To Get STEM Education to Every Student, Train All New Teachers in Computing

Joseph & Dvorkin: City University of NY program teaches future educators to use computing concepts in a broad range of subjects, at all grade levels.

This is a photo of New York City.

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New York City’s public schools have made dramatic progress in expanding access to computer science education. Eight years after the launch of the Computer Science for All initiative, at least 91% of district schools now offer classes where students can start learning the principles of computing.

But while more schools are offering computer science than ever before, the majority of city students — in particular, Black and Hispanic students, low-income students and girls — still aren’t taking computer science courses. Just 17% of schools meet the program’s student participation and equity goals.

To ensure that thousands more New York City students can get on the path to well-paying technology-powered careers, this will have to change.

New research from the Center for an Urban Future suggests that this will be possible only by training more future teachers, at all grade levels and in every subject, to integrate into their classrooms the core concepts of computing education: the ability to ask questions, organize data and solve problems with computers.

Although engagement with computer science is highest when the concepts are woven throughout the curriculum, and when multiple teachers in a school have the training to implement those concepts and support computer learning, most schools still have just one or two teachers with computer education training.

A new program at the City University of New York is ready-made to address that need. The Computing Integrated Teacher Education (CITE) program, launched with funding from the Robin Hood Learning + Technology Fund, Google, Gotham Gives and NYC Public Schools, trains future teachers to use computing concepts in a broad range of subjects, from social studies to science, and at every grade level. 

CITE works by engaging CUNY faculty to build computing and digital literacy into required education courses and student teaching practice. More than just a one-off workshop or seminar, the initiative is a year-round effort to help CUNY’s education faculty develop the skills needed to train future teachers in equitable, culturally relevant computing pedagogy. Crucially, CITE also supports groundbreaking faculty research on topics ranging from integrating computing concepts into early-childhood education to building digital literacy curricula for special education teachers.

Training new teachers at CUNY has the greatest potential to meet the shortfall. NYC’s public schools have made progress in providing professional development in computing education to more than 4,000 classroom teachers since 2015. But in a system with more than 75,000 educators and significant turnover, that’s just a drop in the bucket. 

Nearly one-third of the new teachers hired by the district each year graduate from CUNY. At the same time, experts estimate that fewer than 5% of CUNY’s teacher education graduates are equipped to teach computational thinking and digital literacy. In part, that’s because CITE is still relatively small. Fewer than half of CUNY’s education faculty have participated in the program to date, and its practices are only just beginning to become embedded in CUNY’s teacher education programs. As a result, most aspiring educators-in-training at CUNY do not yet receive instruction and coaching in equitable computing education practices.

This is a missed opportunity. By expanding the CITE program to reach every aspiring teacher enrolled at CUNY, the district can add more than 8,000 new educators with computing education knowledge and credentials in just five years. 

That’s why Mayor Eric Adams should work with the City Council to fully fund the CITE program so it reaches more of CUNY’s education faculty and all future teachers enrolled at CUNY’s education schools. Sustained support would help the CITE team research, test and expand training, coaching and leadership development programs in equitable computing education for both aspiring and current educators and school leaders, further extending CITE’s impact on the public schools.

The city should also establish a Computing Education Fellowship to encourage more aspiring teachers — particularly from low-income communities — to gain fluency in computing education regardless of their area of specialization and bring the benefits back to their communities. To be effective, the fellowship should include an expanded teacher residency program focused on ensuring placements in New York City public schools for CUNY student teachers trained in computer education, and it should offer scholarships for aspiring teachers from low-income backgrounds to help make a degree with a computing education focus more affordable.

The long-term benefits of building a computationally fluent workforce are clear. Since 2010, New York City’s tech sector has added 114,000 middle- and high-wage jobs, growing by 142% — more than seven times faster than the city’s economy overall.

But the fruits of this expansion have not been distributed equitably. Tech industry jobs are held disproportionately by white, male New Yorkers. Though Black and Hispanic employees make up 43% of the city’s overall workforce, they account for only 21% of the tech sector, women comprise just 24%. 

Building a more equitable economy, one in which people of color and women are fully represented in the city’s high-paid technology workforce, means encouraging far more young people to learn the fundamentals of computer science. The best way to do that is to invest now in training New York City’s future teachers to become champions of equitable computing education.

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