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C'est la Z

Why PD doesn’t work for CS


I was reminded that by referring to CS4All and what it's doing in NYC people could read an implication that the many hard working educators are not doing a yeoman's job and indeed they are. They've been doing the heavy lifting from day 1 to bring opportunities to students and I did not mean to impugn their work or efforts in any way.

I also want to mention that I know that there are many educators working in NY in CS who have been providing direct support for teachers outside of PD and this post is not about them and their good work. This is about what PD providers provide and how that is no longer a good model for us to use for teacher prep.

I apologize to educators who read this prior to this edit who felt that I was referring to them and I hope this addition clears things up.

That said, I'm leaving the post as is because CS4all in NYC has set up the current system and as I said below it was correct and necessary at the start to do it that way but it is now clear that the CS4ALl leadership has to change directions with regards to using professional development as a model for preparing teachers.

I also am leaving it because there are other states along with nationwide CS PD providers that claim that the PD model is adequately preparing CS teachers and it isn't.

Original Post

Overall, I've been down on the Professional Development model that has been used nationwide to "prepare" our CS teachers. Yes, I'll happily admit that in order to get to a lot of teachers quickly, starting teachers off with PD was essential but too many people think it's doing fine and that's a problem.

Before getting to the specifics of CS PD let's think about PD in general. There are different types of PDs.

  • Teachers sharing practices
  • conferences and meetings that teachers choose to attend
  • PD run by content providers, that is, people selling something
  • PD required by schools and districts

The first two types are usually considered good, the third, sometimes but not as often. The fourth, fuggedaboudit.

Given that there were and are so few CS teachers that really know CS and how to teach it, CS training, which started with PD, started with content providers. As I said at the start, this was essential at first but had and has many problems.

First off, content providers aren't teaches. Sure, they often hire people who have taught but usually for a limited period of time. Second, since they're pushing their product they're usually teaching a pretty scripted experience and not going beyond either the way they envision their lessons to progress nor to broader possible content. This was essential at the start but it's not really preparing teachers. It's preparing actors for a play. Unfortunately, those 30 or so other actors in the room (the students) are all doing improv.

Even with those problems content provider provided PD can certainly have value but there's one more problem and it's HUGE. Professional Development has no teacher accountability or follow up. When you attend a PD there are no exams or required projects, no assessment, no grade for credits - nothing. You attend, you're done.

This is 100% the right way to do it for most fields but not when this is how you're initially training teachers. I've seen this in the applicants to my program. I mentioned it in earlier posts but I've seen far too many applicants who've attended multiple years of CS4All training in NYC. Training provided by a who's who of providers and they can barely get past hello world. I've even seen it in my program where a couple of participants have viewed our courses as PDs and really tried to dial it in. Fortunately, the vast majority get that we're offering legit grad courses for grad credits and while you'll work (and hopefully have fun) through the program, you'll indeed grow as a CS teacher throughout.

Combine the fact that PD is never assessed by the fact that NY state is allowing unprepared teachers to teach CS for the next 10 years and we've got a problem.

I don't really have an answer - PD in general should remain as it is in most fields but it should no longer be used as primary teacher preparation. Even though I strongly believe this, nothing will change based on the state's stance and the fact that city and state politicians gain more by rubber stamping CS teachers and saying they've done it rather than facing the fact that they're going to exacerbate the difference between the haves - who can make sure their kids get well prepared teachers, and the have nots who will get the PD trained kind.

What the city and state should be doing is funding teachers to take advanced certificate programs like mine and students to take CS teacher preparation programs, also like mine but like the ones offered by Siena College and others as well. Do this and reduce the number of years during which you don't need certification from 10 years to 5 and you've got a real solution.

I'm not holding my breath.

In any case, there are teachers out there who want to do it right and there are charitable groups like Gotham Gives and Google who've helped us at Hunter move around 100 teachers from where they started to becoming solid CS teachers.

Regardless of what the city and state do, we need more organizations to get on board funding good programs and more good programs becoming available to truly prepare teachers. If this happens, I do believe the teachers will come.

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