How can computer science not be state graduation requirement?

compsci2Feb. 20, 2013

By Chris Reed

The reports earlier this month that the state will no longer require eighth-graders to take Algebra 1 and allow them instead to take a somewhat less rigorous course covering algebra touched off a minor flap between those who saw this as dumbing-down standards and those who noted that the less rigorous course was better preparation for new state standardized tests.

But what’s needed is a far broader debate on the wisdom of having high-school graduation requirements that largely reflect the thinking of the mid-20th century.

This is the official California Department of Education list of the 13 year-long courses that students must complete to graduate:

* Three courses in English;

          * Two courses in mathematics, including one year of Algebra I (EC Section 51224.5);

* Two courses in science, including biological and physical sciences;

* Three courses in social studies, including United States history and geography; world history, culture, and geography; a one-semester course in American government and civics, and a one-semester course in economics;

* One course in visual or performing arts, foreign language, or commencing with the 2012-13 school year, career technical education. For the purpose of satisfying the minimum course requirement, a course in American Sign Language shall be deemed a course in foreign language;

* Two courses in physical education, unless the pupil has been exempted pursuant to the provisions of EC Section 51241

Suppose this year we saw a California commission start from scratch in assembling a list of mandatory courses for high school graduation. It would have faced near-universal incredulity from any bright person of any age and everyone under 30 if the list didn’t include a year of computer science.

‘Veneration’ for past or devotion to teacher status quo?

Computers are so central to work, society, our personal lives and more that it is hard to fathom that computer science isn’t a mandatory emphasis of K-12 public education. In an April 2011 joint interview with retiring San Diego State University President Stephen Weber, I asked him about the insanity of not requiring computer science and whether he shared my view that graduation standards were badly outdated.

weber3“Absolutely. One of the frustrations of my life is that it’s so hard to move embedded systems. I can’t imagine anybody if you sat down with a blank piece of paper that would invent the high school curriculum that we have now,” said Weber, who won high marks for turning SDSU into the star of the CSU system and a place with a stronger freshman class than several UC campuses.

Weber credited the inertia to what he called the “strange human veneration for what was done in the past.” Yet there is another reason why California high school graduation rules reflect the values of the Golden State of the Eisenhower and Kennedy years: Changing graduation requirements threatens to put not just a few thousand but tens of thousands of teachers out on the streets.

This is not far-fetched. This is how teachers unions think. Even after the evidence grew overwhelming that bilingual education was a failure that handicapped many students, teachers unions in the Northeast fought bitterly for the retention of the programs. What was best for students wasn’t their priority.

If California high school students were required to take one yearlong computer science program to graduate, that’s a lot of displaced teachers. If state high schoolers were required to take two — which is the strong recommendation of highly successful Del Mar high-tech entrepreneur and school activist Michael Robertson — the displacement would be immense.

But whether the mandate is for one year or two years of computer science, it would be good for kids, good for California, good for America. Everybody seems to agree about the need to promote STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — education. Yet few seem to connect this desire for a highly capable STEM workforce with the option of using high-school graduation mandates to promote such a workforce.

When I interviewed Weber in 2011, I asked the San Diego State president about the game-changing “A Nation at Risk” report issued by a federal commission in 1983 that kicked off the education reform movement with this instantly famous description of the U.S. school system: “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”

Weber said he was deeply frustrated that resulting reforms failed to live up to the vision outlined in the report.

‘Nation at Risk’ report touted computer science requirement — in 1983

And what did “A Nation at Risk” grasp was critical in 1983 that still eludes California educators and leaders 30 years later? The importance of computer science and a technologically literate workforce.

The report called for a half-year of computer science to be a high school graduation requirement. The 1983 status quo of limited emphasis on science, technology and math was unacceptable, the authors warned:

“These deficiencies come at a time when the demand for highly skilled workers in new fields is accelerating. … Computers and computer-controlled equipment are penetrating every aspect of our lives . … Technology is radiaclly transforming a host of … occupations. They include health care, medical science, energy production, food processing, construction, and the building, repair and maintenance of sophisticated scientific, educational, military, and industrial equipment.”

steve-jobs-iphone-apple.handoutIf all this was obvious in 1983, it is 1 million times more obvious in 2013. And yet instead of making computer science a high school graduation requirement, here’s what the state that gave the world Silicon Valley, the iPhone and so much more frets about: what sort of algebra class to make students take.

