Outlier Research & Evaluation interviewed 11 school district leaders in six regions (Broward County, Charles County, Denver, New York City, Seattle, and Spokane) in Winter 2015. The interviews focused on learning about the leaders’ experiences with Code.org, including the supports for, and barriers to implementing computer science courses, though several of the districts only offered high school CS courses at the time of the interview; and whether and how they plan to sustain computer science initiatives in the long term. Additionally, district leaders were asked how Code.org could further support their efforts.
All of the leaders asked (8 of 11) attributed their focus on computer science to Code.org’s efforts in the district. They explained either that their computer science programs would not exist today or that they would be significantly smaller without Code.org’s help. One interviewed leader said,
I would've focused my efforts elsewhere…I would've got more bang for my buck focusing on other [non-CS] programs if I didn't have Code.org helping out.
Leaders spoke about the challenge of defining the type of course credit that CS courses would count for. As one leader said:
Really our obstacles have been with the state in terms of getting the course number aligned to a math and science credit, and we don’t have that quite yet…and seeing how this pathway is going to move either through an academic pathway or through a career tech pathway, or maybe options for both.
With regard to the district, leaders described the challenge of the financial cost of maintaining the physical infrastructure needed to offer CS courses. One leader said, “If tomorrow, all of the schools that wanted to, [began] implementing a 1:1 or even a 4:1 student to device ratio, we would be unable to sustain it. There is just a lack of infrastructural capacity.” Another spoke of the money needed simply to teach the ECS courses they’re currently committed to teach. More specifically, she reported that she wasn’t anticipating the cost of the robots, saying that they “need hundreds of these robots, which [were] $400 each.” She suggested that perhaps grant opportunities through Code.org could offset some of this cost for districts that don’t already have funding in place to support infrastructure.
District leaders spoke about CS education in terms of a comprehensive pathway from kindergarten to 12th grade. As one leader said, “The goal for the district is that in 5 years we’d have a K12 plan where students would be able to have access and experience with CS beginning in kindergarten.” Another said the district was “trying to get every student to have exposure to CS…at least in K12. They [should] know that computer science is a field and a possibility for them.” And still another said, “we’re putting together a pathway that incorporates CS and information technology…we’re working on a whole digital literacy parallel with computer science in K8…then at one of our high schools we also offer computer networking and some things like that.”
All district leaders reported that their district aimed to keep CS education going, even after their partnership contracts with Code.org expire. For example, one leader reported that they had been “pretty strategic” about which teachers they’d sent to trainings and which teachers they’d asked to become facilitators, so that “if Code.org were to leave, we would be able to piece something together locally.” Another said, they were in the process of integrating CS into “all levels of the curriculum” over the next three years of their contract with Code.org, so that “it’s actually in there to stay and that it fits with what people are doing.” The leaders spoke very positively about both their own and others’ desire to continue this work. One leader said, “I think there's a strong commitment from senior leadership, and certainly a strong interest at the school level, that this is something that we will continue beyond the formal partnership agreement.” Notwithstanding their positive intentions, all of the districts reported that long-term plans for sustaining CS comprehensively across their districts had not been formally discussed in the district.
One district leader reported that neither students nor counselors were sufficiently aware of computer science courses and careers related to computing. She said,
Many students have a tendency to choose courses that either won’t hurt their GPA, that will be ‘fun’ or that are something their friend is taking…we need to get that turned around…[and] make sure students really understand that these classes in CS will lead them to post-secondary and career opportunities that make a big difference.
She went on to say that ultimately, she thought this was “a communication piece with counselors, some teachers, and parents, as much as it is with kids.” Some suggested that Code.org might disseminate their message at professional organizations for teachers and counselors to educate them about computer science.
District leaders recognized that their communities would need to invest in their CS programs. They identified industry and university partners as particularly important. One leader said that industry partners and universities could help districts identify the skills and knowledge students would need after high school to be successful in their post-secondary endeavors. They also reported that students would need to have opportunities to participate in career trips, job shadows, and internships, so that “student don’t just take the class but can see where this type of course would lead.”
Leaders also mentioned financial support as needed to sustain CS education in their districts. One leader proposed that community partnerships could be forged to fund equipment. This leader considered not only the need for computers, but also future needs that may not be covered by investments districts are making currently; “Right now we're talking about a computer for every kid...What happens if the conversations switches to a robot for every kid?”
One leader summed up concerns and expectations about sustaining new efforts well:
I think a lot of times in education they'll have someone come in, typically grant funded, that is a dump and run. We're going to come in, we're going to drop this product for you, and you're going to use it. Then it's going to be great and everything is going to be awesome from then on. Those are not the things that have sustainability in education. I don't care where you are in the nation or the world. Someone’s coming in saying, ‘This is the best thing ever. It's an epiphany or breakthrough.’ If it's not viewed as ongoing with PD and new training and innovation, it will disappear when someone else comes in with their big idea.