Federal Aid for Code Schools - is this a good thing?

I saw this headline earlier today: The U.S. Just Made a Bold Move to Improve Diversity in Tech.

The article talks about a program by which a number of code schools will be able to accept federal student aid. I don't know if we're talking student loans or grants but I'm not sure it matters.

The headline sounds great. I'm not so sure that this is a good thing.

My thinking's evolved over the years but right now, everything tells me that public funds and for profit education don't mix.

What we, more often than not, end up with is a cash cow for a private concern.

Example one: The edTPA - a required exam for teacher licensing, at least in NY. Prospective teachers pay hundreds of dollars to pass this gatekeeper. Pearson, a private company (and not even an American one) is essentially in charge of teacher licensing. They make the assessments, they grade them, they decide who passes. A foreign company is deciding who teaches our kids and at great expense to those prospective teachers.

We'd be much better off going back to the old days. To become a teacher, you had to pass through "The board of examiners." Basically, to get your permanent license you had to do an oral defense. Teachers would be placed in a room of principals, supervisors, and master teachers for an open grilling. It was cheaper and MUCH more effective.

Example two: The PSAT 8/9, PSAT, and SAT. These are exams that tell us one thing: how kids will do on future PSAT and SAT tests. They're not good predictors of college success but the college board (a non-profit in name only) has convinced us, or at least "convinced" our politicians of the exams importance. So, rather than having individuals make a choice as to whether or not to take these exams, NY forks over who knows how much money per year so that our kids can take a test with the belief that the exam will mystically make them college ready. To make matters worse, students lose a day of instruction and teachers have to proctor the exam instead of teaching.

Example three: Common core tests. Made in secret, graded in secret with cut off scores designed after the fact. Absolutely no educational value but once again, public funds flow freely into testing companies.

The problem is that these private concerns never really have to show results and they're never held accountable and since the money we pay them is hidden in city and state budgets, the taxpayer is none the wiser.

So, what about code schools?

In a similar vein, money will flow from the government to the code schools. The question is, do they really have the secret sauce.

I have lots of friends who run and work in code schools and have met many more. Some code schools are trying to really educate and some not so much. In any case, let's take a look.

You frequently hear about the success stories but for every one of those, you can also find a manager talking about the fact that the code school graduate can't do anything other than ape the narrow tool that they were exposed to in the three or so months at the code school. So, the truth is that results are probably a mixed bag.

Is this good? Well, when you consider the typical code school MO it really isn't.

To attend a for profit code school you have to not only afford the tuition but also be able to sustain yourself for the duration of the program. That makes most code schools options for the well to do - those already well positioned for success.

Then they make the candidates go through pre-work – frequently online course work. So, before you even step into a code school, they know you're likely going to succeed.

Once in, they train the candidates in a narrow slice of tech. I've talked to a number of code school leaders about that. I've asked how well the kids would be able to adapt given the constraints of their 3 month or so training. The typical answer was that the candidate could just re-up and pay again to learn the next limited time only skill.

Should taxpayer dollars go to this? Probably not. There's no indication that code schools can provide meaningful long lasting education to even those who are best prepared to learn on their own. Whats' more, we haven't seen evidence that they have the answers for the under-served. Combine that with government's history of not keeping an eye on and not holding accountable private education providers, I think we're just setting up a new line of corporate welfare that will, on the surface help some but it is in no way the answer.

Too often public/private means that the private entity gets the money and the public gets stuck holding the bag. Better would be to have tech companies foot the bill. Some coding schools already do this. Tech companies that are happy with coding school graduates can finance the program.

What we should be doing is focusing on things like community colleges. Organizations that are supposed to be real, long term, community centers. With moderate tweaking, there's no reason why a community college, not to mention 4 year schools, couldn't provide far superior preparation than even the best code school.


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