In so doing, California joins Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and West Virginia on the list of the 41 states that do not allow computer science to count toward completing high school math or science graduation requirements. Supply your own punch line — at least if you’re not too depressed about the latest confirmation of the horrible stewardship of our leaders.

10 comments

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  1. Hondo
    Hondo 20 February, 2013, 09:57

    By lowering the standards, Kali raises the test scores. Waa la, more federal money.
    Hondo….

    Reply this comment
  2. The Modified Ted Steele Methodologies (tm)
    The Modified Ted Steele Methodologies (tm) 20 February, 2013, 13:00

    Yeah true that– Thanks George Bush for the stupid no child left behind test worship paradigm!!

    Reply this comment
  3. us citizen
    us citizen 20 February, 2013, 13:20

    Wow!!! I had to have those classes in Junior High/Middle School…………..what the F !!!!
    No wonder kids are dumber than rocks now.
    As for no child left behind……..you didnt pass the class…..you stayed behind. Period. What is so bad about that? Oh, got your feelings hurt? Well then study and stop being a goof off.
    Calif has some of the dumbest kids on earth and there is no excuse for that. Oh wait…….many are illegals from third world countries and dont care. All they do is hold back the others.
    CA start thinking and stop being so PC

    Reply this comment
  4. Sean Morham
    Sean Morham 20 February, 2013, 14:08

    This is not a shot to any fellow posters, just a thought. Yes, California has some really dumb kids. They are the spawn of a a whole lot of adults that are really f)%*ing stupid. If the adults were oriented to reading, study, intelligent discussion, instead of dumbing TV, worship of celebrity,you name the mindless puruit, perhaps the “dumber than a rock kids” would be a bit more impressive.

    Reply this comment
  5. fish
    fish 20 February, 2013, 17:20

    Yeah true that– Thanks George Bush for the stupid no child left behind test worship paradigm!!

    The legislation was proposed by President George W. Bush on January 23, 2001. It was coauthored by Representatives John Boehner (R-OH), George Miller (D-CA), and Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Judd Gregg (R-NH).

    A veritable rogues gallery of stupid! Try again Teddy!

    Reply this comment
  6. BobA
    BobA 21 February, 2013, 07:48

    Sean Morham:

    I’m a California native and facts are facts so you’ll get no argument from me.

    I recall going into a MacDonalds 2 years ago and ordering a fish sandwich and a large order of fries and gave the girl behind the counter a 20 dollar bill. Her cash register quit working so she had to get the manager to do the math to give me my change back!! I have no doubt that she was a HS dropout.

    Here where I live there is a local radio talk show host who goes out in public and asks random people simple questions. It’s rather shocking to find out:

    a- the number people who don’t know that there are 3 branches of government.
    b- the number of people who have never read the constitution.
    c- the number of people who are unaware of the size of the US debt.

    This is disturbing to say the least and it gets worse.

    Our children are getting dumber and dumber and the US is falling behind the rest of the world in science & engineering education and basic literacy. Some will dispute this but facts are facts and the preponderance of evidence bares this out. Go to any institution of higher education and visit the science and engineering classes. You will see mostly students from China and India with a scattering of American born students.

    It’s not just our kids who are getting dumber but America as a whole. Today’s moron will be tomorrow’s genius if our education system continues it’s current rate of deterioration.

    Reply this comment
  7. The Modified Ted Steele Methodologies (tm)
    The Modified Ted Steele Methodologies (tm) 21 February, 2013, 08:01

    You’re right BobA— the sky is falling.

    Those fries will kill ya little buddy.

    You said “todays morn will be tomorrow’s genius”—- So I guess there is hope for you?

    Reply this comment
  8. The Modified Ted Steele Methodologies (tm)
    The Modified Ted Steele Methodologies (tm) 21 February, 2013, 08:35

    BobA– I am worried about our little buddy Rex the Poodle— Could you go next door to his trailer and check on him? Do you think he got arrested?

    Reply this comment
  9. The Modified Ted Steele Methodologies (tm)
    The Modified Ted Steele Methodologies (tm) 21 February, 2013, 08:49

    Wait BobA—- I remember—- i think the Poodle was taking his annual vacation. Every year he goes out to Baker to have a meal at BunBoy and see the Worlds Tallest Thermometer ™.

    Reply this comment
  10. ms. right
    ms. right 21 February, 2013, 16:00

    It will get even worse when the Federal standards Common Core are adopted by school districts because a little financial incentive is added.

    Reply this comment

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