cracking the code

How Hillary Clinton wants to make computer science courses available to every kid in America

PHOTO: Denver Post
Secretary Hillary Clinton visited Galvanize in Denver.

During a campaign swing Tuesday through Denver, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton rolled out a technology and innovation platform that includes greater investments in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, education.

In a visit to the Galvanize tech training and co-working space, Clinton stressed a commitment to ensuring that “every student in America — no matter what ZIP code that student lives in — gets the chance to learn computer science before they graduate high school.”

Here are a few K-12 specifics from Clinton’s Initiative on Technology and Innovation, which you can read in full here.

  • Clinton proposes building on the Obama administration’s “Computer Science Education for All” initiative, doubling the investment in the government’s $120 million Investing in Innovation (i3) program, including a 50 percent set-aside for computer science education. The idea is to support efforts to scale successful instruction and lesson programs.
  • Another initiative would seek to expand the pool of computer science teachers through recruiting new teachers and giving more training to existing ones, with the goal of creating an additional 50,000 teachers in the field over the next decade. To pay for it, her administration would commit federal financial aid, assistant to professional development programs and support for private-public partnerships.
  • The Clinton Education Department would provide grants to support states, cities and charter schools on a number of initiatives. Among those mentioned were developing innovative schools, redesigning high schools to focus more on STEM, building higher education and private sector partnerships, and supporting so-called “makerspaces.” Denver’s DSST charter school network, in the midst of a significant expansion, gets a shoutout in the Clinton plan as a model of innovation.

Of course, proposals are just that and often run into political and financial headwinds. As Education Week noted, it’s unclear whether expanding the i3 grant program — now overhauled and called Education Innovation and Research grants under the nation’s new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act — will find favor with Congress.

Making computer science courses available to all is an ambitious goal.

Though nine in 10 parents want their children to learn computer science, just one in four schools teach it, according to Code.org, a nonprofit advocating for expanding access to computer science, especially for young women and minority students. (The organization has worked with Denver Public Schools and the Douglas County School District).

New York City is working on a plan to eventually give all students access to computer science education. Earlier this month, officials there announced an expansion of the program to elementary schools.

In Colorado, a number of efforts are underway to promote increased STEM and computer science opportunities.

The Longmont-based St. Vrain Valley District is considered a leader in STEM education. The district has won both an i3 grant and $16.6 million in Race to the Top money for initiatives primarily serving low-income students of color.

The district has focused significant effort on Skyline High School — where it established a STEM academy — and its feeder schools. Skyline is home to one of the state’s first Pathways to Technology and Early College (P-TECH) schools, which was made possible by a 2015 state law and involves a partnership with IBM and Front Range Community College.

Students graduate with both a high school diploma and an industry-recognized associate degree, gaining job skills along the way.

“We really felt like we could break the cycle of poverty, and also allow students to have a very focused career path,” said Patty Quinones, the district’s assistant superintendent of innovation.

Most Colorado students don’t get those kind of opportunities. And racial and economic disparities are jarring.

Consider one yardstick — Advanced Placement courses and exams in computer science, one piece of STEM:

  • Just 661 Colorado high school students took the Advanced Placement computer science exam in 2014-15. Only 57 were Hispanic and only 18 were black. More than 80 percent of the students who took the exam were boys.
  • Just 55 schools — or 15 percent of Colorado schools with AP programs — offered the AP Computer Science course in 2014-15.

One legislative effort to advance computer science opportunities in Colorado fell short this year. House Bill 1291 would have added technology skills to the state’s existing content standards and provided grants for educators seeking additional training in computer science, among other things. The bill died in a Senate committee in the session’s waning days.

Scott Laband, president of Colorado Succeeds, an education-focused business group that backed the legislation, said a similar effort is likely to return next year.

Laband said efforts to bolster STEM and computer science ought to create multiple pathways for students, recognize the value of internships and apprenticeships, and inspire students to envision bright futures.

“We always talk about, ‘You cannot be what you cannot see,'” he said.

social studies

Tennessee’s long journey to new social studies standards nears its finish line

Tennessee is one step closer to having new social studies standards after almost 1½ years of unprecedented public scrutiny and feedback.

