TEALS Initiative To Create Adjunct Computer Science Teachers In The District Of Columbia

Mark Drapeau (Washington, DC) —

TEALS, or Technology Education and Literacy in Schools, is a grassroots initiative in the private sector high-tech workforce that recruits skilled computer science professionals to be part-time adjunct high school teachers. After a successful launch in the Seattle area, TEALS is coming to the Washington, DC region in Fall 2012.

Compared to other key subject areas like calculus and biology, the number of high school students being trained in computer science is appallingly low. During the last 15 years or so, the number of students taking the AP (advanced placement) exams in calculus, biology, and even U.S. history has steadily risen, while those taking the AP computer science exam has risen only marginally; it has in fact declined since the “dot-com bubble” about a decade ago, when it peaked.

In 2010, only 1/166 AP exams was in computer science. That is a huge decline from 1999, when 1/62 exams was in AP computer science (still itself a low number).

The statistics from computer science programs at the college level aren’t much better. The raw number of college graduates with a BS degree in computer science or computer engineering has risen only marginally over the last 15 years, and has significantly decreased since the dot-com heyday.

But why is? There are multiple reasons, but one is that there simply aren’t enough qualified computer science teachers at the K-12 level. In part, this is because college graduates with CS degrees can work in the private sector at much higher salaries. For example, over 10 years the average industry worker will cumulatively earn $500,000 more than his or her counterpart working in Seattle Public Schools — That’s roughly the price of an average home in the greater Seattle area.

How TEALS is working to change computer science education

The TEALS initiative, powered by support by Microsoft, operates with a relatively simple model. There are high schools that want to offer computer science courses but don’t have the teachers. And there are private sector employee with the skills and desire to teach computer science at the high school level but no mechanism by which to do so.

TEALS connects the two.

The TEALS program talks to relevant stakeholders and identifies specific schools which are willing to participate in the program, welcoming part-time “adjunct” high school computer science teachers into their classrooms. TEALS then leverages its contacts among tech companies and tech entrepreneurs to identify individuals to be candidates for the program.

TEALS teachers instruct 2-3 days per week for an hour a day, often in the mornings before their “day jobs,” and sometimes team-teach a class with another TEALS teacher. According to a Microsoft slide deck about the program, TEALS is “like Teach for America for high-tech professionals, but you get to keep your day job.”

These TEALS classes are an official part of the school’s curriculum. Like adjuncts at a college level, TEALS teachers are compensated for their time, but just enough to cover their expenses plus a little more, typically $26-30/hour. This works out to be roughly a $5000/class cost to the school or school district.

Two different classes are offered. One is a year-long AP computer class equivalent to the first semester of a college computer science course for majors. The other is “Introduction to Computer Science,” which is one semester long and equivalent to a college course for non-majors.

TEALS is coming to the Washington, DC region

TEALS started in the Seattle, WA area near Microsoft’s headquarters, and has since spread to many schools in the Puget Sound region.

The TEALS program is currently laying the groundwork to begin programs on a limited basis in the Washington, DC region beginning in Fall, 2012. At least three schools will be involved. While TEALS is not limited to schools of a particular type (public, private, etc.) in this case the initial three locations are charter schools. They are:

After an initial 2012-13 school year “pilot,” TEALS will hopefully spread to more schools around the region; indeed, outreach to other schools in DC and Virginia, and to skilled computer science individuals in the private sector, is currently ongoing to raise awareness of the program’s benefits.

Long-term impact of the TEALS program

TEALS was originally started as an independent, volunteer effort by a Seattle-based Microsoft employee, Kevin Wang. After its larger value was recognized, the program is now backed with the full strength of Microsoft’s citizenship and education activities, and as of Winter 2011, Wang has moved from being a Microsoft program manager to running TEALS full-time. Microsoft and Wang believe that over time, TEALS can significantly impact the future of computer science in America.

The TEALS initiative is expected to do a number of positive things:

  • generate early interest in computer science in pre-college students
  • increase collegiate computer science class enrollment
  • improve technology literacy among non-computer science majors
  • dispel myths about computer science professionals
  • generally increase the global competitiveness of the U.S. tech sector

The ultimate goals of TEALS include making high school computer science education as ubiquitous as topics like calculus and biology, to make an introductory computer science class required coursework, and to increase computer science and electrical engineering course enrollment at the college level for majors and non-majors alike.

Dr. Mark Drapeau is the Director of Innovative Engagement (Public Sector) for Microsoft. Read more about TEALS at the TEALS Blog.

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