Is Computer Science Education Suffering from a Communication Breakdown?

A recent USA Today article revealed a surprising disconnect between parents and school administrators on the importance of teaching computer science. While parents are near unanimous on the importance of computer science education, school principals are not hearing this message--very few of them believe there is much demand from parents for more computer science classes. These findings come from a large study conducted by Gallup and Google.

“In the works for 18 months, the survey, called "Searching for Computer Science: Access and Barriers in U.S. K-12 Education," polled 15,000 people ranging from students to superintendents.

Among key and contrasting findings: while 90% of parents see computer science, or CS, as "a good use of school resources" (and 67% say CS should be required learning alongside other core classes), fewer than 8% of administrators believe parent demand is high. They also cite a lack of trained teachers as a top barrier to offering CS courses. Three quarters of principals report no CS programs in their school.”

It’s understandable that principals would be slow to acknowledge the computer science wave. They have relied on a familiar model for decades, based not on employer needs so much as broad, conceptual skills. However, the marketability of coding skills shouldn’t disguise their value to all students--it’s not just a job focused skill-set. Programming teaches logic, creative problem solving and the ability to zoom in and out between conceptual design and granular details, among other life skills. Our graduates frequently note that a valuable skill they acquire from Hack Reactor is not just a specific technology, but “learning how to learn”.

There is a growing push to introduce computer science to kids. Photo credit: Jim Sneddon, CC License.

Furthermore, the ability to work effectively with computers and software is useful on some level to just about everyone, and, yes, does matter to a growing range of careers. It’s no secret that young adults who reach 18 with a strong background in computer science have a distinct advantage over those who do not.

Another possibility is that given the need for more qualified computer science teachers, administrators are hesitant to acknowledge the demand for computer science classes until they have a solution ready to be implemented. In the meantime, parents and students have relied on alternative options, such as Mission Bit, a program started by a Hack Reactor grad to teach computer science to grade school kids. We have worked with Mission Bit on several specific initiatives. If parents and principals could get on the same page, it’s likely that there would be broad support for more teacher training initiatives. The San Francisco Unified School District recently embarked on such a program with partner school Telegraph Academy’s help.

The administrators surveyed by Gallup and Google may feel that they are the last defenders of a hallowed institution, but the reality may be that the schools most willing to acknowledge how the world has changed will be the most robust going forward.

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