RBHS Featured in NY Times

A really great story appeared in the NY Times recently about a partnership between Rainier Beach High School and Microsoft to help with technology learning there.   I hesitate to say anything bad but there are some ironies in it.

That teacher, Steven Edouard, knows a few things about the subject. When he is not volunteering as a computer science instructor four days a week, Mr. Edouard works at Microsoft. He is one of 110 engineers from high-tech companies who are part of a Microsoft program aimed at getting high school students hooked on computer science, so they go on to pursue careers in the field. 

But Microsoft is sending its employees to the front lines, encouraging them to commit to teaching a high school computer science class for a full school year. Its engineers, who earn a small stipend for their classroom time, are in at least two hourlong classes a week and sometimes as many as five. Schools arrange the classes for first thing in the day to avoid interfering with the schedules of the engineers, who often do not arrive at Microsoft until the late morning.

In doing so, Microsoft is taking an unusual approach to tackling a shortage of computer science graduates — one of the most serious issues facing the technology industry, and a broader challenge for the nation’s economy. 

This is a great idea but... it wasn't Microsoft's, not initially.

The program started as a grass-roots effort by Kevin Wang, a Microsoft engineer with a master’s degree in education from Harvard. 

In 2009, he began volunteering as a computer science teacher at a Seattle public high school on his way to work. After executives at Microsoft caught wind of what he was doing, they put financial support behind the effort — which is known as Technology Education and Literacy in Schools, or Teals — and let Mr. Wang run it full time. 

We all know that we live in a very high-tech city.  We have a huge amount of technology and science-based industries and groups and yet, is STEM at Cleveland as connected up as it should be?  No.  Did Microsoft, after being here years and years, think up this program of outreach to students?  No, one dedicated engineer did (and a HUGE shout-out of thanks to Mr. Wang).

The program is now in 22 schools in the Seattle area and has expanded to more than a dozen other schools in Washington, Utah, North Dakota, California and other states this academic year. Microsoft wants other big technology companies to back the effort so it can broaden the number of outside engineers involved.  

Another troubling issue:

Finding capable computer science teachers is also hard. Few other industries are as good as the technology business in its ability to divert would-be educators into far more lucrative corporate jobs.  

You know, it's not as hard as you would think except that some districts (read: Seattle schools) do NOT do what is needed to sustain those programs and then those computer science teachers leave.  I say this with authority because I know of at least two computer science teachers who left SPS - these were very enthused teachers who wanted to be in the classroom - because of frustrations with the district and the administration at their schools.

I'm not saying you treat some teachers with kid gloves but when you want highly-trained people to become teachers, you might want to help sustain their program.   The district shoots itself in the foot this way.

There are also issues with bringing in people who aren't properly trained to be teachers (as we learn from TFA):

Sarah Filman, a program manager at Microsoft, completed the intensive summer training that the company offers volunteers, preparing a lengthy PowerPoint presentation for the class she taught at a Seattle high school last year. “That’s the Microsoft way,” she said. 

But as soon as she dimmed the lights in her classroom at the start of the year, her students had trouble focusing on the slide show, forcing Ms. Filman to change her methods. “I had to throw away a lot of what I had done,” she said. 

I love that "it's the Microsoft way."   Shades of Bill Gates and his thoughts on public education that have worked out so well.

And the ultimate goal?

Mr. Wang, the program’s founder, said a professional from the tech industry who stands at the head of a class for a full year can be a powerful role model. “Kids can see themselves in their shoes,” Mr. Wang said. After all, he added, “their chances of going to college and majoring in computer science are exponentially better than getting into the N.F.L.”  

Yes, yes and yes.


Anonymous said…
Thanks Mr. Wang for thinking outside the box! We love the tech program at Rainier Beach High School.
Anonymous said…
You know I can only say thank you to these volunteers. These volunteers aren't pretending to be professional teachers. Adjusting ways to train or teach things to people so they get it right is a great skillset. Many of us have this ability and use it daily at home with kids, at work with colleagues and clients. I don't really see shades of TFA here.

I think it's a blessing in disguise not to have giant Microsoft come in and plunk some top down program with its ungainly and controling ways. Sometimes it's ok to let an individual take a lead, start small, get to know and be known by the community first and see if a project will take or not. We are lucky to have Kevin Wang around to shake and stir things up and tap into the larger resources of his employer.

Finally, if there's beef with the lack of program development and support, then that's SPS issue (and boy is it an system wide problem which I must thank Melissa, Charlie, and many regular bloggers here for daylighting it and nudging SPS to do right). Maybe I'm just too practical or naive of a person, but I can get around the politics of Mr. Gates and Microsoft, if some things they do help kids learn and stay in schools.

-SPS mom
Anonymous said…
This a great program but what about the colleges and universities? How many students who want to major in computer science and engineering are being turned away from the UW because there aren't enough spaces? Why aren't they focusing on opening up more spots for WA state kids? Even if a WA state kid makes it into to the UW, they may not make it into a science or engineering program because space is so limited you almost have to have a 4.0 GPA to get into the program. These kids are fully capable, they just might have a 3.5 GPA. I was a TA at the UW and saw this over and over again 15 years ago and I don't think it has gotten any better. All who want to go into science and engineering should be allowed to at least try.

Unknown said…
Believe me, I know the Computer Science and Engineering department at UW would love to admit more students but they need the resources and can't get them from the State. The UW program is one of the top in the country and so yes, is highly competitive. Want to enlarge it? Tell your legislator.
Anonymous said…
Men have become the tools of their tools. - Thoreau
anne said…
My son left his private school to attend GHS partly because they have a great Computer Science offering. My son desparately wanted to take AP Computer Science as a Junior at Garfield and they said it was full and signed him up for Jewelry instead. It's so sad that they turn kids away from an area that is so desperately in need of more talent.

Fortunately, because I had developed a relationship with the teacher in the previous spring he decided, after my begging, to squeeze one more student in.

My son is really enjoying the class and Garfield has "Projects in Computer Science" as a follow on to AP CS next year.

Eileen said…
Anne said; "Fortunately, because I had developed a relationship with the teacher in the previous spring he decided, after my begging, to squeeze one more
student in. "

Hmm. Was that really fair? Isn't this type of line jumping similar to the line jumping the downtown school advocates are trying to do? Really, it's not just about your kid. It's about a fair process for all kids, all families, across the district. It shouldn't matter who one knows.

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