American Schools Need Way More Than an Hour of Code

The “Hour of Code” that has swept America off its feet this week is fine and all, but what happens after that hour? America children are wonderful consumers of technology, apps, devices, and screens. It is generally not until high school that they may encounter a sustained experience in programming skills. The topic is rarely visible in the middle schools and practically completely non-existent in the elementary schools. Sure, there are pockets of success here and there, but even within districts that may say they teach these skills to students there is no uniform curriculum for it. One class does it while the neighboring class doesn’t.

Here’s why the American approach is both outdated and dangerous: learning to code teaches you how to think. That is hard to visualize if you’ve never coded. Programming helps develop design and problem-solving skills that are foundational for later academic success. Rewriting spelling words 3x in ABC order doesn’t do that. Nor does monotonous skill-n-drill math homework sheets. Our approach of avoiding, rather than embracing, programming skills is dangerous because we are risking leaving an entire generation of would-be-coders behind. Young children are actually interested in this. They love seeing how things work, how to make them move, and how to deliver commands. Their inquisitive minds are ripe for these experiences. Instead, we are focusing more on other more testable skills like close-reading and break apart math. While those may be necessary as well, it should not be at the expense of learning a vital skill to the world economy right now and in the future. These stand alone hours and days (I call them ‘side-shows’) are really useless. It might pique a child’s interest in the topic, but then what? Can they continue coding on school time? Can they get a loaner laptop from the school to take home and continue coding? Can they skip a math worksheet if they can make the purple alien fly across the screen instead? What is the point of what we are doing now with programming in schools and what goals or problems are we looking to solve? Right now, I believe we are just looking to check the box as more of a PR stunt; “Do your students code?” Yes. We have computer science week because American schools don’t yet see the value in getting ALL students to learn to program. Add the fact that there is no standardized test for it and you can piece together why we’ve failed our children to date.

According to the the recent joint ACM and CSTA report, “Running on Empty”: “In 2009 and 2010, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) conducted a joint study and found that most public schools in the U.S. focus only on the consumer aspects of using computers.”

Meanwhile, here’s a sampling of what schools in the rest world are doing.

In Estonia, the new programming initiative is looking “to turn children from avid consumers of technology into developers of technology.”

In England, the entire computer technology curriculum was redeveloped so students as young as 5 are learning programming skills in the classroom and algorithms. No need for a hour of code there and some fancy posters and political photo-ops.

In Hong Kong, they are looking to have programming taught in at least 20% of the primary schools by 2016.

Even in tech-rich Singapore, they are starting to move towards teaching the little ones how to program. For years, they’ve been like American kids and viewed as just consumers of technology.

There are thousands upon thousands of programming jobs right here in America. A recent search for just one term (computer programming) returns over 58,000 job listings in just one job listing site. Change the search term to app programming, mobile programming, software developer or any other relevant combination and you will find thousands upon thousands of openings. Many of these won’t be filled by Americans. At what point to we seriously look at ourselves and ask why? The American job market has been dubbed as being in bad shape, but improving. All along thousands of ‘high-tech’ positions have remained open and there for the taking. Our society wasn’t ready to fill the need. Our society was (is) still looking for the job descriptions of the 1980s. Will we allow this to happen again in the next version of the worldwide digital revolution? Will our young students be able to develop and create ‘things’ like this:

Forget the hour of code. Really. Do your students and children a favor and give them hours of meaningful coding instead. Weave it into daily school activities. Encourage them to spend less time tapping away at Angry Birds and more time figuring out what makes the birds fly.

Get your students and children learning programming with these resources:
Scratch  and ScratchJr
Move the Turtle
Learning to code while playing Minecraft


All I Can Do to Say Thanks

Thank you to my online friends and followers for putting up with my education posts and not all blocking me, unfriending me, or unfollowing me. At least, not yet.

Whether you had your kids refuse testing or not, or if you discussed it with family and friends or not, today was one of the greatest days in parent activism this nation has ever seen, led by knowledgeable and concerned NY parents.

