Thursday, October 18, 2018

Professional Development Is Expensive–Who Should Pay For It?

I first started to appreciate the cost of professional development when I was working with and for Microsoft. Microsoft at the time was working hard to promote the use of Visual Studio as a programming teaching tool. Part of that effort was through professional development for teachers. I took part in some of these as a student and some of them as presenter. I could go into details but I think is is safe to say that when says they spend thousands of dollars per teacher for professional development events (Moving towards sustainability of computer science in schools) I don’t doubt it for a second.

Still over the last bunch of years a lot of CS education professional development has been paid for by a combination of universities and industry (lots of that industry money was direct from Google to universities and a lot by a number of companies though This is not really a sustainable/scalable model. Well, it’s not sustainable if we are going to have enough CS teachers for every school to offer (and present) CS education to all students.

As Mark Guzdial points out in his recent post at CACM (Changing who pays for CS professional development in the US and who controls it: It has to be local ) it is not how other subjects do it either.
I have been hearing teachers say for years that industry should pay more to support CS education. And I have tended to agree. On the other side of the issue, many complain about an undue influence industry have on CS curriculum. Too many strings attached to the money. How much you worry about that often depends on how you feel about the company donating the money of course. Either way, is it fair to demand that the tech industry fund CS PD? Do other industries fund PD in their areas of interest?

Actually, yes they do. There is a reason that most math classes are taught with Texas Instruments calculators!  But, mostly you find industry funding for  career/tech programs in career/tech schools which tends not to get the public attention it deserves.
Is CS education a career training course or a core academic course? The answer is, of course, yes. If we want to really prepare students for either an academic or an industry future we have to focus on concepts and not on specific tools or platforms. This can be harder at times with industry funded training.

In the long run we really need two things. One is more pre-service training for teachers who will teach computer science. That has to be folded into existing teacher training programs. While that seems to be happening some it is slow progress. The other thing we need is professional development for in service teachers. That training has to be paid for and prioritized locally.

These days the PD for CS teachers I hear about most strongly supported in Advanced Placement Summer Institutes. That’s great and a lot of teachers benefit from it. My school paid my way to one a couple of years ago and I got a lot out of it. Training for teachers in K-8 and for courses that come prior to AP courses do not appear to have the same number of local options for teachers.

That is changing especially with the work that is doing with their local affiliates. Many of those programs will, I hope, grow and expand to reach more teachers. That will only happen as schools and school districts start encouraging (by funding) teachers to attend these courses.

There is a less tangible, measurable reason we need local funding of CS PD.  Organizations, and individuals, send a strong message by what they are willing to spend money on. Spending money of CS ED PD shows that CS education is important, that it is valued, and that the people teaching it are valued. Making it clear that CS education is important enough to spend money on training for teachers is an important message. I tend to believe spending money of PD will help retaining teachers and that is going to be really important.


Garth said...

University of Montana and Montana State jointly have been putting on a week long summer programming PD (I hesitate to call it CS PD, it is not) for teachers. One course is basic Python, the other is APCSP. I attended both courses. Both were designed as intro courses for new programming teachers. I attended because it was the only show in town. It also paid $1000 for a week. I was not impressed by the over emphasis on programming but it was still a worthwhile start. They were grant funded and are now concluded.

Alfred Thompson said...

YEs, what do we do when the grant money runs out?

Garth said...

That is the problem. Grants are not a sustainable method for funding PD. The only PD I have ever seen in Montana is either grant funded or the sessions at an NEA conference. The state funds nothing and the local schools' idea of PD consists of hiring a motivational speaker and calling it PD. Not exactly what most teachers need.

Mr. Czechowski said...

Your last thought is perhaps the critical piece: Organizations... send a... message by what they are willing to spend money on.

Surveys show that administrators and parents (ie. voters) want Computer Science Education. So, why doesn't school spending demonstrate that?

Are schools so under-funded that "there's no money left"? I spoke to a (New England) State's Dept of Ed representative this past weekend and he called out school's immediate rebuff to adding CS Ed is "that it would be another unfunded mandate."

I am grateful my school is demonstrating it values CS Ed, and they are financially supporting it right now. However, after 13 years of teaching an "elective" subject, I always consider this support transient.