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C'est la Z

CS Certification - I should be exempt

Over the past few years, a number of states have acknowledged Computer Science as an academic area of study and have created pathways for certification. The actual requirements vary from state to state and indeed, even within a given state, there's a lot of variation. Here in New York, for instance there are some strong programs that will truly prepare a candidate to teach CS in K12 but too many others that are just "certificate mills" and the state doesn't seem to care.

The question that I noticed garnering discussion recently wasn't the creation of new certification areas but rather, what do we do with the people currently teaching CS?

Do we grandfather them in? If so, do we do it indefinitely? Do we force them to go through an entire certification program? How about making them sit for an exam? How about something else?

I'm writing about this now because on social media I noticed a post from a teacher who was just informed they'd have to take the Praxis exam in order to continue teaching CS. Here, and in other forums I've heard some teachers shrug this off since they did similar or had to do more, and some say that it was ridiculous to make someone already teaching CS sit for an exam or take additional courses.

I wanted to push back on that.

Just because someone has been teaching CS doesn't mean they should. In New York City, due to their CSforAll initiative hundreds of teachers have been thrust into CS classes over the past few years with minimal preparation. Many of them have worked super hard and have done a yeoman's job but the majority, from what I've seen, don't know CS beyond the super basics and haven't really had the opportunity to learn how to teach it.

On the other hand, there are some who indeed do have a solid CS background and any additional exams or coursework are just a waste of time.

On the third hand, a teacher who has already been certified in some other area and has been teaching CS in a public school shouldn't have to pay out of pocket to take additional coursework or exams.

The problem is that you can't really assess who knows their stuff and who doesn't just because "I've been doing it for the past ten years."

I'm comfortable saying that even though I'm certified in math, I'm a very strong CS teacher but can I prove it? Test scores don't necessarily prove it. I taught for many years at Stuyvesant. Those kids would do well on standardized tests if a potato taught the class. In fact, over my career, I've seen, in regents classes where a class taught by a horrible teacher ended up with some of the highest regents scores. There are reasons for this but it's not worth the time to explain here.

Should we look for student testimonial? Maybe but that could just mean that the teacher was popular and unless you're going to find students who are a bunch of years out, they might not have the perspective to give a fair evaluation.

How about observation reports from supervisors? Since supervisors rarely know CS that won't work either.

It's a tough nut to crack.

So, we're left with some states where they're requiring sitting CS teachers take an exam and/or classes which will be an inconvenience or burden on the few teachers that already really know their stuff and other states like NY where they're fine with unqualified teachers for the next ten years by having teachers merely fill out a form, which I wrote about here.

Neither solution is ideal.

Probably the best solution would be to have current CS teachers sit for an exam like the CS Praxis exam and have the state pick up the fee. I'm not a big fan of standardized exams but as far as they go, the CS Praxis isn't horrible and if you pass it, you should have the CS knowledge necessary to teach most High School CS classes. If you waive the fee, then it isn't really a big ask for a qualified CS teacher. Maybe you also only do this for teachers who've been teaching CS classes for two or more years or something like that. Combine a no cost exam with the teachers past CS teaching track record and you probably hit the sweet spot - fair for the teacher and you have a pretty good idea that your CS teachers know their stuff.

Seems like an easy common sense solution and it wouldn't cost that much. Instead we get states requiring way too much of working teachers or on the flip side, allowing teachers with no credentials to teach our students. I guess we've learned not to expect more from our governments.

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