Wednesday Reading List: Computational Thinking and When Diversity Becomes Partisan

Laura Pappano of The New York Times looks at schools teaching computational thinking:

It’s obvious that computers have become indispensable problem-solving partners, not to mention personal companions. But it’s suddenly not enough to be a fluent user of software interfaces. Understanding what lies behind the computer’s seeming magic now seems crucial. In particular, “computational thinking” is captivating educators, from kindergarten teachers to college professors, offering a new language and orientation to tackle problems in other areas of life. This promise — as well as a job market hungry for coding — has fed enrollments in classes like the one at Berkeley, taken by 500 students a year. Since 2011, the number of computer science majors has more than doubled, according to the Computing Research Association. At Stanford, Princeton and Tufts, computer science is now the most popular major. More striking, though, is the appeal among nonmajors. Between 2005 and 2015, enrollment of nonmajors in introductory, mid- and upper-level computer science courses grew by 177 percent, 251 percent and 143 percent, respectively.

As the manipulation and representation of data become central to more personal and professional endeavors, computational thinking has moved from a "nice to have" to a "must have." To examine at my own work as an example, I use legitimate math skills once in a blue moon, but I use some element of coding or computational thinking just about every day.

On the not-so-fun side of the educational content spectrum, Linda Wertheimer is in The Atlantic trying to figure out how educators address the rising tide of American White nationalism:

Even during the 2016 campaign, many teachers were afraid of talking about anything related to the election, according to a Southern Poverty Law Center survey, “The Trump Effect, The impact of the presidential campaign on our nation’s schools.” A little more than 40 percent of the roughly 2,000 teachers surveyed said they were hesitant to teach about the election out of concern of backlash from their communities, school administrators, and parents. Those fears have only heightened. In a November survey of 10,000 teachers, also by Teaching Tolerance, the proportion of teachers nervous to teach about the election and the post-election season rose a little higher to 46 percent. “We’re hearing from teachers that they’re afraid to talk in favorable terms about diversity, that they really are afraid of being accused of partisanship now and the line about what is partisan has moved since the election,” said Maureen Costello, the author of the Trump Effect report and director of the Teaching Tolerance project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. The relative newness of the alt-right also makes some teachers leery of teaching about it, Costello and others added.

Teachers. Are afraid. That embracing diversity. Is partisan.

I can understand educators' queasiness about discussing the "Alt-Right" White supremacist movement. To some extent, the more coverage and attention that ideology gets, the more its views become legitimized. However, I find it incredibly demoralizing that the right has essentially weaponized the idea of multiculturalism.

In other news, Jackie Mader of The Hechinger Report looks at differential suspension rates in Mississippi:

In Wilkinson County, Hollandale and Tishomingo County, less than 1 percent of students were suspended from school during the 2014-15 school year. Compare that with Moss Point on the coast, where more than 42 percent of students were suspended that year ... So why do these numbers vary so much? The report says several factors can play a role, including whether a district relies on in-school suspension more than out-of-school suspension, and what behavior a district includes in its discipline policy as deserving of a suspension. Some districts, like the Grenada School District, about 110 miles north of Jackson, for example, specifically state in its student handbook that “academic success is directly correlated with instructional time received by the student,” and the district will use “corrective strategies that do not remove children from valuable instructional time.”

One of the most troubling trends in school discipline is the application of "zero tolerance" policies that punish children for subjective behaviors like "insubordination." In schools with higher suspension rates, you can bet that the vast majority of the suspensions are the result of non-violent behaviors that teachers should be capable of handling without excluding children from schooling.

Finally, Denisa Superville of Education Week finds out that a popular principals' licensing exam is not predictive of performance as an administrator:

The study, which looked at principals’ performance on the School Leaders Licensure Assessment (SLLA) and on-the-job evaluations, student achievement, and teacher surveys, over a 10-year period in Tennessee, also found that non-white candidates were about three times less likely than white candidates to pass the exam. The researchers found that candidates with higher passing scores were more likely to be hired as principals. And because Tennessee has the lowest cut score among the states that use the SLLA, disparities in passing rates for white and non-white candidates could be greater in states that set higher cut scores, said Jason A. Grissom, the lead researcher and an associate professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

Studies consistently demonstrate that neither licensure, nor advanced degrees, can predict the school and/or classroom performance of educators. Given the results of this study, though, licensing exams seem not just superfluous, but perhaps harmful to the project of diversifying the education profession.