Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Computer Science, the Saviors and the Soldiers

On Friday President Obama launched an historic effort to improve computer science education in the United States.  His announcement was a tremendous achievement for the CS education community and for the STEM education community in general. Not only did he lend the weight of his position and intellectual stature to the issue, he declared $4 billion in federal funds to support CS education.  

This is tremendous! 

On Thursday the Superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, Dr. Meria Carstarphan, issued her turnaround plan for one of the troubled clusters of APS.  The plan includes a number of school closures and mergers ostensibly in an effort to protect those schools from being taken over by the state. The move leaves families in limbo, teachers unsure about their future and hundreds of children feeling abandoned by a system that has steadily failed them. I support Dr. Carstarphan’s effort and applaud her leadership, but the reality for the students is the reality for the students.  On Friday, teachers at two of the schools simply walked out. Children were left at the painful center of an adult problem of neglect and abandonment. 

This is criminal!

It is hard for me to reconcile these two coexistent realities.  The charge forward under the moniker “computer science for all” is absolutely essential. How do we make this manifest in school districts that are in a battle for basic survival? What is the effective argument to make to an embattled superintendent like Dr. Carstarphan that would convince her to make CS education a priority? She is engaged in urban educational warfare. She does not need to be convinced that CS education is important.  Rather, she needs the breathing room to be innovative. She does not have the luxury to educate when she’s under the pressure to save.

This is the challenge with CS for all.  It is no different than with any other subject that requires innovation and a move beyond the most rudimentary skills of literacy and numeracy. I am not at all sure about the outcome of this effort, but I am completely convinced that it is a battle worth fighting. For the large numbers of Black and Hispanic students who are settling to the bottom of public education, this battle cannot be more important. Dr. Carstarphan’s fight to save and salvage what she can demonstrates her unyielding commitment to our students. Now the rest of us in higher ed and informal learning spaces have to lock arms with her. Our charge is to make use of the luxury of time and thought that President Obama’s $4 billion buys us. While Dr. Carstarphan wields the sword and leads the charge, we have to be soldiers at her disposal.