computer science for all

Kicking off ‘Computer Science for All,’ city will add AP classes, software programs

New York City’s plan to provide a computer science education to its 1.1 million students will kick off next year in at least 50 schools, which will offer an Advanced Placement-level class or a software engineering program for the first time.

Starting this month, schools can apply to offer the “The Beauty and Joy of Computing,” a one-year course for high schoolers, or a multi-year software engineering program. The programs, which already exist in a few anozen schools across the city, represent the first steps in a larger plan that officials say they will be working on for at least a year.

“This is the first step to build on what we’ve already done,” Debbie Marcus, the education department’s executive director of computer science, said this week.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his plan to provide computer science in every school by 2025 in an agenda-setting speech last September. To get there, the city will have to find ways to train hundreds of teachers at all grade levels, help schools develop and choose programs and teaching materials, and overcome barriers to securing Internet access and computers.

The city’s first steps will target schools with leaders who say they’re already prepared to meet those challenges.

Applications for both programs ask schools to explain the technology classes they already offer and the experience levels of the prospective instructors. Schools offering the AP program will be expected to do targeted outreach to girls and other underrepresented student groups, the application indicates.

Marcus said the city also wants to make sure the programs reach a broad spectrum of students, and that all schools — from the most struggling to its sought-after specialized schools — will be considered.

As for the two programs the city is focusing on, each represents a different approach to computer science education.

“The Beauty and Joy of Computing” is a one-year course designed to teach the principles in computer science in high schools. Though it’s an advanced course originally created for college freshmen, the curriculum is designed to be accessible to a broad range of students, said Dan Garcia, a teaching professor at UC Berkeley who co-designed the class. Students who take the course should be prepared for a new AP exam being rolled out in 2017.

If the traditional Advanced Placement Computer Science curriculum is like calculus, Garcia said, then “Beauty and Joy” could be compared to pre-calculus.

The city’s Software Engineering Program is more than just one class. It’s a structured sequence of electives for middle and high school students designed to provide a background in programming, robotics, web design, physical computing, and mobile computing. The program launched in 2013 under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and is now in 18 schools.

Of course, to reach over 1,800 schools, the city will need to do more than expand these existing programs, and find ways to reach younger children Officials said that these are not the only programs that they will unveil next year and that more information will be released this spring. In the meantime, they are working on a “foundational document” that outlines the city’s plans for expanding the program throughout the city.

Marcus said the document could take up to a year and a half to complete, as the city looks at model programs from across the country and consults expert teachers, researchers, and programmers.

“One of the reasons it’s a 10-year initiative is it’s not going to happen overnight,” she said. “Not all programs require this level of commitment on the part of teachers and schools. Software engineering is really in-depth — we’re also looking at lower levels of commitment for teachers to understand a specific concept or tool.”

Marcus said the city plans to focus on training teachers in a variety of subjects to teach computer science, instead of recruiting new teachers who specialized in the subject.

That raises a red flag for Maurya Couvares, the co-founder and executive director of ScriptEd, which helps teenagers land technology internships. She said that it will be difficult for classroom teachers to learn the skills necessary to teach a full computer science course without significant professional development.

“I’m interested to see how they will do this,” Couvares said. “Hopefully that they won’t deliver a watered-down version to students.”

Garcia, for one, said his course’s training is anything but. The “Beauty and Joy” training includes two weeks of in-person work and a two-to-four-week online course during the summer.

“This is not at all a lightweight, one-week situation,” Garcia said. “This is a very powerful, deep course.”

legislative update

Senators kill two education proposals, but plan to replace ISTEP moves ahead with a new high school test

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
The Senate Education Committee had its last 2017 meeting today.

The plan to replace Indiana’s unpopular ISTEP exam took another step forward Wednesday as the Senate Education Committee finished up its work for the year.

The committee killed two bills and passed four, including an amended version of the bill to overhaul the state testing system. The bill passed 7-4, but some lawmakers still weren’t happy with the plan — especially because the bill continues to tie teacher evaluations to state test results and removes a requirement for students to take end-of-course exams that many principals and educators had supported.

The amended bill would:

  • Require high school students to take a national college entrance exam, such as the SAT or ACT, rather than end-of-course exams. The Indiana State Board of Education would choose the specific test and set a passing score needed for graduation.
  • Create tests that would allow Indiana students to be compared with peers nationally.
  • Allow the state to create its own test questions only if the option saves Indiana money or would be necessary to ensure the test complies with Indiana academic standards.
  • Require schools to give state tests on computers or using “digital technology” unless they receive a waiver from the education department.
  • Create a legislative panel to study Indiana’s teacher evaluation laws and draft a final report by Nov. 1.

