[Edu-sig] Significant drop in CS interest in high schools

kirby urner kirby.urner at gmail.com
Fri Aug 28 01:44:41 CEST 2009

On Thu, Aug 27, 2009 at 3:56 PM, Jeff Rush<jeff at taupro.com> wrote:
> wesley chun wrote:
>> AP CS Courses (and Students) on the Decline, CSTA Survey Finds
>> This spring, the 2009 CSTA National Secondary Computer Science Survey
>> collected responses from some 1,100 high school Computer Science
>> teachers. The results: only 65 percent reported that their schools
>> offer introductory or pre-AP Computer Science classes, as compared
>> with 73 percent in 2007 and 78 percent in 2005. Only 27 percent
>> reported that their schools offer AP CS, as compared with 32 percent
>> in 2007 and 40 percent in 2005. And 74 percent offer CS content in
>> courses other than introductory or AP CS, down from 85 percent in
>> 2007.
>> "The continuing drop in students taking AP CS is a serious
>> warning sign about the state of computing in this country, as a
>> student taking AP typically indicates his or her interest in majoring
>> in that field in college or pursuing a career in that area," said
>> Chris Stephenson, executive director of the Computer Science Teachers
>> Association.
> I'm not involved in the education industry so I'm having a slight logic
> disconnect with this article.

Per my recent meeting with some pro teachers at Sherwood High School
on August 7, myself and Lindsey representing ISEPP (isepp.org), the
politics are thus:  in Oregon State, three years of high school
mathematics are mandated by law, and this has traditionally meant
something called "algebra" upon entering high school, and something
called "geometry" the year following, leaving the third year somewhat
up for grabs.

Enter computer science teachers, already at a huge disadvantage
because their subject is "elective" whereas the math teachers have
this legal mandate to enforce three years of their discipline, or the
degree might be denied.

Solution:  make a digital math offering that fulfills the State's 3rd
year requirement, competing with Stats and/or Trig or whatever
students take after Algebra, Geometry.

> The title implies that students are not -choosing- to major in CS but
> the body talks about fewer schools -offering- the classes.  I'm not
> clear to what degree students influence the offering of classes versus
> school leadership deciding that.  Is this more a perception of viability
> issue among management or students?  Or perhaps a problem with schools
> not being able to supply teachers that can teach it, and thereby
> dropping classes?

My view is a kind of hyper-specialization run amok somewhat paralyzed
the system from making real change, to where a sort of para- and/or
quasi- legal infrastructure, including home schooling and militant
parent led alternative schools within the public system (charters or,
in Portland, schools within schools), was needed to goad the balance
into adopting similar changes.  It's basically the usual bell curve of
early adopters, then the bulge, then the laggards.  The traditional
"bandwagon" effect.

The upshot is we're looking at a gradual displacement of the
calculator generation textbooks with the newer Litvins style
textbooks, whether PDF or dead tree or Amazon reader, is for another
thread (already completed?).

> Maybe CS needs a good PR campaign, showing how fun it is, how it
> directly impacts the qualify of life for society and how empowering it
> is to understand and be able to take control of the technology around
> us.  It also is one of the cheapest fields in which to get started as
> everything you need is free - software tools, online books, video
> classes.  You don't need organizational permission to participate like
> you do with many majors like nuclear physics (my original major) or
> medicine and it doesn't even require expensive/messy raw materials like
> electronics, chemistry or biology.  Instead you work with the stuff of
> dreams, in an air-conditioned clean environment!

This is all good, and whatever the CS folks come up with, we can rip
off and use to recruit for our digital math pilots, be these single
courses or gateways.

The reason I say gateways is kids increasingly enter high school
already knowing quite a bit of the algebra/geometry stuff, e.g. our
geek Hogwarts Winterhaven placed freshman directly into math-intensive
chemistry, with moles 'n shit, and the kids did OK, just out of middle
school.  So that leaves room for green field development i.e. we don't
hafta wait 'til some "third year" to start with the digital
mathematics (aka discrete, concrete, post-analogy, computer-based, or
whatever community standard).

> I didn't know about the Computer Science Teachers Association and I see
> they have a very nice website.  Thanks for the tip -- I'll be checking
> it out as I feel for the democratization of society we definitely need
> more people working on computers.  Computers (being amplifiers of
> thought mostly for those who program them) are the only tool developed
> by Mankind that has such immense power to enslave society if left in the
> hands of a few.  Just look at the information sieving and social
> monitoring facilities springing up around us.

Well said.  We either control them, or we let our misleading fantasies
about them, born of ignorance, control us.

Here's some more of that CS / math hybrid I'm talking about:



> -Jeff
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