The State Board of Education voted unanimously on Friday to move ahead with a revision that was begun partly out of concern over how Islam is being taught in seventh-grade world history.

Now receiving attention is the question of whether too much Tennessee history is being removed from standards that most everyone agrees were over-laden with material.

The proposed draft, which will undergo a final vote in July, reduces the number of standards overall by 14 percent — but at the expense of some Tennessee history such as the Chickamauga Indians, “Roots” author Alex Haley, and the New Madrid earthquakes.

Members of the Standards Recommendation Committee have presented the proposal as striking the right balance.

“There’s an infinite number of people and facts that are significant, and we can’t include them all,” said Todd Wigginton, who led the teacher review and is director of instruction for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools.

But Bill Carey, one of the panel’s nine members, offered a dissenting opinion to the section for grades 1-5.

“In these standards, the Plateau of Tibet is mentioned twice but the Cumberland Plateau is never mentioned,” said Carey, who is executive director of the nonprofit Tennessee History for Kids. “… I think a case can be made that there’s too much of Tennessee missing.”

Wigginton said the idea behind the final draft is that teachers should have more flexibility, and focus more on important concepts.

He said Tennessee’s new standards asked students to consider, for example, the significance of civil disobedience in the civil rights movement, rather than memorize a list of people and dates.

The state spearheaded a laborious review for social studies beginning in January 2016 after critics charged that seventh-grade standards addressing the Five Pillars of Islam amounted to “proselytizing.” Members of the recommendation committee say all religions would be taught in a uniform way under the new standards.

The draft reflects tens of thousands comments from hundreds of Tennessee residents over the course of two public reviews, as well as nearly 100 hours of meetings by the committee. That panel, along with a team of educators who reviewed public feedback last summer, created standards that they say allows teachers flexibility and the freedom to go in-depth, while also covering key topics.

Unlike many other states, Tennessee hasn’t cordoned off Tennessee history to specific units for nearly two decades, choosing instead to “embed” state-specific facts across all grades. Carey said he’s made a career out of helping teachers incorporate Tennessee material into their history classes. He noted that several state historical associations and museums have raised concerns too about the final draft.

“In my opinion, for embedding to work, Tennessee topics have to be clearly spelled out in the standards,” said Carey, who submitted a minority report to share his concerns. “If they’re not, teachers won’t get the message that they have to cover Tennessee history.”

Jason Roach, a former social studies teacher and now principal of Mooresburg Elementary School in Hawkins County, said those terms could be incorporated into curriculum, even if they aren’t explicitly spelled out in the standards.

Standards lay out what students should know at each grade level, while curriculum includes the lessons and activities that students study and do throughout the school year.

“Tennessee history needs to be taught in Tennessee schools. I believe that,” Roach said. But, he continued, teachers should decide how to build curriculum on a local level, rather than the state over-prescribing what should be covered through the standards.

During a discussion Thursday about the final draft, board members offered praise about both the process and the results.

“You did an incredible job,” said Lillian Hartgrove, who represents part of Middle Tennessee. “I know it’s not exactly what everyone wanted … but what you have accomplished is truly incredible.”

Tennessee’s academic standards in all four core subject areas have been overhauled over the last three years, and social studies standards are the only ones still in the works.

If approved, the new Tennessee Academic Standards for Social Studies will reach the state’s classrooms in the 2019-2020 school year.

Compromise

Indiana budget deal would offer modest school funding increases plus a big fix for teacher bonuses

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Many schools across Indiana could expect more money per student in the coming years and strong teachers at struggling schools would be likely to receive higher bonuses under a budget deal announced Friday.

House and Senate lawmakers have come to an agreement on how much money to send to Indiana schools over the next two years. The budget would increase total dollars for schools by about 3.3 percent from 2017 to 2019. Included within that: a 2.5 percent average increase for per-student funding to $6,709 in 2019, up from $6,540 this year. The budget is expected to go up for a final vote late Friday.

