Teaching Computer Science: Priorities

When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.

— Albert Shanker, President of the United Federation of Teachers (1964-1984) and President of the American Federation of Teachers (1974-1997)

It’s a problem in my profession that the number of schools that want to teach computer science far exceeds the number of computer science majors who want to teach computer science.

The opportunity cost is too high. Computer science majors can earn a lot more working as software engineers than working as teachers.

I volunteer a couple mornings a week to help with computer science instruction at a local high school. This school has a teacher, originally hired as a math teacher, who must be well into her fourth decade of teaching. 

She now teaches computer science classes — poorly, but she teaches them. Because of her professional longevity, she makes a six-figure income with a generous benefits package.

If providing the best possible computer science education were a top priority, the school would take advantage of her imminent retirement to replace her with an actual computer science major at the same salary.

Unfortunately, providing the best possible education is not a top priority. What is a top priority is making sure that teachers are paid based on years of service . . . that there’s no Teacher A who makes more than Teacher B if B has been around longer.

This may not produce the best possible education . . . it may be antithetical to producing the best possible education . . . but it’s a top priority. 

Thus spoke The Programmer.

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