Thursday, December 07, 2017

Taking a second look at the learn-to-code craze

I must say that the craze puzzles me.  From all I have seen serious coding in languages like C and its derivatives is only possible for perhaps the top 2% or 5% in IQ.  And for them it soon becomes a doddle.  As Jesus said in another context, "For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away" (Matthew 25:29, ESV).

In my decades of experience as a statistical analysis programmer, I have met a lot of other programmers and all have had the bright eyes that only high IQ gives.

I actually have form as a teacher of coding. In my academic career, I once tried to teach a sociology class at a major university the FORTRAN language.  As far as I could tell, by the end of the semester none of them had actually "got" it.  And they would have been fairly bright.

I would like to see evidence that a person of average IQ can code productively -- or at all -- but until I do I think I will rather reluctantly have to believe the Left-type explanation below

Over the past five years, the idea that computer programming – or “coding” – is the key to the future for both children and adults alike has become received wisdom in the United States. The aim of making computer science a “new basic” skill for all Americans has driven the formation of dozens of nonprofit organizations, coding schools and policy programs.

As the third annual Computer Science Education Week begins, it is worth taking a closer look at this recent coding craze. The Obama administration’s “Computer Science For All” initiative and the Trump administration’s new effort are both based on the idea that computer programming is not only a fun and exciting activity, but a necessary skill for the jobs of the future.

However, the American history of these education initiatives shows that their primary beneficiaries aren’t necessarily students or workers, but rather the influential tech companies that promote the programs in the first place. The current campaign to teach American kids to code may be the latest example of tech companies using concerns about education to achieve their own goals. This raises some important questions about who stands to gain the most from the recent computer science push.
Old rhetoric about a ‘new economy’

One of the earliest corporate efforts to get computers into schools was Apple’s “Kids Can’t Wait” program in 1982. Apple co-founder Steve Jobs personally lobbied Congress to pass the Computer Equipment Contribution Act, which would have allowed companies that donated computers to schools, libraries and museums to deduct the equipment’s value from their corporate income tax bills. While his efforts in Washington failed, he succeeded in his home state of California, where companies could claim a tax credit for 25 percent of the value of computer donations.

The bill was clearly a corporate tax break, but it was framed in terms of educational gaps: According to a California legislative analysis, the bill’s supporters felt that “computer literacy for children is becoming a necessity in today’s world” and that the bill would help in “placing needed ‘hardware’ in schools unable to afford computers in any other way.”

Kids Can’t Wait took advantage of Reagan-era concerns that Americans were “falling behind” global competitors in the “new economy.” In 1983, a U.S. Department of Education report titled “A Nation at Risk” warned that the country’s “once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world.” The report’s authors blamed the American education system for turning out graduates who were underprepared for a fast-changing, technology-infused workplace.

Over the past 30 years, the same rhetoric has appeared again and again. In 1998, Bill Clinton proclaimed that “access to new technology means … access to the new economy.” In 2016, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith described the Obama administration’s coding initiative as an “ambitious, all-hands-on-deck effort to get every student in America an early start with the skills they’ll need to be part of the new economy.”

While technology is often framed as the solution for success in a globalized labor market, the evidence is less clear. In his 2003 book “Oversold and Underused: Computers in the Classroom,” education researcher Larry Cuban warned that technology on its own would not solve “education’s age-old problems,” such as inequitable funding, inadequate facilities and overworked teachers.

Cuban found that some educational technology initiatives from the 1990s did help students get access to computers and learn basic skills. But that didn’t necessarily translate into higher-wage jobs when those students entered the workforce. However, the equipment and software needed to teach them brought large windfalls for tech companies – in 1995 the industry was worth US$4 billion.

Under pressure

If computers in schools didn’t work as promised two decades ago, then what’s behind the current coding push? Cuban points out that few school boards and administrators can resist pressure from business leaders, public officials and parents. Organizations like the CS For All Consortium, for example, have a large membership of education companies who are taking advantage of funding from state legislatures.

A huge boost comes from the tech giants, too. Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and others are collectively contributing $300 million to the Trump administration’s new federal initiative – no doubt seeing, as The New York Times observed, the potential to “market their own devices and software in schools as coding classes spread.”

This isn’t always the best deal for students. In 2013, the Los Angeles Unified School District planned to give Apple iPads to every student in every school – at a cost of $1.3 billion. The program was a fiasco: The iPads had technical problems and incomplete software that made them essentially useless. The fallout included investigations by the FBI and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and a legal settlement in which Apple and its partners repaid the school district $6.4 million.

However, tech companies are framing their efforts in more noble terms. In June 2017, Microsoft president Brad Smith compared the efforts of tech industry nonprofit to previous efforts to improve science and technology training in the United States. Recalling the focus on scientific research that drove the Space Race, Smith said, “We think computer science is to the 21st century what physics was to the 20th century.”

Indeed, tech companies are having a very hard time hiring and retaining software engineers. With new concerns about restrictions on visas for skilled immigrant workers, the industry could definitely benefit from a workforce trained with public dollars.

For some tech companies, this is an explicit goal. In 2016, Oracle and Micron Technology helped write a state education bill in Idaho which read, “It is essential that efforts to increase computer science instruction, kindergarten through career, be driven by the needs of industry and be developed in partnership with industry.” While two lawmakers objected to the corporate influence on the bill, it passed with an overwhelming majority.
History repeating?

Some critics argue that the goal of the coding push is to massively increase the number of programmers on the market, depressing wages and bolstering tech companies’ profit margins. Though there is no concrete evidence to support this claim, the fact remains that only half of college students who majored in science, technology, engineering or math-related subjects get jobs in their field after graduation. That certainly casts doubt on the idea that there is a “skills gap” between workers’ abilities and employers’ needs. Concerns about these disparities has helped justify investment in tech education over the past 20 years.