Overall, the budget plan would accomplish some of the key goals prioritized by Gov. Eric Holcomb, state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick and House Republicans. Those goals include increasing funding for the state’s preschool program, internet access for schools, and Advanced Placement exams that help students earn college credit while in high school.

Under the compromise, every district in Marion County would see its basic state aid and per-student funding increase, including Indianapolis Public Schools. (IPS would have seen cuts in the House plan, and the increases wound have been higher under the Senate plan.)

Suburban districts such as Carmel and Hamilton Southeastern would get sizable funding bumps as with the Senate plan. Districts losing enrollment, including East Chicago, could lose state money. But overall, many of the districts with some of the state’s poorest students stand to see increases. The Gary and Hammond districts, for example, would both see gains in per-student funding and overall.

Lawmakers also settled on a compromise about how to pay teachers.

Throughout the session, they waffled about whether to pay teachers more for their performance or for taking on additional work in their schools.

At first, the House cut the bonuses entirely and set aside $3 million for a “career pathways” program that would reward teachers who take on leadership roles in their schools. That was far less money than the $40 million the Senate wanted to put toward teacher bonuses, but some teachers said they would rather have the long-term opportunity to improve their teaching and leadership skills rather than a short-term bonus that might not go toward their salaries in the future.

“I want a leadership role, but I want to be a teacher — I don’t want to be an administrator,” said Allison Larty, a teacher in Noblesville and Teach Plus policy fellow. “(A bonus) is not going to be make an impact. The creation of career pathways will make an impact in the long run.”

But those dollars were eliminated in the Senate budget and the budget compromise. Rep. Tim Brown, chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, said it came down to Senate negotiations. Senators were willing to spend more on preschool, Brown said, if they didn’t have to spend elsewhere — so career pathways dollars were cut.

But lawmakers did agree to change the state’s now $30 million teacher bonus program, which came under fire from educators across the state last year for rewarding effective teachers in high-performing, usually affluent schools at a higher level than similar teachers in lower-performing schools.

Going forward, the program will dole out money based on a policy created by each school district, rather than ISTEP scores. Under the plan, the state would distribute $30 per student to each district, which would then divvy up the local bonus pool among teachers rated “effective” or “highly effective.” Of that money, up to 50 percent can be added into a teacher’s base salary so that the teacher receives it in future years as well. And teachers in virtual schools can receive these bonuses — something the Senate had moved against.

The compromise plan keeps other requirements suggested by the Senate for virtual schools, mandating that they report information about class size, teacher-per-student ratios, and how often teachers have in-person meetings to the education department each year. Virtual schools would get 90 percent of the basic per-student funding amount from the state, as they do now. (The House’s plan would have increased that to 100 percent.)

The state’s voucher program would see its funding grow over the next two years under the compromise plan. Indiana is projected to spend more than $156 million by 2018 and $167 million by 2019 on the program, up from $146 million in 2017.

This new agreement no longer carves out the voucher money as a budget line item. Critics of making it a line item said it made the program vulnerable to cuts, but supporters applauded the change because they said it increased transparency around how much the state spends on vouchers but pulling it out of school-by-school calculations and placing it squarely in the budget itself.

The budget also includes:

  • $22 million per year for the state’s preschool program, up from about $12 million. $1 million per year is set aside for “in-home” online preschool programs.
  • About $32 million for English-language learners, up from about $20 million. The grant would be $250 per English-learner student in 2018 and $300 per student in 2019. Schools with higher concentrations of English learners would get additional funding.
  • $3 million per year to improve school internet access.
  • $5 million over two years in incentive grants for schools and districts that consolidate services.
  • $10.4 million for Advanced Placement tests and $4.1 million for PSAT tests.
  • $1 million to align initiatives in science, technology, engineering and math.
  • $500,000 per year for dual language immersion programs.
  • $26.3 million per year for testing and $12.3 million per year for remediation testing.
  • $15 million per year for the Charter and Innovation Network School Grant Program, which would support schools that want to become “innovation schools.”

Chalkbeat reporter Dylan Peers McCoy contributed to this story.