Computer Science in K-12 Schools:  New Google/Gallup Survey of Students, Parents, and Educators!

Dear Commons Community,

I have attended several meetings over the past three weeks regarding a new initiative in New York City to integrate computer science throughout the K-12 curriculum.  I believe it is a good idea but has a number of logistical hurdles not the least of which is providing teachers who can teach computer science.  Regardless, earlier this year, Google commissioned a national survey with Gallup to get the perceptions of students, parents, and educators regarding teaching computer science in K-12 schools. The Executive Summary is below.  The Huffington Post ran a brief article summarizing the findings as follows.

“Teachers who work at the poorest schools are more likely to think that computer science is vital to their students’ futures, but are less likely to think their school boards agree, a new survey released Tuesday reveals.

The survey was conducted by Gallup on behalf of Google, and looks at perceptions of computer science for different groups, including students, parents, educators and school district administrators. It follows an earlier survey released in August, which looked at access to computer science courses and found that lower-income students have fewer opportunities to study the subject. However, this latest survey shows that low-income students’ lack of access is not due to apathy on the part of their educators.

Twenty-one percent of teachers who work at schools where more than half of the student body qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch said they thought access to computer science is more important to a student’s future success than other elective courses, like music or art. Only 10 percent of teachers who work at schools where 25 percent or fewer students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch said the same thing.

Sixty-three percent of teachers at the schools with the poorest students said they think most students should be required to take a computer science course. Fifty-one percent of teachers at schools with more affluent students said the same.

Still, teachers from schools with more affluent students were 13 percent more likely to say that their “school board believes computer science education is important to offer in our schools” than their counterparts at schools with more low-income students.

Brandon Busteed, executive director of education and workforce development at Gallup, called the findings a “huge call to action.”

“There are huge discrepancies between the will and the way,” Busteed told The Huffington Post. “There appears to be more will in these poorer schools but less access.”

He continued, “What seems to be missing here are school boards. There is such little conversation about this at a school board level … If I were to say, ‘What’s the one place I would want this data and research to land,’ it would be with members of school boards. They have to look at this and realize their constituents want this in schools.”

This is an interesting topic and should at least be discussed by policy makers at the local level.  However, school boards have been inundated with federal and state mandates for basic (reading, writing, mathematics) instruction, testing, and assessments that there is little room in many curricula especially at the K-8 level for new subject matter.



Executive Summary

  • About half of all students say they’ve learned some computer science, either in school or somewhere else. However, students who are Hispanic, female or from lower-income households are less likely than their counterparts to have learned any computer science. Male students are generally more confident in their ability to learn computer science and are more likely to think they will learn computer science or have a job involving computer science in the future. Hispanic students are generally less confident than Black and White students in their ability to learn computer science. Students who are more confident in their ability to learn computer science are also more likely to say they will learn it in the future.
  • Computer science careers are viewed favorably by many students, parents, teachers and administrators in the U.S. Most students, parents and teachers perceive computer science work to be fun and exciting, and most students, parents and principals say people who work in computer science make things that help improve people’s lives. All groups also believe computer science can be used in many different types of jobs. Two-thirds of students and 79% of parents further agree that most people who work in computer science have good-paying jobs. Although more than six in 10 in every group think that most computer science jobs pay well, Hispanic students and female students are less likely than their counterparts to believe this.
  • Parents in lower-income households and teachers at schools with a greater percentage of free- or reduced-lunch-eligible students are most likely to value formal computer science education. Parents in lower-income households are most likely to think computer science learning opportunities are more important to a student’s future success than required classes, such as math, science, history and English. Teachers in schools with a larger percentage of students eligible for free or reduced lunch are more likely than other teachers to think computer science learning opportunities are more important to a student’s future success than other elective courses, but their schools are less likely to have computer science available. Among all teachers, three in four also say they would be interested in learning more about computer science if given the opportunity.

