Every dollar devoted to computer science education should be spent on professional development for teachers, said Hadi Partovi, the founder and CEO of Code.org.
That includes “100 percent,” he said, of the $200 million the Trump administration has directed the U.S. Department of Education to spend on STEM and computer science programs each year.
Partovi, in Maryland on Monday to deliver a keynote address at the State Educational Technology Directors Association’s (SETDA) Leadership Summit, spoke with EdScoop about his vision for the administration’s pledged computer science funding and about how state and edtech leaders can do their part in bringing computer science to “every kid in every school.”
If it were up to him, Partovi said, Congress would approve new funding for computer science programs — a request made but not granted under the Obama administration — rather than the Education Department use preexisting funds to prioritize computer science when awarding competitive grants. Nevertheless, he said, the computer science funding unlocked under Trump’s STEM directive should go toward professional development for teachers.
“Not because other things aren’t necessary, but because most of those other things fall into place once you focus on the professional development for teachers,” he said at the event in the National Harbor venue.
Professional development for teachers has been proven to be the most cost-effective method for expanding access to computer science. It costs about $2,000 to train one teacher, but those teachers can go on to teach hundreds of students. That’s a great value, Partovi said, especially compared to the high costs of building and equipping a computer lab that can accommodate a whole classroom of students.
Plus, the technology, though it can certainly help students learn to code, does not provide a computer science learning experience as effective as an instructor can, said Partovi, citing Code.org data.
“[Professional development] is such a relatively inexpensive way to give every student the opportunity,” he said.
Partovi said that between 10,000 to 20,000 teachers are joining Code.org’s online learning platform each month. The platform is free to schools, thanks to underwriting support from a number of technology companies and foundations.
But Partovi stressed that in addition to the ability to make coding — and learning — fun, Code.org has also attracted a much more diverse audience — including girls, minorities and lower-income students — to the world of computer science.
Though Partovi has been “pretty closely involved” in informing the administration about the state of computer science in American schools — a relationship that began in December, when he reached out to the presidential transition team about the “trillion-dollar opportunity” that is coding — he said he does not have any insight about how the new computer science funding will be allocated or awarded.
Still, he said there are plenty of things that educators can and should be doing to keep computer science education moving forward.
With technology nearly ubiquitous in schools today, many schools are finding that they have lots of new devices and applications but no plan for what to do with it or how to implement it effectively.
“While we’re changing infrastructure for teaching, we should also change the curriculum,” he said. “That means changing not just how we teach, but changing what we teach.
Think about it like this, he said during his keynote: Every school teaches about the digestive system, electricity and the Pythagorean theorem, knowing full well that not every child will go on to become a surgeon, an electrician or a mathematician. “It’s part of learning how the world works,” he said. “In this day and age, learning how an algorithm works or how the internet works is equally important.”
Later, in an interview, he expanded on that idea.
“I’m not saying we should stop teaching math or stop teaching English, but if you’d start from scratch deciding what kids learn today, computer science would be on that menu for sure. There is no question.”
For SETDA members and affiliates — as well as others working on behalf of their states — establishing computer science standards can be an important first step, as can establishing teacher certification pathways for computer science teachers. Thirty-one states have already changed their policies and begun embracing computer science, Partovi said.
It’s also helpful to secure computer science funding from state legislatures and to designate a state computer science specialist who can advocate for computer science programming and education.