Last year it was estimated between 1000-1200 refused the tests on Long Island out of nearly 215000 who could be tested. Today, we are over 15000 refusers and still counting out of 204000 possible test takers. My home district, where my son was only one of 3 in his whole building last year, topped out at 1398 refusers, 20% of test takers. His school had 32 this year. These numbers will go up in 3 weeks when the math exams are thrown at these kids. There were massive numbers in many districts. Numbers so high the tests are completely invalid and these kids are “More Than a Score.”

Consider this: no other nation over-tests their kids, especially their youngest and most vulnerable (those with special needs), every year from grades 3-12 with countless hours of high stakes exams. None. We stand alone in abusing these kids, hammering their confidence, and killing their creativity all so we can “evaluate their teacher”. Actually, so we can find a way of labeling them ineffective all because these kids could not sit for 540 minutes of high pressure exams. Almost every other nation simply tests students entering high school (or vocational school) and exiting. No, not us.

LI Principal Carol Burris, Education Historian Diane Ravitch, and CW Post Professor Arnold Dodge can sum up this movement much more eloquently than I can. Please read their thoughts here and here and here respectively.

So, one of the many points of this movement was not to coddle our kids, teach them to rebel against authority, nor shake up the schools this week. It was to send a message to Albany. A clear and loud message to NYS Education Commissioner John King and our Governor Andrew Cuomo: You refused to hear us for 2 years, now deal with us. And look what breaking news we have today. Low and behold…it’s our Governor with a “deal.”

Now, Cuomo plans Common Core changes for teacher evaluations

Oh and PS: just watched him on ch 5 news and he said the tests will not count for students and it will be good practice for them. I don’t even think he can make that decision. So, the kids now know it means $&@” and will not care how they do. How could he possibly allow that to be part of teacher evaluations. What a mess!!!!

Go Ahead and Get the PARCC Testing Experience

Ok, you want to get a sense of what is coming in perhaps just two years in New York? Take a glimpse at the online based PARCC testing system developed by Pearson called TestNav8. As you go through the tutorial understand that 8/9 year olds will use this to take the spring state tests. The state put PARCC implementation on hold (NYSED’s favorite term) for one year. It is being field tested this spring and probably next fall and other states are already moving towards it.

In your mind think about taking these tests on pencil/paper and computer based (or tablet based with an external keyboard.) First thing that comes to mind for me: in school computer labs there are no kid sized keyboards. Typing anything of length is a challenge for them because of it and based on sample questions I’ve seen so far, there is a chance the students will be typing their long responses in a very small text editor where they can’t see the majority of their paragraphs on the screen. Add to this, the simple sound of keyboard tapping and we have an entirely new testing environment that was previoulsy devoid of outside sounds.

PARCC description of this tutorial: “This tutorial should be used to familiarize students with how to navigate the TestNav 8 computer-based environment (advancing, going back, tool bar, embedded supports and accommodations).”

Here is the site to check on a regular computer, not from a phone. The questions are not PARCC type questions. You can find some of those at this link.

Once again, we don’t even have short term studies from our state that indicate how students take tests differently on pencil/paper v. computer based testing (CBT). You’d need results from probably five years worth of tests that are half administered old way and half new way. Same test, different methods. Did it take more time on CBT or less? Were scores close to one another or not? What did students say about CBT? Teachers? Not just a one test, spring pilot. They are simply piloting this to check the tech end of things. The state will plow ahead with the “all in” approach instead of a gradual phase-in…again. I’d argue that the pencil/appear results from this year should not even be compared to future CBT.

Think about student erasing content/answers/their work. Easy in pencil world. On computer how many times does someone make a mistake in the beginning of a line and try to erase it only to erase the entire line. That could easily frustrate CBT’ers since they have a great chance at wiping out more work. The simple new distractions the online test brings to the screen are enough to distract a kid. There are two areas to work on math problems, turning ruler on and off, the reading guide on and off, changing color of the screen, and more.

Read more on the PARCC testing samples here at Chris Cerrone’s recent post on this topic. How about the potential for nealry 18 weeks of computer based testing under PARCC? Read more here.

The PARCC cost estimate is $29.50 per student, up from the current NY cost of around $15 per student (while I’ve seen a few posts online estimate the current NY costs, I have yet to find mention of it from NYSED.) The cost estimate does not include technology infrastructure and equipment upgrades necessary to deliver and administer the test. NY will be asked to come up with an estimated $30+ million more just to administer the test with districts having to come up with millions more to technologically prepare their schools. Also, PARCC is offering the test in paper-and-pencil format for an additional $4 per student in the first year.

