Jake Baskin has devoted his entire adult life to computer science education.
For a few years, he taught computer science at a high school with Chicago Public Schools. More recently, he had been working at Code.org to expand access to and implement comprehensive computer science programs in over 100 school districts nationwide.
Now, he’ll continue that work as the new executive director of the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), a decision announced Thursday.
With 70 chapters and more than 25,000 members across the United States, the CSTA not only promotes computer science education, it also advocates for and empowers K-12 computer science teachers — with a focus on elevating educators from historically underrepresented backgrounds.
Before he takes the post on Feb. 5, EdScoop had a chance to catch up with Baskin about his recent accomplishments at Code.org and priorities for his first year at CSTA.
EdScoop: First of all, congratulations on the new position. I’m sure your brain is abuzz with ideas for your first year at the helm of the CSTA. Could you start by sharing with us one or two items at the top of your agenda in 2018?
Jake Baskin: Thank you, I can’t wait to jump into the role. I’m going in with an open mind, and look forward to hearing from our membership about what’s most important to them.
Walking into a local CSTA meeting my first month as a high school computer science teacher was a life-changing experience. It was my first year in the classroom and I was struggling with everything a new teacher struggles with, but I was also a department of one, without colleagues to help plan lessons or share knowledge. The Chicago CSTA chapter was my lifeline to a citywide computer science department, with great ideas about new curriculum, professional development and camaraderie. Thanks to that group, I started teaching my students the amazing Exploring Computer Science curriculum, and met national leaders in the CS education space.
Over the last few years, tens of thousands of teachers have taken on new computer science courses, and the truth is many identify more with the specific curriculum they teach than the larger CS education community. I hope to build a unified message that the CSTA is the home for all CS teachers — a home that is developed by teachers and focused on the needs of teachers.
ES: We continue to hear, from edtech leaders and state advocates, that a lack of teacher training and professional development opportunities is the greatest barrier to expanding computer science education. As the new leader of CSTA, how will you begin to address this challenge?
JB: There are two clear ways that CSTA will help address this challenge. First, CSTA can act as the hub that highlights and connects teachers to the wide variety of high-quality professional development programs available for teachers interested in becoming computer science teachers. Second, professional development can’t be a one-time thing. Our annual conference and local chapters provide high-quality continuing professional development to support computer science teachers of all experience levels in refining their craft. We’ll be placing a bigger emphasis on convenings and continual learning in the year to come.
CSTA also released updated standards this past summer, and these should act as guideposts to schools, districts and states as they define what a high-quality computer science education looks like for their students.
ES: You are joining CSTA from Code.org, mostly recently as the Director of State Government Affairs. Could you describe one project or initiative you led there that you’re particularly proud of?
JB: I’m most proud of my work with over 100 school districts across the country to implement K-12 computer science programs, including in the nation’s seven largest districts. I got to work directly with district leadership to address the challenges I faced as a classroom teacher myself, like addressing misconceptions of who should take computer science courses with principals and counselors. A highlight of that work was with our incredible partners in Broward County, Florida, who over the past four years expanded the number — and diversity — of students participating in computer science courses and curriculum each year from 240 students to more than 50,000 students.
I’m especially proud of this work because it’s provided proof to other schools and districts that they can successfully add computer science courses. Now it’s up to school and district leaders across the country to step up and make sure all of their students have access to this foundational knowledge.
ES: What other experiences and expertise did you gain from Code.org that you hope to bring to your new role?
JB: In my roles at Code.org, I was able to work directly with principals, district leaders, policymakers and industry representatives to expand access to computer science education. Because of that experience, I understand the perspectives of all of the stakeholders involved in this work and will continue to bring them all together toward the goal of best supporting computer science teachers.
ES: As you mentioned, you are a former high school computer science teacher. Can you tell us what that was like, and how your firsthand experience as a teacher informs your work today?
JB: Teaching high school computer science remains the most exhilarating and challenging job I’ve had. I know well the day-to-day challenges teachers face, from the nightmare of installing new software on school computers to anxiously recruiting students so that your program isn’t eliminated. Most of all, I remember how lonely it can be as the sole computer science teacher in a school. I needed a community to share ideas with and was lucky enough to have the Chicago CSTA chapter. I can’t wait to make sure every CS teacher across the country has the same opportunity.
ES: Computer science education has been getting a lot of attention recently, between funding pledges, state legislation and a heightened awareness of the skills gap. What advice would you offer educators who are wondering what it is they can be doing this year to continue the upward trend?
JB: If you’re a classroom teacher, check out some of the amazing resources and professional development available and try it out! Then join your local CSTA chapter or start a new one! You’ll be able to tap into a community that’s been supporting computer science teachers since before CS Education Week or the Hour of Code existed.
To school and district administrators, I’m sure you have strong teacher leaders that are ready to take this on (or are already doing it)! When I think about the biggest successes over the last few years, they’ve all been thanks to incredible teachers taking a risk and looking out for their students. Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s first CSforAll movement, is a perfect example of what a dedicated cohort of computer science teachers (and CSTA members) can do to expand CS in the nation’s third largest school district.