The widespread support for computer science learning from all stakeholder groups is encouraging. However, inequitable access to learning opportunities and ingrained stereotypes may hinder some students from participating, particularly females and underrepresented racial and ethnic minorities. Broadening computer science role models, as well as creating accessible learning opportunities that appeal to diverse youth, could help increase participation. Equally important is ensuring that all groups have a common understanding of what computer science is and how it can help students become better-informed consumers of technology.

Murray State University:  Philosophy or Football?

Dear Commons Community,

Paul Walker, associate professor of English at Murray State University, has an article in The Chronicle of Education, proposing that his university treat football the same way it treated the philosophy department.  Here is an excerpt from Professor Walker’s piece:

“About 15 years ago, the English department at my institution, Murray State University, absorbed the philosophy department because it had too few majors to justify having its own administrative staff. It still has fewer philosophy majors than desired, which is quite likely true at other similar-sized institutions as well, and soon that shortage might lead to a reduction of philosophy faculty and a limiting of core philosophy courses.

That’s because the Kentucky legislature has voted to use performance metrics for public state universities. These metrics ostensibly reward institutions for meeting retention, graduation, and other quantitative measurements, but they will also mean potential punishments for academic programs that are unable to financially justify their place. That’s a consequence unlikely to be faced by athletic programs at my institution as well as others. This situation raises difficult questions for administrators, alumni, and fans, and it should be dealt with honestly.

Murray State, if anyone has heard of us, has a pretty good “mid-major” men’s basketball team, consistently winning 20 games or more a year, appearing in the NCAA top 10 ranking in 2011-12, and competing often in the NCAA tournament and other postseason tournaments.

The football team, however, is another story. A winning season is rare, though exceptional seasons occurred decades ago under the coaches Frank Beamer and Houston Nutt, both of whom bolted to larger institutions, leaving Murray State to its usual mediocrity as a steppingstone for ambitious coaches. And because football requires the largest number of athletic scholarships and highest costs to sustain, the question is: Can our university, or any university, exist without a football team?

The answer, of course, is yes. But such a suggestion, here and at most other public institutions, is met with doubt or disdain — not because our Racers football team is financially viable (it isn’t), but because intercollegiate football, or basketball, is perceived as the face of the modern public university, large or small. To reduce the role of football, whether by elimination or by designating it non-scholarship, represents a change that few dare to broach.

Murray State will most likely rely on the NCAA’s academic policies and consider any independent “performance measurement” as too disruptive to the athletics-conference structure to which we belong. Yet considering that 65 percent of our athletics budget is subsidized by the university rather than by athletics revenue, one has to wonder whether the money is well spent, and if nonstudent-athletes, who pay an athletics fee, and who compose the majority of the student body, are slighted in terms of funding.

Those who defend athletics point to intangibles such as “school spirit,” the communal experience of attending games, or keeping alumni involved. Our basketball team, without question, brings excitement to campus and beyond, but few people here care about football. It’s even possible that the award-winning Racer Marching Band draws more spectators to football games than the team itself does.”

Professor Walker makes a good point.   Public colleges and universities in some parts of the country such as the northeast have already abandoned Division I football.  As Professor Walker suggests, I am sure that the savings realized by merging philosophy into the English department was not very much compared to the costs of running the football program.



Hillary Clinton Expresses Concerns about Charter Schools!

Dear Commons Community,

Last week, during a campaign stop in South Carolina, Hillary Clinton expressed concerns about charter schools.  This is a  reversal from her and her husband, Bill Clinton’s, position.  Both Clintons have been staunch supporters of charter schools for decades.  As reported in Politico:

“Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sounded less like a decades-long supporter of charter schools over the weekend and more like a teachers union president when she argued that most of these schools “don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids, or, if they do, they don’t keep them.”

Her comments in South Carolina came straight from charter school critics’ playbook and distanced her from the legacies of her husband, former President Bill Clinton — credited with creating a federal stream of money to launch charters around the country — and President Barack Obama, whose administration has dangled federal incentives to push states to become more charter friendly.

