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Monday, December 9, 2013

NYC DOE Will Spend $1 Million To Train 120 Teachers in Computer Science and Coding

Teachers Tell Us How to Fix Science and Math

A middle school math class in Chippewa Falls, Wis., on Oct. 18, 2013.
There was some good news today for New York City high school students interested in computers — the city’s Department of Education announced it would spend $1 million in public and private money to train 120 teachers in computer science and coding. Dozens of new computer science classes taught by newly trained teachers will open in high schools across the city next fall, and Chancellor Dennis Walcott said they would eventually expand to elementary and middle schools.
That’s exactly the kinds of hands-on exposure to real-world jobs that is lacking in thousands of school districts across the country. As the first editorial in our science and math seriesnoted on Sunday, only 19 percent of American high school students have taken a computer science course. Many students who might have excellent coding abilities are never exposed to the subject, missing out on promising career paths.

That’s often because teachers themselves have no idea how to write a computer program. Many educators who commented on the editorial said they wanted better preparation for the math and science courses they teach.
“I know firsthand that underprepared teachers is a HUGE issue,” wrote Beth Z., a math teacher in Alaska. “We have a ‘math’ teacher right now who majored in HISTORY. How do you get people who major in mathematics to go into teaching? The job is often thankless and quite stressful. Plus, other people are always telling you how to do your job.”
Including, obviously, editorial writers. But you don’t have to be a professional pontificator to know that teacher preparation is incredibly important. More than half of the 6.7 million high school students studying physical sciences are learning from teachers who didn’t major in those subjects, as the editorial noted. A lesser percentage are learning math from teachers who didn’t major in math, or who aren’t certified to teach it.
“Ideally, every child would be trained by someone knowledgeable in the field,” wrote Kris C., an educator from Middleton, Wis. “This should stretch down to elementary as well, as my son had some misleading and damaging experiences as deep math concepts were poorly or inaccurately explained.”
But some teachers pointed out that a major or a certification is no guarantee of excellence in the classroom. A.W., who is getting a post-graduate degree in elementary education in North Carolina, said that some of his fellow students are less than impressive. “Unfortunately, most of my cohort can hardly keep up with elementary mathematics,” he wrote. “I am shocked at the low intellectual capacity of my cohort. And these are graduate students. Most of them can hardly solve the problems, and most are reporting that they would rather teach lower grades than have to teach fractions, decimals, probability, and hands-on equations.”
And many commenters made the familiar arguments that only higher pay will attract better teachers, or that they are being driven away by the cult of the standardized test.
The dialogue, though, was stimulating and intelligent, and the special design of the comments section on this series allows readers to see responses to each section of the editorial, and to sort them by the background of the writers. Some of the most interesting comments, in fact, came from students, who are often the most knowledgeable about what it takes to get them interested. We invite you to spend time reading through the comments, and to add your own as the series continues for the next two weeks.