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October 27, 2006

A Rant About Salaries

I am beginning to wonder if we will ever successfully address the issues around improving computer science education as long as we fail to grapple with the issue of teacher salaries.

In every conversation I have had with people from business and industry and government, there is a genuine concern with ensuring that we have knowledgeable and well-trained professional teachers in the computer science classroom. Teacher pay, however, is the 800 pound gorilla everyone seems determined to ignore.

In most states, high school teachers now require an undergraduate degree in some area of specialization as well as a teaching certification that takes an additional one to two years to achieve. In many states, provinces, and countries, licensed teachers are also required to write (and pass) praxis exams in their academic area and to maintain a level of on-going professional development. And none of this even takes into consideration what they actually face in the classroom (for example critical shortages of resources, lack of professional respect, large class sizes, students of widely varying abilities to name just a few).

And what do they get for their troubles? Not much. Here is a chart of salaries for high school teachers.

Median Salary by State or Province - Job: High School Teacher (United States)
Median Salary by State or Province - Job: High School Teacher (United States)

And here is a similar chart for computer programmers/analysts (often considered the bottom rung of the conputer science jobs ladder).

Median Salary by Job - Computer Programmer / Analysts (United States)
Median Salary by Job - Computer Programmer / Analysts (United States)

My guess is that until we bring these two more into line (start paying computing teachers what they are worth) great teachers with computing skills are going to continue to find it very difficult to justify their choice to teach.

Chris Stephenson
Executive Director

Posted by cstephenson at 02:14 PM | Comments (13)

October 16, 2006

CS Prepares Students for Workplace Success

CSTA member Greg Lampard from Cherrie Hills Christian School sent me a copy of the recent report published by the Conference Board and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills entitled Are they Really Ready to Work: Employers’ Perspectives on Basic Knowledge and Applied Skills of Entrants to the 21st Century U.S. Workforce.

The report focuses on the skills considered important for success in the workplace. The good news is that all of the employers surveyed agreed that Information Technology Application Skills (with an emphasis on using the correct tools for problem-solving) were very important. The bad news is that high school graduates received only an "adequate" rating on three very important skills: Information Technology Application, Diversity, and Teamwork/Collaboration.

I find this very interesting for two reasons. The first is the extent to which studying computer science in high school supports the acquisition of these three key skills. At its foundation, the study of computer science is the study of problem solving and the selection of appropriate technological tools to solve real-world problems. The second is that computer science educators in K-12 are increasingly using project-based learning to ensure that students learn to plan appropriately, work cooperatively, communicate effectively, and manage time wisely, thus improving the likelihood that their students will be better prepared for today's work world.

What I find especially disturbing, however, is that if current trends continue, it will take very little time for this barely acceptable "adequate" rating to slip to "inadequate". The sad reality is that computer science is increasingly under pressure in K-12 and very much in danger of disappearing altogether.

As far as we can tell, this is happening for four reasons.

1. Schools are increasing the number of mandatory courses that students must take, and because computer science is an elective course, students simply cannot fit it into their schedules.
2. Despite all of the evidence to the contrary (the Bureau of Labor Statistics), students and their parents believe that there are no opportunities for jobs in computing.
3. Schools attempting to meet the requirements of the No Child Left Behind legislation are pulling computer science teachers out of the computing classrooms so that they can teach remedial math and either replacing them with inexperienced teachers or not replacing them at all.
4. There are far too many misguided school officials who have no idea what computer science is, and so mistakenly assume that it lacks the rigor of current math or science courses.

CSTA is working on all of these issues. We are producing policy and briefing documents for school administrators and policy makers. We are developing new sources of careers information and making them available to teachers, school counselors, and students. And we are working with industry folks to help them understand that if students are to graduate with the skills that will make them ready for the workforce, they have to have the opportunity to acquire these skills as part of their K-12 education.

If the authors and organizations behind this report are serious about improving students' preparedness to meet the needs of this globalized 21st Century economy, they need to begin convincing schools that canceling classes in the one discipline that can guarantee that students will acquire these skills is a very bad business indeed.

Chris Stephenson
Executive Director

Posted by cstephenson at 04:03 PM | Comments (2)