, semi-rural high school in New Hampshire. It’s not a CS focused school at all. In fact, their CS offerings in general are pretty limited. But that doesn’t mean that CS concepts can’t be included in other courses or introduced in middle school exploratory courses.  What is takes is administrative support and a trained and motivated teacher. And CS is growing there!

Also last week, Porter-Gaud, a private school in South Carolina, released a video about their two high school CS teachers (Doug Bergman and David Renton – both friends of mine who I admire greatly) and some of that they are doing with their students. Among other things they have their seniors writing software for virtual reality headsets. (Do check out the video of The CS Dymanic Duo )

Porter-Gaud is a college preparatory school not a CS focused school. And yet they have an absolutely amazing computer science program. Again, what they have that many other schools do not have is an administration that is willing to support teachers who are creative, motivated, and willing to learn on their own or (even better) with their students.

We know from several recent surveys that parents want more computer science education.  It is tempting to think that specialized schools are the answer. A lot of people think that CS is not for everyone. Wrongly as evidence strongly suggests. We are also faced with a shortage of teachers with the background to teach more advanced CS and that makes sending them to specialized schools attractive.

If we focus too much on special schools I worry that we perpetuate the idea that not everyone is cut out for CS or that not everyone needs to learn CS. A school like AFSE is trying a lot of things to merge CS into other subjects. That’s a great thing but it will be even greater and more influential if the things they learn about integrated curriculum is shared with comprehensive high schools.

In the long run we as a society will benefit more from things learned in CS focused schools migrating to the wider population of schools than we ever will from the small number of students who pass through these schools.


Mike Zamansky said...

I suspect that AFSE's going to be a forgotten stepchild with respect to the DOE and that will cause them some difficulties as NY shifts to CS4All.

Maybe it's time I share more of my AFSE backstory - at least in terms of how I wanted to design it which was basically why I suspect i was frozen out of the project right after they selected the first principall.

Michael Ball said...

I think AFSE is interesting, but in no way does a "CS focused" school seem like the answer to expanding CS. The entire point of the work *All* in CSforAll are the students who aren't going to see themselves selecting into CS, and those who won't necessary "do CS" after CS courses.

There's always a place for specialized schools, but lately it seems like people are starting to want engineers to have a good liberal arts background. Specialized schools can provide that too, but they're less necessary. (You can't "specialize" in everything.)

Michael Preston said...

AFSE was a first step and a proof point for the NYC schools that offering CS to all kids was possible; it wasn't necessarily meant to be the thing that got replicated. The city is still pretty invested in AFSE and BASE (its cousin in the Bronx) and other schools that implement a more intensive "sequence" of CS courses: . The CS4All mandate is much broader.

Mike Zamansky said...

Michael - while the landscape has changed, I'm pretty sure I recall hearing either from Bloomberg or his people that the plan was to have at least 1 "AFSE" per borough and I seem to recall it was supposed to be even more. Of course the CS4All initiative is much broader and it's certainly arguable that the creation of AFSE was a necessary first step.

I'm also not sure that the all teachers at the schools feel that the investment is still there from DOE.

Michael Preston said...

Mike Z - we didn't put an AFSE in every borough and that's probably OK.

I think there were a number of simultaneous efforts that together served as the evidence we needed to persuade the city and philanthropy that CS4All was possible.

Mike Zamansky said...

Mike - I agree - the city, population wise could probably support 1 per boroughs but we're much better off having pivoted to CS4All and I also agree (and thought I said so in my comment) that AFSE played a part in paving the way for CS4All.

Garth said...

Are there really that many CS jobs out there that would justify CS focused high schools? In my area we have a greater shortage of plumbers and electricians than CS people. If we are trying to develop high schools to provide our students with economically sound futures would we would do better to have more trades based high schools? Over the course of a year or a lifetime a master plumber makes a lot more money than a CS major. They start making good money a lot sooner. Not that I want to be a plumber but sometimes I think many of those that make the decisions about the directions of high schools are a bit too elitist. I have been a college prep teacher my whole teaching career. I always was trying to convince kids to go to college. Then my daughter (who has a BA in Psych) started dating a plumbers apprentice. His job possibilities and future income far surpass what a college grad with a BA can do. Kind of an eye opener.

I put myself through college as a motorcycle and bicycle mechanic. Skilled mechanics jobs were easy to find in Missoula. I got my education degree and I had to live in the middle of nowhere for my first teaching job and it was extremely difficult to get a teaching job in Missoula.

CS4All? I am become more of an advocate of Trades4All.