The change in tone on charter schools mirrors other moves Clinton has made to nail down the support of liberal blocs in the face of the progressive challenge of Bernie Sanders, including her recent decision to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And like her reservations about free trade, her new rebuke of charter schools suggests she’ll be less willing to challenge core Democratic constituencies than either her husband or Obama.

Teachers unions have been early and enthusiastic supporters of Clinton. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, a noted opponent of many education reform efforts, is a longtime friend and informal adviser to her campaign. Unions say they aren’t anti-charter but often attack the schools, a majority of which employ teachers who aren’t unionized, accusing them of siphoning off money from traditional public schools.

“Hillary Clinton looks at the evidence. That’s what she did here,” Weingarten told POLITICO. “She called out that many charters don’t take the hardest-to-teach kids or don’t keep those with academic or behavioral issues.”

In contrast, the Democratic advocacy group Education Reform Now posted a statement from Director Charles Barone, who wrote that Clinton’s recent comments were “highly disappointing and seemed to reinforce fears about how her endorsements from both major teachers unions would affect her K-12 platform.”

Unions, along with some traditional school administrators and parents, have long charged that charter schools too often reject or push out special needs students or other kids perceived to be troublesome. The issue exploded recently in New York City when high-profile charter operator and former council member Eva Moskowitz conceded that one of her Success Academy campuses was found with a “got-to-go”list naming children considered to be difficult.”

Charter school leaders such as Eva Moskowitz share some of the blame for Hillary’s change of position. Originally charters schools were to be experimental sites that would promote best practices and share same with public schools.  However, many of them such as Success Academy have moved away from this goal and instead have evolved into political interest groups that bash public schools and teacher unions.  They have also been caught more than once with evidence that they cream the best students from the public school system.


The Long Beach Promise: K-12 and Colleges Unite!

Dear Commons Community,

David L. Kirp, a public policy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has an op-ed in today’s New York Times, that describes the Long Beach Promise, a collaborative program that guarantees high school graduates a tuition-free year at Long Beach City College.  Here is an excerpt:

“… In that predominantly immigrant city [Long Beach] south of Los Angeles, where a third of the children under age 17 live in poverty, the public schools have teamed up with the local community college and the state university to confront the impact of poverty, racial discrimination and limited educational opportunities.

The Long Beach College Promise guarantees high school graduates a tuition-free year at Long Beach City College. If they meet the minimum academic requirements, they’re assured admission to California State University, Long Beach, one of the country’s top regional schools.

This guarantee has been a game-changer for a city whose economy was battered by the closing of the naval base, the decimation of the local aerospace industry and, more recently, the Great Recession. Three-quarters of high school graduates now enroll in college, 10 percent above the national average. Many stay in Long Beach after earning a bachelor’s degree, improving the city’s economy. Early awareness, college preparedness, college access — it’s a strategy worth emulating.

Collaboration starts with 4-year-olds, as Mayor Robert Garcia has made universal preschool for disadvantaged children his top priority. Long Beach City College President Eloy Ortiz Oakley and Long Beach State President Jane Close Conoley have joined the mayor’s fund-raising drive. They understand the long-term value of early education. “We put up a picture of a preschool student,” Mr. Oakley has said. “Then I ask my staff, ‘What are we going to do today to ensure that in 2027 this student will be on the platform graduating?’”

All fourth and fifth graders, together with their parents, tour the local college campuses. “Most of our parents never thought college was a possibility for their kids,” the Long Beach school superintendent, Christopher Steinhauser, points out. “But those visits can change their minds.”

Every high school junior takes an early assessment exam, which few California districts require. Those who fare poorly get a rigorous dose of English and math, giving them the skills needed to satisfy the state universities’ admissions requirements. Going to college is increasingly on these students’ minds. Last spring they signed up for more than 10,000 advance placement exams, a two-year increase of more than 41 percent. This year’s graduates garnered $96 million in scholarships, $40 million more than in 2012.

