cracking the code

How Hillary Clinton wants to make computer science courses available to every kid in America

PHOTO: Denver Post
Secretary Hillary Clinton visited Galvanize in Denver.

During a campaign swing Tuesday through Denver, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton rolled out a technology and innovation platform that includes greater investments in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, education.

In a visit to the Galvanize tech training and co-working space, Clinton stressed a commitment to ensuring that “every student in America — no matter what ZIP code that student lives in — gets the chance to learn computer science before they graduate high school.”

Here are a few K-12 specifics from Clinton’s Initiative on Technology and Innovation, which you can read in full here.

  • Clinton proposes building on the Obama administration’s “Computer Science Education for All” initiative, doubling the investment in the government’s $120 million Investing in Innovation (i3) program, including a 50 percent set-aside for computer science education. The idea is to support efforts to scale successful instruction and lesson programs.
  • Another initiative would seek to expand the pool of computer science teachers through recruiting new teachers and giving more training to existing ones, with the goal of creating an additional 50,000 teachers in the field over the next decade. To pay for it, her administration would commit federal financial aid, assistant to professional development programs and support for private-public partnerships.
  • The Clinton Education Department would provide grants to support states, cities and charter schools on a number of initiatives. Among those mentioned were developing innovative schools, redesigning high schools to focus more on STEM, building higher education and private sector partnerships, and supporting so-called “makerspaces.” Denver’s DSST charter school network, in the midst of a significant expansion, gets a shoutout in the Clinton plan as a model of innovation.

Of course, proposals are just that and often run into political and financial headwinds. As Education Week noted, it’s unclear whether expanding the i3 grant program — now overhauled and called Education Innovation and Research grants under the nation’s new education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act — will find favor with Congress.

Making computer science courses available to all is an ambitious goal.

Though nine in 10 parents want their children to learn computer science, just one in four schools teach it, according to Code.org, a nonprofit advocating for expanding access to computer science, especially for young women and minority students. (The organization has worked with Denver Public Schools and the Douglas County School District).

New York City is working on a plan to eventually give all students access to computer science education. Earlier this month, officials there announced an expansion of the program to elementary schools.

In Colorado, a number of efforts are underway to promote increased STEM and computer science opportunities.

The Longmont-based St. Vrain Valley District is considered a leader in STEM education. The district has won both an i3 grant and $16.6 million in Race to the Top money for initiatives primarily serving low-income students of color.

The district has focused significant effort on Skyline High School — where it established a STEM academy — and its feeder schools. Skyline is home to one of the state’s first Pathways to Technology and Early College (P-TECH) schools, which was made possible by a 2015 state law and involves a partnership with IBM and Front Range Community College.

Students graduate with both a high school diploma and an industry-recognized associate degree, gaining job skills along the way.

“We really felt like we could break the cycle of poverty, and also allow students to have a very focused career path,” said Patty Quinones, the district’s assistant superintendent of innovation.

Most Colorado students don’t get those kind of opportunities. And racial and economic disparities are jarring.

Consider one yardstick — Advanced Placement courses and exams in computer science, one piece of STEM:

  • Just 661 Colorado high school students took the Advanced Placement computer science exam in 2014-15. Only 57 were Hispanic and only 18 were black. More than 80 percent of the students who took the exam were boys.
  • Just 55 schools — or 15 percent of Colorado schools with AP programs — offered the AP Computer Science course in 2014-15.

One legislative effort to advance computer science opportunities in Colorado fell short this year. House Bill 1291 would have added technology skills to the state’s existing content standards and provided grants for educators seeking additional training in computer science, among other things. The bill died in a Senate committee in the session’s waning days.

Scott Laband, president of Colorado Succeeds, an education-focused business group that backed the legislation, said a similar effort is likely to return next year.

Laband said efforts to bolster STEM and computer science ought to create multiple pathways for students, recognize the value of internships and apprenticeships, and inspire students to envision bright futures.

“We always talk about, ‘You cannot be what you cannot see,'” he said.

newark notes

In Newark, a study about school changes rings true — and raises questions — for people who lived them

PHOTO: Naomi Nix
Park Elementary principal Sylvia Esteves.

A few years ago, Park Elementary School Principal Sylvia Esteves found herself fielding questions from angst-ridden parents and teachers.

Park was expecting an influx of new students because Newark’s new enrollment system allowed parents to choose a K-8 school for their child outside of their neighborhood. That enrollment overhaul was one of many reforms education leaders have made to Newark Public Schools since 2011 in an effort to expand school choice and raise student achievement.