As millions of dollars flow to technology companies in the name of education, they often bypass other major needs of U.S. schools. Technology in the classroom can’t solve the problems that budget cuts, large class sizes and low teacher salaries create. Worse still, new research is finding that contemporary tech-driven educational reforms may end up intensifying the problems they were trying to fix.

Who will benefit most from this new computer science push? History tells us that it may not be students.


U.S. schoolchildren tumble in international reading exam rankings, worrying educators

And their performance will continue to worsen until the Leftist grip on education is prised away.  The Left WANT dumb citizens  -- easier to manipulate

The United States tumbled in international rankings released Tuesday of reading skills among fourth-graders, raising warning flags about students’ ability to compete with international peers.

The decline was especially precipitous for the lowest-performing students, a finding that suggests widening disparities in the U.S. education system.

The United States has traditionally performed well on the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, an assessment given to fourth-graders in schools around the world every five years. In 2016, however, the average score in the United States dropped to 549 out of 1,000, compared to 556 in 2011. The country’s ranking fell from fifth in the world in 2011 to 13th, with 12 education systems outscoring the United States by statistically significant margins. Three other countries roughly tied with the United States; they  scored higher, but the differences were not ­notable.

“We seem to be declining as other education systems record larger gains on the assessment,” Peggy G. Carr, acting commissioner for the federal government’s National Center for Education Statistics, said during a news conference Friday. “This is a trend we’ve seen on other international assessments in which the U.S. participates.”

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos weighed in on the scores in a tweet Tuesday: “Our students can’t move ahead – in school or in life – if they’re falling behind in reading. We must do better for students, parents & educators. We must #RethinkSchool,” she wrote. DeVos’s visited several charter and private schools in the fall on a tour she dubbed “Rethink School.”

The international exam was given to 4,400 U.S. fourth-graders who composed a nationally representative sample. The United States was outscored by countries and school systems that typically score well on international assessments, with Russia, Singapore and Hong Kong topping the list. But it was also surpassed by Latvia, one of the poorest countries in the European Union. Meanwhile, Poland and Norway leapfrogged ahead of the United States.

The report adds to a worrisome body of evidence that academic achievement is stagnant or slipping among U.S. schoolchildren. Fourth-graders and eighth-graders continued to lag behind their counterparts in Asian countries in math and science, according to another international exam administered in 2015. That same year, high school seniors showed unchanged results in reading and slipping scores in math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, an exam given every two years. Reading scores on that test for fourth-graders remained unchanged and dropped for eighth-graders.

“This is kind of an international confirmation that something may be going on in the United States where our academic performance — which, generally speaking, was going upward — may have stopped,” said Tom Loveless, a nonresident senior fellow who studies education at the Brookings Institution, a think tank.

Carr noted that the worst-performing students posted the largest losses on the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study test, suggesting U.S. schools should do more to improve achievement among their most challenged students. The average score for the bottom 25 percent of students fell from 510 to 501 points from 2011 to 2016.

“Other education systems seem to be doing a better job of moving students from lower levels of achievement to higher levels of achievement,” Carr said.

Students in schools with higher free- and reduced-lunch rates, a rough proxy for poverty, also performed worse than the average. Black and Hispanic students lagged behind the national average, while Asian students outperformed all other groups.


What American School Districts Can Learn From How Israel Successfully Rotates Its Superintendents

Superintendent quality trickles down to school-level results such as standardized test scores and school climate, according to a new study on the Israeli education system published by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The paper is part of a growing strand of research examining management quality in public schools, and it contributes to the debate over district leaders’ true importance in the United States.

How Districts Are Joining the Fight to Close a Troubling Training Gap Among America’s School Leaders

Conducted by Israeli researchers, the study takes advantage of the country’s practice of regularly rotating schools in superintendents’ portfolios every 3 to 5 years. While district leadership assignments in many countries are largely non-random — the most experienced and effective administrators may be placed in particularly challenging areas, or else choose a plum role in an affluent community elsewhere — Israel’s superintendents have new schools assigned to them as veterans retire or are promoted.

The authors estimate that the average school experiences a superintendent change every 5–6 years. In most instances, the country’s ministry of education simply transfers a retiring superintendent’s entire group of schools — usually around 15 — to a new leader. This shuffling, the authors argue, means selection bias played no role in their results.

For an indicator of school quality, the study uses Growth and Effectiveness Measurements for Schools (GEMS) data from 2002 to 2005. GEMS includes standardized test data in Hebrew, English, and math for fifth- and eighth-graders, along with surveys of staff morale and student well-being. With the exception of religious Orthodox and Arab schools, each primary and middle school in the country is measured every two years, so the four-year data set gave the authors a window into two rounds of assessments.

The authors also ranked superintendents’ “value added” by measuring academic achievement at schools that remained under the same superintendent for the duration of the experiment and at schools that switched to new superintendents during that time.

The study’s conclusion: Being assigned to a more effective superintendent meaningfully benefited a school’s academic performance. Test scores rose incrementally as superintendent quality improved, with the effects visible in students on either end of the socioeconomic divide.

“Schools with higher quality superintendents are more likely to address school climate, violence and bullying, and implement interventions that lead to lower violence in school and higher social school satisfaction among students,” they write, directly comparing the reduction of violence and bullying in schools with especially engaged superintendents to the “no excuses” philosophy of American charter schools.

The results come at a time when the importance of school and district management is being reconsidered and traditional educational structures have come into competition with new challengers. Some researchers have pointed to collaborative networks of schools in New Zealand and the United Kingdom as a model for American reformers.


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