Collaboration is ubiquitous, with about 200 joint ventures linking the public schools and colleges. Among these are high school courses in Mandarin and ethnic studies, designed by Long Beach State professors.

The university has demonstrated its commitment where it counts most — admission. With more than 56,000 applications, the eighth highest nationally, it could admit a class composed entirely of students with gleaming grade point averages to raise its national ranking. Instead, it keeps a seat for every eligible local applicant. Although they have high school G.P.A.s well below students from elsewhere, they are equally likely to graduate. The same holds true for Long Beach City College transfers, also favored in admissions. This locally focused strategy pays off — the overall graduation rate, 67 percent in six years, is 20 percent higher than that at comparable schools, and the 63 percent graduation rate for poor and minority students is 25 percent higher than at similar institutions.”

The Long Beach Promise is important for two reasons.  One, it illustrates what appears to be a successful partnership between K-12 and higher education.  Second, it may also suggest that the promise of free tuition is not enough but that there has to be a nurturing early on in child’s education to start the process of thinking about a higher education. A last night’s Democrat Party presidential nominee debate, the three candidates (Sanders, Clinton, and O’Malley) all promoted tuition or debt-free higher education.  This would be good policy if ever enacted but it may not be enough to guarantee admission and successful completion of a degree.  There needs to be a personal commitment and connection to achieving a higher education that starts in a child’s early years.  This might be the more important take-away in Long Beach.



Terrorists Attack in Paris:  At Least 120 People Dead!

Paris I

Dear Commons Community,

A series of attacks targeting young concert-goers, soccer fans and Parisians enjoying a Friday night out at popular nightspots killed at least 120 people in the deadliest violence to strike France since World War II. President Francois Hollande condemned it as terrorism and pledged that France would stand firm against its foes.  As reported by the Associated Press:

“The worst carnage was at a concert hall hosting an American rock band, where scores of people were held hostage and attackers ended the standoff by detonating explosive belts. Police who stormed the building encountered a bloody scene of horror inside.

When the attacks were over, eight attackers were dead – seven of them in suicide explosions, one killed by security forces in the music venue, Paris prosecutor’s spokeswoman Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre told The Associated Press.

Ambulances were seen racing back and forth in the area into the early hours of Saturday, and hundreds of survivors were evacuated in police buses. French television said Paris hospitals were overwhelmed with wounded.

News agencies quoted Michel Cadot, head of the Paris police, as saying early Saturday that all the assailants involved in shootings or bombings were believed to be dead, and the Paris prosecutor’s office said that eight attackers were dead, according to The Associated Press.

But the total number involved in the attacks, including accomplices still at large, remained unclear.

“We are going to try and determine what happened, determine what the profiles of these terrorists are, find out what their course of action was, find out if there are still accomplices or co-attackers,” said François Molins, the public prosecutor for Paris.

Within minutes, according to Paris police chief Michel Cadot, another group of attackers sprayed cafes outside the concert hall with machine gunfire, then stormed inside and opened fire on the panicked audience. As police closed in, three detonated explosive belts, killing themselves.

Another attacker detonated a suicide bomb on Boulevard Voltaire, near the music hall, the prosecutor’s office said.

Hollande, who had to be evacuated from the stadium when the bombs went off outside, later vowed that the nation would stand firm and united: “A determined France, a united France, a France that joins together and a France that will not allow itself to be staggered even if today, there is infinite emotion faced with this disaster, this tragedy, which is an abomination, because it is barbarism.”

In addition to the deaths at the concert hall, dozens were killed in an attack on a restaurant in the 10th arrondissement and several other establishments crowded on a Friday night, police said. Authorities said at least three people died when the bombs went off outside the soccer stadium.

All of the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to be publicly named in the quickly moving investigation.

“This is a terrible ordeal that again assails us,” Hollande said in a nationally televised address. “We know where it comes from, who these criminals are, who these terrorists are.”

U.S. President Barack Obama, speaking to reporters in Washington, decried an “attack on all humanity,” calling the Paris violence an “outrageous attempt to terrorize innocent civilians” and vowing to do whatever it takes to help bring the perpetrators to justice.