“What’s it going to mean for overcrowding? Will our classes get so large that we won’t have the kind of success for our students that we want to have?” Esteves recalls educators and families asking.

Park’s enrollment did grow, by about 200 students, and class sizes swelled along with it, Esteves said. But for the last two years, the share of students passing state math and English tests has risen, too.

Esteves was one of several Newark principals, teachers, and parents who told Chalkbeat they are not surprised about the results of a recent study that found test scores dropped sharply in the years immediately following the changes but then bounced back. By 2016, it found Newark students were making greater gains on English tests than they were in 2011.

Funded by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and conducted by Harvard researchers, the study also found the reforms had no impact on student math scores.

And while many Newark families and school leaders agree with the study’s conclusion — that students are making more progress now — they had very different ideas about what may have caused the initial declines, and why English growth was more obvious than math.

Supported by $200 million in private philanthropy, former superintendent Cami Anderson and other New Jersey officials in 2011 sought to make significant changes to the education landscape in Newark, where one third of more than 50,000 students attend privately managed charter schools. Their headline-grabbing reforms included a new teachers union contract with merit-based bonuses; the universal enrollment system; closing some schools; expanding charter schools; hiring new principals; requiring some teachers to reapply for their jobs; and lengthening the day at some struggling schools.

Brad Haggerty, the district’s chief academic officer, said the initial drop in student performance coincided with the district’s introduction of a host of changes: new training materials, evaluations, and curricula aligned to the Common Core standards but not yet assessed by the state’s annual test. That was initially a lot for educators to handle at once, he said, but teacher have adjusted to the changes and new standards.

“Over time our teaching cadre, our faculty across the entire district got stronger,” said Haggerty, who arrived as a special assistant to the superintendent in 2011.

But some in Newark think the district’s changes have had longer-lasting negative consequences.

“We’ve had a lot of casualties. We lost great administrators, teachers,” said Bashir Akinyele, a Weequahic High School history teacher. “There have been some improvements but there were so many costs.”

Those costs included the loss of veteran teachers who were driven out by officials’ attempts to change teacher evaluations and make changes to schools’ personnel at the same time, according to Sheila Montague, a former school board candidate who spent two decades teaching in Newark Public Schools before losing her position during the changes.

“You started to see experienced, veteran teachers disappearing,” said Montague, who left the school system after being placed in the district’s pool of educators without a job in a school. “In many instances, there were substitute teachers in the room. Of course, the delivery of instruction wasn’t going to even be comparable.”

The district said it retains about 95 percent of its highly-rated teachers.

As for why the study found that Newark’s schools were seeing more success improving English skills than math, it’s a pattern that Esteves, the Park Elementary principal, says she saw firsthand.

While the share of students who passed the state English exam at Park rose 13 percentage points between the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years, the share of students who were proficient in math only rose 3 percentage points in that time frame.

“[Math is] where we felt we were creeping up every year, but not having a really strong year,” she said. “I felt like there was something missing in what we were doing that could really propel the children forward.”

To improve Park students’ math skills, Esteves asked teachers to assign “math exemplars,” twice-a-month assignments that probed students’ understanding of concepts. Last year, Park’s passing rate on the state math test jumped 12 percentage points, to 48 percent.

While Newark students have made progress, families and school leaders said they want to the district to make even more gains.

Test scores in Newark “have improved, but they are still not where they are supposed to be,” said Demetrisha Barnes, whose niece attends KIPP Seek Academy. “Are they on grade level? No.”

Chalkbeat is expanding to Newark, and we’re looking for a reporter to lead our efforts there. Think it should be you? Apply here.  

Who Is In Charge

Indianapolis Public Schools board gives superintendent Ferebee raise, bonus

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Lewis Ferebee

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Lewis Ferebee is getting a $4,701 raise and a bonus of $28,000.

The board voted unanimously to approve both. The raise is a 2.24 percent salary increase. It is retroactive to July 1, 2017. Ferebee’s total pay this year, including the bonus, retirement contributions and a stipend for a car, will be $286,769. Even though the bonus was paid this year, it is based on his performance last school year.

The board approved a new contract Tuesday that includes a raise for teachers.

The bonus is 80 percent of the total — $35,000 — he could have received under his contract. It is based on goals agreed to by the superintendent and the board.

These are performance criteria used to determine the superintendent’s bonus are below: