For anyone involved in K12 CS education, the past few years have been a wild ride. When I first tried to make inroads in the DOE decades ago I couldn't get through the door. Now, CS Education is everyone's darling. It's really amazing. It's been a combination of grass roots efforts by teachers, non profit education efforts such as TEALS, advocacy of groups like Code.org and amazing individuals like Fred Wilson who has probably done more to move the needle of CS Ed in NY than any other 10 people combined.
While everyone agrees that to do CS education right at the K12 level we need great teachers and lots of them, everyone also knows that teachers voices are often unheard. The voices with the greatest weight belong to the large non-profits, principals, superintendents and local politicians.
Today's post is a plea to those with voices to think about the effects of their advocacy for CS Ed to the greater education landscape.
I started thinking about this recently as I've been developing the CS teacher certification programs for Hunter College. As I spoke to people across the nation I found that many of the efforts to developing teacher certification are what I call the "you take it you teach it" model. You take an abbreviated version of APCS-A and APCS-P and you're a certified CS teacher. Just about every real educator feels that this is ludicrous. Some feel that this can be a first step - get these credentials to get in the door and then you have three to five years to really learn your subject and craft. I'm good with that but I have a problem with anyone who says "you take it you teach it" is good enough and I've heard of a number of regions that are seriously considering it.
Why is this so bad and, I'd argue, dangerous? Not merely because we'll end up with substandard CS teachers for the foreseeable future but also because it undermines the teaching profession as a whole.
It's no secret that public education is under attack. A number of states including Wisconsin, Arizona, Oklahoma, New York and Michigan have considered relaxing the standards to become a teacher to address a teacher shortage. In their twisted logic, the politicians and "reformers" say that we can't find enough qualified teachers because we've made it an untenable career so let's lower standards. You can argue that any current state's requirements are overly cumbersome but that's another conversation.
When CS Educators say that all that's needed to teach CS is to sit in on a two week APCS institute is saying that to teach any subject you don't need content expertise. This is dangerous to education as a whole and when power players in the CS Ed movement don't speak up otherwise or even worse that the stance that "you take it you teach it" is OK, we're undermining teaching as a profession.
We need our heavy hitters to publicly and privately say that we need a short term entry into the profession but we absolutely need plans and pathways so that at the end of the day we have the best prepared teachers in our schools for CS and for all subjects.
Another issue is when as CS Educators we don't pay attention to the whole child. I was at a meeting of CSTA people from about thirty states a few years ago. Someone asked "how can we advocate for CS when the school might use it as an excuse to get rid of music?" Cameron Wilson, at the time a lobbyist for the ACM said something to the effect of "I'm not concerned with other subjects, my concern is getting CS into the schools." I get it, he was employed to stump CS but we have to remember that we're only a piece of the puzzle. We want a seat at the table but we have to make sure that the table is populated with everyone needed to provide a great education for our kids.
A final issue I'll mention here is how so many CS educators are so close to the College Board. It was very disturbing that so many CS Ed players were pushing for more students to take the APCS exam. Not the class, not some other CS class but the APCS exam. AP is an extremely controversial subject among teachers and many of us feel that too many kids take too many AP classes and certainly too many exams. Remember, the College Board is the organization that pushes things like the PSAT8/9 another meaningless but high stakes exam inflicted upon our kids at taxpayer expense. I understand that AP makes things easy - they have courses, curricula, etc. but we've given the college board an outsized influence on CS education and we're not paying attention to their outsized influence on education in general.
I'm just a small time teacher. I don't have a national voice. I'm urging those that do:
- Look into what's going on in greater education. Look at the way public education has been under attack and why.
- Look at the side affects of our choices - who we partner with and what policies we push.
We might not agree on the right path but everyone with a voice in CS Education should be having hard conversations about this and then strongly advocating for the positions they feel correct.