Two explosions were heard outside the Stade de France stadium north of Paris during a France-Germany exhibition soccer game. A police union official, Gregory Goupil of the Alliance Police Nationale, whose region includes the area of the stadium, said there were two suicide attacks and a bombing that killed at least three people near two entrances and a McDonalds.

The blasts penetrated the sounds of cheering fans, according to an Associated Press reporter in the stadium. Sirens were immediately heard, and a helicopter was circling overhead.

France has heightened security measures ahead of a major global climate conference that starts in two weeks, out of fear of violent protests and potential terrorist attacks. Hollande canceled a planned trip to this weekend’s G-20 summit in Turkey, which was to focus in large part on growing fears of terrorism carried out by Islamic extremists.”

Our hearts are with the people of France!


Paris II

3 Rules for Academic Blogging!

Dear Commons Community,

David M. Perry, an associate professor of history at Dominican University, has an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education advocating blogging as an important academic activity.  He also provides three useful rules for blogging.

“I’ve learned a lot about blogging and how it fits into an academic career…Here’s three lessons for anyone considering building their own space for online writing.

  1. Pick the right platform. I failed to do that twice. ..I began to covet the fancy sites of other writers. So I hired a designer and commissioned a site on Wix, a cloud-based platform that seemed beautiful to me. Although my designer was fabulous, the experience was a disaster. It turns out that supporting a high-volume writer like me is a specific problem for Wix. Each blog post functions as its own page, so sites like Blogger and WordPress, (the one I would probably recommend), are designed to help writers easily manage that volume.
  2. Write whatever you want. Don’t let ideas about propriety or academic silos limit you. My blog has evolved past its original, fairly narrow conception.
  3. Write for the sake of writing. This one is the most important. Because I have been an advocate of academics writing in a broad array of mainstream publications, I routinely field questions from other academics about whether they should start a blog as a pathway to reaching a bigger audience.”

As someone who has been blogging for six years, I second everything David Perry is saying.  First,  the CUNY Academic Commons (WordPress platform) is a pleasure on which to work.  Also, the support that Matt Gold and his staff provide is outstanding.  Second, I originally was going to post only about education technology but found it too confining and now blog on anything that I think might be of interest to others.  Third, I have found that blogging daily has significantly made me a better and more efficient writer.  Writing helps us think more deeply about ideas and issues.  The blog also provides a repository on which I can search for topics that at one time or another stirred my interest. 

Academic blogging is alive and well and worth it!



Google to Make its TensorFlow Artificial Intelligence Software Open Source!

Dear Commons Community,

The emergence of artificial intelligence software is growing significantly and Google wants to be at the forefront of this movement.  As reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education, Google announced it would turn its machine-learning software, called TensorFlow, into open-source code, so anyone can use it.

“We hope this will let the machine-learning community — everyone from academic researchers, to engineers, to hobbyists — exchange ideas much more quickly, through working code rather than just research papers,” Google announced on its website.

Until now, researchers have had access to similar open-source software: Torch, built by researchers at New York University, as well as Caffe and Theano, are also open to everyone. TensorFlow is meant to combine the best of the three, Jeff Dean, a top engineer at Google, told Wired.

“I think it will be extremely widely adopted by researchers and students in universities and in companies,” Christopher Manning, a computer scientist at Stanford University, told The New York Times. After trying TensorFlow, he described the software as better and faster than the alternatives.

But while TensorFlow is now open-source, Google will continue to manage the project, and some researchers question what that level of control might mean.

“This platform will live or die based on how they handle who controls updates to the code,” Gary Bradski, a computer scientist and president of OpenCV, told the Times. “Can the community have a say, or will Google control the official version by fiat?”

The announcement is “part of a platform ploy,” Oren Etzioni, executive director of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, told the Times. Google, he said, is trying to attract developers and new hires to its technology.



Mark Zuckerberg Learns about Public Education in Newark!