Let’s hope PARCC remains permanently on hold. I want my kids to start using tech in schools to create, communicate, collaborate, not take tests.

What About the “Dirty Jobs?”

Dear New York State Education Commissioner John King,
Not everyone is career and college ready. Just ask Mike Rowe. At least, not the careers you are thinking of.
Dirty Jobers
Everyone watches a reality show now and then and that’s okay. What do you watch? I watch Deadliest Catch, American Pickers, Storm Chasers, (yes, I am qualifying those are reality shows) and others, but one of the ones I’ve always liked the best is Dirty Jobs, with Mike Rowe.
I’m sure you’ve seen the show or heard about it, but if not there is a homemade video compilation of the “best clips” below. Mike has traveled America examining some of the jobs that our fellow American workers do, many of which don’t require a career or college ready path. Does that mean they aren’t productive workers? Great citizens? Hard working? Happy? Nope, not at all. In fact, probably almost every one of those dirty workers has made a long career with many staying with the same employer for dozens of years. While it is true that one can generally earn more money in employment after obtaining a college degree (sometimes), that doesn’t equate to success or happiness in my mind. Maybe we shouldn’t be pushing everyone who graduates high school immediately towards college. Maybe we should be trying to find the right fit for each person and not be disappointed if that doesn’t mean college.

Here on Long Island, NY with a 2010 US Census population of a little over 2.8 million people in our two counties (Nassau and Suffolk, not counting Queens and Brooklyn which are part of New York City) only 32% of the population, in each county, has earned a Bachelor’s degree or higher.  Those under 18 years old make up roughly 24% of the population in each county. So, that’s a lot of workers and citizens with no college degree going about their daily lives. I can’t be certain that this is a “good” or “bad” thing. We’ve been pretty fortunate here on the Island during the economic downturn our nation has been riding out the last few years. The hard times, so to speak, haven’t hit us as hard as in other parts of the nation. At least through my eyes. (Data source: here and here)

So what’s my point here? I don’t think the new Common Core curriculum leaves room for the students who might head into one of these “dirty jobs.” I have no data to back that statement up and only time will tell, but I think by simply stating over and over again that all we are doing is prepping kids for college or careers (I am making the assumption these are white collar type careers) and it is “urgent”, we are taking the chance of leaving behind thousands of those who might not be suited for that environment. The focus of education should not be to create little worker bees for American corporations. The focus of education should be to expand the mind, inspire creativity, spark curiosity, and develop good citizens. From what I’ve seen of homework for two of my kids in the last two years, and from the work they do in school, there is zero creativity. It is one worksheet after another, even for my kindergartner. Coloring in shapes, images, and pictures on a ditto is not an example of letting a child’s creativity flow. Not one of these dirty jobs requires worksheet completion found in a Pearson workbook or printed off from an engageNY web page.

Were any of the employers featured in any one of the Dirty Jobs episodes involved in the development of the Common Core Standards? Or, was it just big business and huge corporations who were involved? Are we, as a nation currently implementing the Core, looking to kill these dirty jobs as if they aren’t significant or relevant anymore? Here we are in the high-tech information age and American schools don’t even have computer science courses woven into most high school curriculum, let alone the middle and elementary ages. We’ll watch the next few years as the likes of App Academy replace the college option for many of our brightest students. I predict a similar model will appear for the trades as well to help fill the employment gaps.

Watch the full interview below with Mike Rowe on the high cost of college.

Then read (and watch) one of the many interviews with Mike during the fall of 2013 where he talks about the need for skilled workers, college debt, and more.  Or, watch his 2008 TED talk. Maybe we are going about these educational reforms in all the wrong way. It might be time to step back and watch where everyone is going … and head the other way.


U.S. Unemployment: Three Million Jobs are Waiting to be Filled (here)

“My goal here is to challenge the absurd belief that an expensive four-year education is the best path for the most people, and confront the outdated stereotypes that continue to drive kids and parents away from a whole list of worthwhile careers,” Rowe said. “Many of the best opportunities that exist today require a skill, not a diploma.” Check out more at one of Mike’s many web sites devoted to connecting skilled workers with in-demand jobs: Profoundly Disconnected.

