New Technology & Education
By Sybil Maimin
New technology is changing our society rapidly, but New York City public schools have not kept up with the revolution. In the City, fewer than 10 percent of schools offer computer science classes and only 1 percent of students take advantage of these programs. Tech education has gone through swings in New York State with introduction of innovative courses in the 1980’s and 90’s, followed by a downturn and just a patchwork of programs as new standards and testing requirements put greater emphasis on traditional areas of study. Technology has been grouped with science and mathematics education but has had to fight for attention against its more well-known partners. In 2010, Commissioner David M. Steiner outlined to the New York State Board of Regents a Statewide Learning Technology Plan. The mission was “to develop policies, recommend practices, advocate for resources and create incentives for action that turns our vision into reality. . . All students will access learning materials in electronic form, including video, text, and other digital content related to the school curriculum. Students will create work, define and solve problems, and research and evaluate information using technology.”
In September, 2015, in a major speech on education reform, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that within 10 years all city public schools will be required to offer computer science to all students. Computer science will not be a graduation requirement and middle and high schools can choose to offer it as an elective. The goal is for all students, at all levels, to have some exposure to the technology. DiBlasio declared, “Computer science education is literacy for the 21st century. When you do find students in computer class, they’re learning word processing or typing when they should be learning how to code.” Even in elementary school, a program like Scratch, developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, can teach young children the rudiments of coding. The mayor, who is intent on meeting the challenge of growing income inequality, hopes graduates can benefit from the enormous increase in the City’s tech industry which grew 57% from 2007 to 2014; DiBlasio envisions good job prospects and better futures for local students equipped with computer skills. In addition, broad-based computer education could bring greater diversity to the tech industry whose current demographic is 70 percent male and 61 percent white. In New York City, as elsewhere, students who choose to take computer science are mostly male, and white or Asian. Of the 738 City students taking the Advanced Placement test in computer science in 2014, 29 percent were female, and 19 percent were black or Latino.
The main hurdle to offering computer science to all students is the dearth of teachers in the field. Di Blasio speaks of training five thousand instructors in ten years. Some might teach computer science as a separate course while others, especially in elementary grades, might train to incorporate the skills into the broader curriculum. Another obstacle is lack of state certification in computer science; the state will have to develop a certification program in the subject. The cost of the program, $81 million over 10 years, has been strongly criticized by the mayor’s political foes. The City, which hopes to raise half the amount from the private sector, has already received some contributions.
Two other major American cities have made strong commitments to computer science education. Chicago is making a year-long computer science class mandatory for graduation by 2018, and San Francisco is offering the subject from prekindergarten through high school with required classes through eighth grade. #