Dear Commons Community,

In 2010, Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg made a $100 million donation to the Newark public schools.  In partnership with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and then-Newark Mayor Cory Booker, the goal was to make Newark a national model for turning around urban schools.  Five years later, it is generally acknowledged that while there have been some improvements, Newark cannot in anyway be considered a model.  The Zuckerberg, Christie, Booker public school saga is well documented in a book, The Prize by Dale Russakoff that was published earlier this year.

In a recent Facebook post, Mark Zuckerberg says he’s using lessons learned in Newark about the need for community involvement in his next effort in California.

“It’s very important to understand the desires of a community, to listen and learn from families, teachers, elected officials and other experts,” he wrote. “We now better understand why it can take years to build the support to durably cement the changes needed to provide every student with a high quality education.”

Last year, Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced a $120 million donation to improve education in the San Francisco Bay area, particularly for low-income students.

He said the goal going forward is to work with people across the spectrum, including district schools, charter schools, private schools, teachers, parents, unions and other philanthropists.

“Change in education takes time and requires a long term focus. We are committed to working to improve public education for many years to come, and to improving our approach as we go,” he wrote.

We wish him and his wife success in San Francisco.




President and Chancellor at the U of Missouri Resign Amid Racial Tensions!

University of Missouri Resignations

Dear Commons Community,

The president of the University of Missouri system and the head of its flagship campus resigned yesterday over what faculty and students saw as indifference to racial tensions at the school. As reported in the Associated Press:

“President Tim Wolfe, a former business executive with no previous experience in academic leadership, took “full responsibility for the frustration” students expressed and said their complaints were “clear” and “real.”

For months, black student groups had complained that Wolfe was unresponsive to racial slurs and other slights on the overwhelmingly white main campus of the state’s four-college system. The complaints came to a head two days ago, when at least 30 black football players announced that they would not play until the president left. A graduate student went on a weeklong hunger strike.

Wolfe’s announcement came at the start of what had been expected to be a lengthy closed-door meeting of the school’s governing board.

“This is not the way change comes about,” he said, alluding to recent protests, in a halting statement that was simultaneously apologetic, clumsy and defiant. “We stopped listening to each other.”

He urged students, faculty and staff to use the resignation “to heal and start talking again to make the changes necessary.”

Hours later, the top administrator of the Columbia campus, Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, announced that he would step down at the end of the year.

The school’s undergraduate population is 79 percent white and 8 percent black. The state is about 83 percent white and nearly 12 percent black. The Columbia campus is about 120 miles west of Ferguson, Missouri, where Michael Brown was killed last year in a fatal shooting that helped spawn the national “Black Lives Matter” movement rebuking police treatment of minorities.”

The New York Times coverage of the resignations also commented on other issues that arose in the past year at the University.

Months of student and faculty protests over racial tensions and other issues that all but paralyzed the University of Missouri campus culminated Monday in an extraordinary coup for the demonstrators, as the president of the university system resigned and the chancellor of the flagship campus here said he would step down to a less prominent role at the end of the year.

The threat of a boycott by the Missouri football team dealt the highest-profile blow to the president, Timothy M. Wolfe, and the chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, but anger at the administration had been growing since August, when the university said it would stop paying for health insurance for graduate teaching and research assistants.

It reversed course, but not before the graduate assistants held demonstrations, threatened a walkout, took the first steps toward forming a union and joined forces with students demonstrating against racism.

Then the university came under fire from Republicans for ties its medical schools and medical center had to Planned Parenthood. The university severed those ties, drawing criticism from Democrats that it had caved in to political pressure.

But it was charges of persistent racism, particularly complaints of racial epithets hurled at the student body president, who is black, that sparked the strongest reactions, along with complaints that the administration did not take the problem seriously enough.

Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, said, “Tim Wolfe’s resignation was a necessary step toward healing and reconciliation on the University of Missouri campus, and I appreciate his decision to do so.”

This indeed was a necessary step and indicative of university leadership that failed to act.