NYSED says you don't need to know CS to teach CS
The title might come of as hyperbole but it's really true.
A few years ago, NYSED created a certification area for computer science. At Hunter, we've been running our certificate program for the past three years and taking current teachers and qualifying them to earn this new certification. This past Fall, NYSED finalized it's grandfathering position and just the other day it opened up the portal to allow teachers to sign up. The grandfathering is called the SOCE - Statement of Continued Eligibility (to teach computer science). NYSED also started an individual evaluation option.
I think the individual evaluation part is great. There are always people who fall through the cracks. They are great teachers and really know their stuff but they walked a different path. I have a friend who taught CS for years but since he's older he got his degrees before CS was a thing. He also never worked for anyone else in tech even though he created impressive software systems for his own company. In spite of being super qualified, he'd never be approved by the state through normal channels without having to take and pay for a whole bunch of courses where he probably would know more than the instructors. Now, with individual evaluation, he would have a chance to be fairly judged.
On the other hand the SOCE really concerns me. Not just the SOCE but the fact that if you taught at least one CS class this past year (or maybe within the past few years) and you filled out the form, you don't need to do anything else to teach CS for the next 10 years. This is extremely concerning. What's equally concerning is that the state is doing nothing to encourage teachers to earn real certification which can be both time consuming and costly.
I've met a large number of NY teachers teaching CS. Mostly in NYC but also from across the state. I've also evaluated hundreds of applications to my certificate program. I've found that teachers fall into the following categories:
- Teachers who really know CS. This is the extreme minority.
- Teachers who have attended PDs or similar to learn to teach a specific course or learn rudimentary programming. Some of these teachers think they really know CS, some recognize that they're just following a script. Some want to learn more, some don't.
It's the second category that concerns me and that represents the majority of teachers currently teaching CS.
Let's look at the set of teachers who don't want to learn more and think that with their limited PD training that they're doing right by their students (voiceover: they're probably not). These teachers can continue doing what they're doing for the next ten years. That's a generation of kids. As long as CS is untested (which is probably a good thing) a teacher in this category can just dial it in while focusing on their 4 other classes which have a high stakes exam. Even if they're not dialing it in, are they really doing right by the kids? If I did short form PD to learn, let's say physics, would I really be a good physics teacher (voiceover: No).
The other category - teachers who do want to learn more and become strong CS teachers. I'm hoping this is the majority of teachers teaching CS but here the state is failing them and in turn failing their students.
Right now, Hunter's program is the only advanced certificate program running in the state. The state should be encouraging more institutions to create programs. The state should also be working on financial support and even release time for teachers who want to be re-certified in CS. It's a big ask to tell a teacher - it's great that you want to earn this new certification - now pay for a bunch of graduate credits and take those classes during your non-existent free time.
If the state cared about bringing good CS Education to our students they would have:
- Encouraged more institutions to create certification programs.
- Provide financial support for teachers and if possible, release time for teachers to take said programs.
- Reduce the grandfathering window from 10 years to something more like 5 years.
Instead, they, with a bold bravado said "we recognize the importance of CS so we're creating a new certification area" and then quietly said when nobody was looking "but nobody needs it for the next generation of kids."
I know some teachers will be offended by this post but I'm hoping teachers who do want to do it right didn't miss the part about them not getting the support. I'm with all of you, appreciate your efforts, and wish the state (and city) was doing it right, enabling you to be the best prepared teacher you can be for your kids.
On the other hand if I upset any teachers in that "we're doing fine even though we don't know stuff" category, well, I'm good with that.
I also know that some people will dismiss this saying that "that Z guy runs the only cert program going right now, he clearly has a vested interest in more people getting certified."
True, one of the big reasons I came to Hunter was to lobby the state to create a CS certification area and to build the programs. I'm proud of that work. I've also, however pushed for other programs to be created. I also worked hard to successfully acquire funding which has paid for the vast majority of the over 90 teachers that are in or have completed our program. Finally, as I'm leaving Hunter after this semester, so I really don't have any skin in this particular game any more.
So, that's my take. I get that teachers should file for the SOCE - no reason to individually "be the hero" and the state will basically ignore the issue for the next decade. After that, who knows but in the meantime, our kids deserve better.