The Republican candidate for Montana governor, Greg Gianforte, is a tech businessman. He sold the tech company he built for 1.8 billion so he is doing pretty good. As a tech guy he has included in his platform the intent of revising the present non-existent CS education structure in Montana. Things like teacher training, CS requirement in high school and changes in core curriculum. In this newspaper article http://www.dailyinterlake.com/members/candidates-push-computer-science-training/article_f11af798-1c91-11e6-a8a2-dffa72e7594d.html he points out that Montana has not offered an AP CS class since 2014. Is this a bad thing?
It is interesting when people, especially politicians, start talking about topics they do not know a lot about. They find what they consider an important datum and throw it around a little. Now AP CS is kind of the gold standard for CS in high schools so I cannot criticize the candidate too much for using that statistic. (Mike Zamansky points out some interesting arguments against AP in a couple of his blogs.) I have not been a fan of AP CS ever. When I originally started teaching CS I took a look at the AP CS syllabus with the intent of jumping on the band wagon but was not impressed on its absolute focus on programming. It was also very elitist. Only geeks may apply. Not my cup of tea. AP has since come out with AP CS Principles but I teach that now without having to jump through the AP hoops.
What Greg must not know is that Montana has a better alternative to AP CS, dual-credit. Our juniors and seniors can sign up for two different CS courses through the University of Montana and receive college credit directly. No exam-of-death at the end of the semester. The grade you get in the course is the grade you get on a U of M transcript. Cheaper than AP. More transferable than AP. More widely accepted than AP.
I do not think Greg knows a lot about what is taking place in Montana CS education but that is not really his fault. Nobody seems to know. Two weeks ago one of his staffers called me to ask about CS teacher certification in Montana. One of the people in the Office of Public Instruction gave my name as someone in the know. Now you would think OPI would be the people in the know. My experience has shown me that the problem with CS education in Montana is the fact we have a rather hands off OPI. Montana schools are sort of on their own for many things. We like our independence and freedom but there reaches a point where the people that are supposed to be helping schools provide a balanced education need to get to work. Or at least get some help.
Presently all of Montana’s advancement of CS in the schools has come from individual teachers and administrators deciding to do something. Very grassrootsy. I have a feeling it is going to be that way no matter who gets elected. OPI is small. Schools are very independent minded. Schools are very poorly funded (but as Greg points out in the article CS is actually very cheap to offer). Curriculum is cast in concrete and any change is going to take a very large stick. Talking softly is not going to do the trick.
In one of my earlier blogs I discussed the teacher certification boon dongle in Montana. To get teachers certification programs in to the Montana universities someone is going to have to do a big re-write of the certification course requirements for OPI. That will be quite the war. The university types will want to generate mini CS majors. Teachers are going to want just enough so they can get the certification. The State will probably not make a decision. (Bureaucrats are good at that.) Greg is going to have his hands full there. I hope he actually talks some K – 12 CS teachers.
I am neither a proponent or opponent of Greg. I do not know him. But CS in Montana, and the US in general, needs more than grassroots. Presidential verbiage or political platforms are all fine and dandy for newspapers and arguments but they do not get the horse shod. Somebody has to grab the bull by the horns (I am getting all sorts of cowboy language going here) and say “Here is what we are going to try”. Maybe it will be like the New Math in the ‘60s and flop on its face but at least we will be trying to do something.