Guest Spot: Board of Regents creating ‘education apartheid’
by Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Steven Cohen

The Cupcake Test

I received permission from Marianne to post her entire comment below. This originally appeared as a reply within the comments section of a recent Diane Ravitch post. I thought the comment was so insightful, that I wanted it to stand out on its own. Thank you, Marianne.

By Marianne Giannis
November 5, 2013 at 8:38 am
Here is my idea of how to be heard since the “reform” leaders don’t seem to hear the protests, emails, meetings etc. I call it “The Cupcake Test.” Read below to understand what this test is all about. Perhaps the people in power will start to understand what is important to children, parents, teachers, and schools if they receive cupcakes with a message. For example, a cupcake with “freedom to learn” written upon it. It’s worth a try.

The Cupcake Test

I teach 1st through 6th grade at a private, non-profit Montessori school in Wisconsin. We don’t do any standardized testing of any kind at our school. So let me rephrase my first sentence: I teach all day, every day, for nine months out of the year at a Montessori school.

I love the little bubble that I am so fortunate to go to every day. The children I teach are happy, curious, capable people and I enjoy having conversations, making discoveries, and trying out new things with them. I don’t like to even call them “my students” because so much of what they learn is a result of their own personal quest to know more about the world: past, present, and future. It is a really nice place to work, teach, and learn and I think that they feel the same way.

But I also like to know what is going on beyond this wonderful bubble. Outside of my school bubble, these happy, curious, capable people would be referred to as learners. Outside of the bubble, their knowledge would not be solely for their own personal benefit but used as data. Their experiences would not be unique but standardized, franchised, and homogenized across the county as we, as a nation, collectively run this “Race to the Top.” I wish that every child, teacher, and parent could join me in my bubble. Sorry, everyone else in eduland, you are not invited.

Here is my solution to educational reform that is easy, simple, and cheap. I call it the “Cupcake Test.” How do schools get the things that they really want? Bake sales. If parents, students, and teachers really want something for their school, they hold bake sales. If the cause is really important to them, people will take the time to bring in plates of cupcakes and then other people will buy them. How would the Common Core reform stand up to the cupcake test? Let’s say CCSS vs. fictional books, or CCSS vs. freedom from standardized testing, or CCSS vs. time to get to know each student, CCSS vs. learning just because it is what makes life interesting? Which cause do you think would win?

So here’s my point. Would we as a nation have supported this latest educational reform if it had to be funded by cupcakes or is it being initiated because there is so much corporate funding providing the money? Is it really important to the parents, students, and teachers and did anyone in eduland take a moment to ask them?

View the original comment in context at Diane’s post here:


NY Grade 3 Sample ELA in 2005 and 2013

From Kevin Glynn in the Lace to the Top Facebook group: “Printed side by side you would never know they are for the same grade level.”

NYS 3rd Grade Sample ELA in 2005

NYS 3rd Grade Sample ELA in 2013

The 2005 3rd graders taking that “old” ELA exam haven’t even graduated yet. There is no proof that their years of schooling were very “bad” and they aren’t “college and career ready.”


Pearson’s Vision of Connected Education – Scary, But Not That Scary

So once again this particular Pearson video is making the rounds on the various Facebook groups to which I belong. It gets talked about as some kind of bad learning experience for kids, tool for teachers, and info gathering device or outlet for parents. I’ve tried to use my experience of 18 years of working with educational technology to inform parents that this is in fact a “vision”, not a reality. There are examples like this in every industry and every major vendor has put them on YouTube for the world to see and say, “Oh how cool would that be” or “Hey, that is really scary.” The parents in these groups, and in the live meetings where I’ve seen this video discussed with a larger audience, usually state the most common reactions including, but not limited to:

1. How scary this is.
2. How there is no human interaction.
3. How the kids will break the devices.
4. How this costs too much,
5. How there are no real plants shown in the plants lesson.
6. How computers should not replace teachers.

This video, and the talking points around it, are not the rallying call we need to fight the over use of high-stakes testing, rushed implementation of the Common Core and the abusive data-mining of our kids.

