Well the good news is that the test scores of New York City public-school students are up this year from last. The bad news is that still barely a third of them passed math or reading tests.
And that’s despite the fact that a number of teachers have been accused of tampering with test scores.
So what should we do? Teach everyone computer science!
That’s Bill de Blasio’s solution anyway. Earlier this week the mayor announced that in 10 years’ time every New York City public high school would be required to offer computer science to all students.
In a remarkable bit of understatement, the New York Times reported, “meeting that goal will present major challenges.”
‘High school is the time when students are supposed to shore up their reading and writing and math skills so that they can be qualified for college”
For instance, who the heck is going to teach it? There is already a shortage of qualified math and science teachers across the country.
And let’s stipulate that the pool of people able to teach computer science is much smaller than those who can teach biology. And then there’s this: What kind of recent graduate with any knowledge of computer science would volunteer to teach in the New York public schools?
They make oodles more money in business and get oodles more respect and opportunities for merit-based advancement in a private or parochial school.
The city plans to spend $81 million it doesn’t have on the program, raising half from private sources. The AOL Charitable Foundation and the Robin Hood Foundation have already made contributions.
You’d think that philanthropists would know better by now than to pour money down the drain of unwieldy public school bureaucracies. Have you guys talked to Mark Zuckerberg about how his Newark gift worked out?
Maybe these tech CEOs who say they want more diversity in their ranks should offer some kind of boot camp program to public school students for credit, something that would involve as little input from the mayor and his minions as possible.
Running such a program internally is bound to be a disaster. Especially in an area like computer science, which is always changing, the New York City Public schools cannot possibly hope to keep up. The equipment will be outdated before it’s even installed. And the kind of knowledge that will actually be useful in the real world is changing constantly.
Yale Professor and tech CEO David Gelernter wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal a month ago, saying that “the thing I don’t look for in a [software] developer is a degree in computer science. University computer science departments are in miserable shape: 10 years behind in a field that changes every 10 minutes.”
He was talking about college graduates. Imagine how much more true this would be of a high school in The Bronx.
De Blasio and his team think that computer science offerings will help prepare students for careers. Gabrielle Fialkoff, the director of the Office for Strategic Partnerships, noted that tech jobs in the city are growing rapidly. “I think there is an acknowledgment that we need our students better prepared for these jobs and to address equity and diversity within the sector as well.”
But the notion that our high schools — with the exception of strictly vocational ones — prepare you for a career is a bill of goods the city likes to sell its less educated parents.
A number of years ago, a girl I mentored told me that she planned to attend the John Jay High School for Law because she wanted to become a lawyer and her middle school guidance counselor told that school would start her down the right path.
When I explained that to be a lawyer, you needed to go to law school and in order to go to law school you needed to go to a good college and in order to go to a good college you had to learn a lot in high school and that John Jay was one of the worst in the city, she and her immigrant mother looked flabbergasted.
High school is the time when students are supposed to shore up their reading and writing and math skills so that they can be qualified for college or some other kind of vocational training.
But like most big cities, New York has failed miserably at this, at least judging by the test scores and the abominable graduation rates.
Since de Blasio knows that our schools will never teach kids the basics well without some kind of fundamental reform — which would involve pissing off the teachers unions — he will just offer parents some neat-sounding extras to distract them. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.