One reason we have so much engineering and so little computer science taught at US high schools.

Mark Guzdial wrote a great blog on October 28, 2013 on his excellent Computing Education Blog entitled “A Theory for why there’s so little CS Ed in the US”.

In the second section entitled “Why is there so little computing education in US High Schools”  he talks about Engineering Education Research as an example to support his hypothesis on reasons for the lack of Computer Science Education Researchers (CER).

At the end of that paragraph, he states

“Engineering has a significant presence in K-12 education today.”

While this is true, has the increase in engineering education research in the last twenty years led to the increase in the presence of engineering in K-12 education? Indeed most of us in K-12 hardly ever deal with educational researchers for any reason.

I think the reason is that groups like Project Lead the Way (PLTW) offer an “off the shelf” high quality program, vetted by engineers.  The attractiveness of this is that the school and students get access to a number of well-written up-to-date courses and they also get access to intensive professional development for teachers who want to teach a particular PLTW course.  Teachers must not only take but also pass the two-week intensive summer course before being allowed to teach a particular course.  There is regular monitoring of schools in terms of offering a minimal 3-course sequence of engineering courses and evaluating how well these courses are being taught.

In computer science we have really never had such a program available.  The AP is not such a program.  If a school wants to teach a computer science course, they have to find a teacher who is willing to put together a course syllabus, and then teach that course.  (For AP, the course must be audited for fidelity).  There really isn’t any professional development required to teach any kind of computer science course in most states.

So if a principal wants to expand his/her school’s  academic elective offerings and is shown the PLTW complete program versus creating a computer science program from the many resources out there, which one is that principal going to pick?

Even though there is a substantial cost for PLTW, in most cases this is paid for out of Carl Perkins funds, so in most cases, the principal will take the easy route and take complete program.  This happens again and again at schools in the Milwaukee area, some of which had pretty exciting computer science programs until most were cut for a variety of reasons.  PLTW fits well into CTE.  Computer science has most often chosen to avoid CTE, so the Perkins money goes with PLTW.

We have a start:  the Exploring Computer Science with it’s great, free curriculum and excellent PD.  However even this doesn’t go far enough – the curriculum doesn’t require that teachers get the PD, so there is no way to know if schools teaching Exploring CS are teaching it with fidelity.  This is exactly opposite the PLTW model where teachers are required to follow the curriculum.

Some years ago I mentioned the PLTW model to “higher powers” dealing with CS education and was ignored.  Now that PLTW is piloting their complete curriculum for the APCS Principles course with their required PD and their regular evaluation, perhaps more will take notice of this model.

I’m sure PLTW is already considering additional computer science courses at the high school level and computer science experiences at the middle school level.  All will have high quality curriculum, PD and monitoring as part of their model.  This may not be the total answer (it is expensive), but certainly moves toward a high quality computer science experience for high school students that we all crave.

(For the record, I am not associated with either PLTW or Exploring Computer Science).


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One Response to One reason we have so much engineering and so little computer science taught at US high schools.

  1. Pingback: One reason we have so much engineering and so little computer science taught at US high schools. | ACM Inroads | Computing Education Blog

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