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Barriers to More CS Teaching and Learning in Schools

Many of us spend a lot of time trying to convince those around us (colleagues, school administrators, district leaders, politicians, etc.) of the importance of computer science education for all students. I have certainly staked much of my identity to doing just this, and I know many readers of this column are the same way.

If you're like me, you've also wondered why it is so hard to show people something that seems so a priori obvious: that computers and digital technology have changed the world so profoundly that for the foundational knowledge that makes this technology possible to affect education in something besides a superficial fashion is inconceivable.(1)

Thanks to recent efforts like those of Code.org the public view of computer science, or at least technology education in schools, seems to be shifting from the view that mere exposure and access to technology (the "if you build it, they will come" model) is some kind of magic bullet that will make students "better with computers." As educators, we know that increasing and improving both the teaching and learning of CS is going to be essential if we are to truly meet our nation's need for computer science talent. But, what exactly needs to be in place for that to happen?

The results of a study just released by the University of Chicago's Center for Elementary Math and Science Education (CEMSE) and Urban Education Institute might help shed some light on the necessary supports needed, and what the barriers are to providing quality computer science education learning opportunities for students. The CS in Schools report builds off the results in the Teacher Capacity Survey which surveyed nearly 800 CS teachers, with in-depth interviews with both administrators and teachers. In interviews, both teachers and administrators signaled that misconceptions about computer science, low prioritization of computer science as a course, and limited availability of CS teachers are three huge barriers to providing CS opportunities to our students.

In addition to these three common barriers, teachers also identified two other challenges they face: isolation and lack of instructional materials. Interestingly school administrators identified another: the competition CS courses face "against" other courses in their schools. Teachers and administrators both agreed on the importance of teacher professional development. And teachers also identified the five other important supports: professional networks, online resources, school-provided materials, support from universities, and student interest.

Read more and hear responses from teachers and administrators in their own words here. Do these barriers and supports to ring true to your school?

Baker Franke
CSTA Leadership Cohort Member

(1) This is almost a verbatim quote from John Dewey who was struggling with similar changes brought about by the industrial revolution 100 years ago. See: John Dewey. "The School and Social Progress." University of Chicago Press (1907): Chapter 1: The School and Society. pp 20-21.
University of Chicago Laboratory High School (Chicago, IL)

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