Now I got tired of posting my $.02 on this over and over again so I will just report some of the various comments I’ve left on these social sites below. Feel free to use the comment area of this post to share your thoughts on this Pearson video or any other “futuristic ed tech” videos you have seen.

The REAL scary part of this video is at 5:30 seconds. Watch from 5:14 on and comment below if you can spot what, I think, is the worst part of all of this. The rest of it is promotional fluff…for now.

My recent commentary on this video includes:

“Connected learning utilizing the latest technology isn’t a bad thing. Heck, that’s what we are all doing right here in Facebook alone in these various groups. What you have to understand from these videos (every major educational vendor has some) is they are a wish list of “things”. Every industry has these series of videos that showcase what the future will look like if it is tech infused 24/7. Look up Microsoft’s Vision for Health Care, Retail, Education. Google Glasses, 3D printing, etc. This Pearson video is the one that makes the rounds at every parent meeting talking about the CCSS and testing. I work with educational tech. Been doing that for 18 years now. This video isn’t as frightening as you think, nor is it reality. The “scariest” part is at minute 5:30. Watch it again from 5:14 on and comment back if you caught the “scary” part. I put scary in quotes because it’s not ghost-like scary, but theoretically an unfortunate outcome of the Pearson system.”


“Kids won’t break them because that new tablet won’t be like anything you’e seen yet. Go look on YouTube for the flexible screen, stretchable tablets and other devices in development that we are not yet using. Heck, YouTube didn’t exist 10 years ago, Facebook neither. And the video is not about less human interaction, nor is that what Pearson is predicting. Believe me I’m as anti-Pearson as everyone else, but this is not their worst doing (and yet this is again a “vision” not a reality). Yes, they are trying to sell stuff; that’s what they do. But this video gets used over and over again as some kind of bad voodoo coming to our schools. Would you prefer if the medical profession/field never adopted any new technology? No one goes into surgery now with a doctor who uses techniques from 40 years ago. A computer can replace a teacher in certain circumstances. There is nothing wrong with a live video chat with an expert on a topic. Nothing wrong with kids learning math concepts by watching an instructor work it out and explain it in a video. Again, in my professional opinion of seeing and working with ed tech for 18 years, the worst part of this video is at the 5:30 mark. That’s what we should be rallying against.”

Now, with the same mindset watch these two videos below. Also consider the things that were not around say 5, 10, 20, 50 years ago – you know like YouTube and Facebook 🙂 Are these videos also scary? Maybe, maybe not.


Also here with explanation of the various new technologies and here in the search results view the Health Care and Retail examples as well.

But, but … we don’t do test prep all year

New York State recently released new ELA/Math Common Core aligned test scores and sample test questions. These questions look EXACTLY like ALL the worksheets and homework we’ve seen from our third grader last year. They are the exact same questions with different names, numbers, and “images” in some cases. Those were mostly Pearson worksheets by the way that we saw coming home all year. The math ones really got to me as a parent. Page 8 of the PDF linked below (not the actual page number at the bottom, the PDF page number instead)….yeah, we’ve seen that square on the floor question on homework many, many times. And page 9, page 11, etc…

So, please do tell me again: How are these schools NOT prepping kids for these tests all year long?

Sample questions here and the specific 3rd grade math ones too
Scores :: Sample questions :: 3rd grade math sample test questions

I ask parents to actively look at homework this year and see how closely it aligns to these tests. Thus, simply having students do nothing more than “test-prep”.

Add to this nonsense the new revelation from NYS that it will be up to the schools to determine if they want to put the non-proficient test takers into remedial classes or offer any extra assistance. Of course, the teachers and schools don’t even know what to “re-mediate” since they can’t see the exams and get a sense of what part(s) any one student may have floundered on.  So if the entire school or district opts for no remediation, then what? Aren’t we just expecting that they will again “fail” the tests this year? Are they just ignoring last year’s results? How can the majority of our students across Long Island possibly succeed this year, according to the state results, and gain “proficiency” without even being able to adjust for last year’s test results? Absolute madness.

“Stop it. Fix it. Scrap it.”
Dr. Joseph Rella