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Elective Status Creates Chaos for Courses and Students

By Ron Martorelli

A recent experience brought to us by a school within our local CSTA chapter drives home some of the unusual difficulties we have in developing Computer Science programs in our high schools.

It seems that seventeen students chose to enroll in a Visual Basic course and twelve students enrolled in a C++ course for the 2010-2011 school year. These are elective courses which, in this school, require a minimum enrollment of twenty five students. The department chairperson was advised that neither course would run because there were too few students.

"But wait", said the chairperson, "how can we cancel these courses when we have twenty nine students interested in programming?" A meeting was arranged with the principal. The chairperson proposed meeting with the students to determine if they would be interested in a combined course, sort of an introduction to programming? The principal agreed to give it a try.

The chairperson sent an email to the guidance office, asking that counselors not reschedule these students until the meeting. "Too late", replied the guidance office. We were told yesterday that the classes wouldn't run and we had to reassign the students.

Two student show up to talk to department chair. One is distraught. He wants to study computer science when he gets to college and his high school counselor has switched him to a sports medicine class. Another student with similar interests complains that she was assigned to a photography course instead of the computer science course she chose. So the department head goes back to the principal and explains what happened. "Ok", says the principal, "if you can get the students to agree we can change the schedules again and run the course".

Now comes the paperwork. The scheduling administrator requires that each student have a change of schedule form signed by a parent by the end of the week (two days). Do you know how hard it is to get teenagers to bring a form back home and back in a timely manner?

So far, twenty two forms have been returned. No decision has been made about the course yet.

This is just so frustrating and I am wondering just how common it is that our students get denied an opportunity to take computer sciences courses because of this kind of bureaucracy.

Have things like this happened in your school as well?

Ron Martorelli
CSTA Board of Directors


Oh yeah. I've seen this picture, and I know how it ends. Actually, I have a pretty good relationship with Guidance, which is the only reason that my courses have survived to this point, frankly.

I also have a pretty good relationship with the Administration who believe (or, at least a critical minority believe) that Computer Science (not necessarily "programming") brings something valuable to the table.

All that having been said, given the sustained effects of the No Child Left Alive law on the Public Schools, unless Computer Science courses are re-aligned with traditional mathematics or science departments, they will certainly vanish. Or, I should say, they will vanish in my school, which is predominately well-to-do with a highly educated parent community.

What? Does this last statement confuse you? Well, I find that highly educated, wealthy parents tend to bring a bottom-line mentality to the registration/enrollment equation:

1) take no course that doesn't contribute to a graduation credit
2) prefer an honors or AP course to any other similar course
3) promptly remove a student from any elective course upon their receiving any grade lower than an "A"

And that's it, in a nutshell. Now, as CS is rapidly losing any graduation credits (to the extent that it offered any), it has become marginalized with other elective courses. Why should a student who's focus is on getting into a competitive college risk a course that doesn't promise an A?

Now, no matter how well I get along with Guidance, that's the reality.

Again: Bundle CS with Mathematics or Science or face extinction---at least in the Maryland Public Schools. I teach in Maryland, where CS was bundled with Technology Education, until the Tech Ed people lobbied the lawmakers to change the regulations to exclude anything but their courses. Guess who lost that battle?

Best of luck.


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