Some of the changes in the amendment came from state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick. Earlier this month, she outlined some of those ideas for the committee, which were similar to ones pushed by former schools chief Glenda Ritz. But that still didn’t make it especially popular with the committee today.

“I’m still not comfortable with where we are,” said Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Merrillville.

Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, and Sen. Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, also expressed concerns about the bill, although Leising voted “yes” because the state is still required to have a test, she said.

“I’m very disappointed we can’t move away from ISTEP more quickly,” Leising said. “I’m most disappointed that we’re still going to evaluate teachers based on ISTEP results which nobody believes in currently.”

Here are the rest of the bills that passed the committee today. All of them still must face debate by the full Senate, and likely further discussions by the House:

Charter school renewal and closure: House Bill 1382 would make changes to how the Indiana State Board of Education handles authorizers who want to renew charters for schools that have failed for four years in a row. This proposal, as well as other changes, could benefit Indiana’s struggling virtual charter schools — particularly Hoosier Academies.

The bill was amended today to give the state board of education more control over what education and experience charter school teachers need in order to be allowed to teach.

High school graduation rate and student mobility: House Bill 1384 would require the Indiana State Board of Education to consider a school’s rate of student turnover from year to year when it assigns A-F accountability grades.

But it was amended today to change previous language that would have given schools two A-F grades — one reflecting state test results from students who move around frequently, and one based on students who have been at the school for at least a year. The amendment removes the two grades and instead would instruct the state board to consider student mobility in the existing A-F system, and “whether any high school should be rewarded for enrolling credit deficient students or penalized for transferring out credit deficient students.”

This bill, too, has implications for Indiana virtual schools, which have struggled to show success educating a wide range of students. The schools have complained that they often accept students who are far behind their peers and are using the school as a last-ditch chance to graduate.

The bill also includes two proposals regarding private schools and vouchers.

Teacher induction program: House Bill 1449, offered by Rep. Dale DeVon, R-Mishawaka, would create a program to support new teachers, principals and superintendents that would be considered a pilot until 2027.

And here are the bills that died, both authored by House Education Committee Chairman Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis:

Elementary school teacher licenses: House Bill 1383 would encourage the state board of education to establish content-area-specific licenses, including math and science, for elementary teachers. It was defeated by the committee 6-5

Competency-based learning: House Bill 1386 would provide grants for five schools or districts that create a “competency-based” program, which means teachers allow students to move on to more difficult subject matter once they can show they have mastered previous concepts or skills, regardless of pace (Learn more about Warren Township’s competency-based program here). It was defeated by the committee 8-3.

secretary statements

Betsy DeVos on American schools: ‘I’m not sure that we can deteriorate a whole lot’

PHOTO: U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos isn’t concerned that a push for more school choice could inadvertently harm America’s schools, she said Wednesday — because she believes the nation’s achievement is already too abysmal for that to be possible.

“I’m not sure how they could get a lot worse on a nationwide basis than they are today,” DeVos said of achievement levels. “The fact that our PISA scores have continued to deteriorate as compared to the rest of the world, and that we’ve seen stagnant at best results with the NAEP scores over the years — I’m not sure that we can deteriorate a whole lot.”

DeVos was referring to one international test and another taken by a sample of students across the United States that’s used to compare performance across states. Her comments, made at the Brookings Institution, paint a picture that’s more dire than fully accurate.

On the international PISA tests in reading and science, the U.S. hovers near the international average, though it falls near the bottom of other industrialized countries in math. And on the NAEP tests, often referred to as the “nation’s report card,” math scores have been rising for decades, as moderator Russ Whitehurst noted, while reading scores have also increased, though much more slowly.

The comments reveal an unflinchingly negative guiding premise for the nation’s top education official: With nowhere to go but up, any disruption of the current system is, by definition, going in the right direction. (She pushed that idea further by invoking the fight between Uber and taxi companies as a parallel for the push for school choice.)

At the same time, DeVos indicated that she was uncomfortable using statistics as the basis for some of her own policies.

“I’m not a numbers person in the same way you are,” DeVos said, when asked specifically how she would want her success to be measured. “But to me, the policies around empowering parents and moving decision-making to the hands of parents on behalf of children is really the direction we need to go.”

You can watch her speech and her discussion with Whitehurst afterward here: