Technology Education and Literacy in Schools Program Grows by Leaps and Bounds

Let’s say you are a recent college graduate with a computer science degree, and you are passionate about education. Would you follow your passion by choosing a job in the classroom if you knew your starting salary would be approximately half the salary of a job in the technology industry?

Kevin Wang, a Microsoft software engineer who started out his career as a high school computer science teacher, is showing technology industry employees who are passionate about education that they need not choose between the two.

Wang is familiar with statistics that show in 2011, only 1 out of 156 Advanced Placement tests taken was in computer science (just over one-half of one percent of all AP tests taken was in computer science – only 22,000 tests overall for the year). And he is familiar with the statistics that show that the production of bachelor’s degrees in computer science at our colleges and universities was less than half that figure. Wang is also familiar with estimates that say that, in spite of our low production of computer science skills, the U.S. will have 800,000 high-end computing jobs to fill by 2016.

So he decided to take matters into his own hands by creating a unique volunteer program that addresses the root cause behind our country’s current inability to fill this critical need.

The program is called Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS). In the Puget Sound region, where the salary for a first-year teacher with a computer science background is approximately $42,000 and a first-year technology industry job is $79,500, the TEALS program connects high-tech professionals who possess deep computer science knowledge and expertise with high school classrooms that do not.

And many do not. Even though Washington is Microsoft’s home state, only 275 AP computer science tests were taken by Washington students in 2010. Among these, only seven were Hispanic, and five were African American. The University of Washington graduated just 160 students with computer sciences degrees last year.

Wang, who holds a BS in computer science and electrical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley and a Master’s in education from Harvard University, takes these numbers as a personal challenge.

Through the TEALS program, Wang provides Microsoft employees interested in volunteering as teachers with a three-month-long summer training course in pedagogy, curriculum development and classroom management. He then works with partnering Puget Sound-area school districts to place these highly qualified volunteer teachers into high school classrooms struggling to provide computer science offerings on their own, including a number of urban schools with underrepresented populations such as Cleveland, Garfield, Ingraham and Rainier Beach high schools.

The demand for TEALS has been intense – in just one year, the program has tripled in size and scope.

Last year, its pilot year, 10 TEALs teachers partnered with four Puget Sound-area high schools and taught 250 students. This year, the program’s 30 volunteer teachers and 6 teachers’ assistants are now in their third week of the new school year in 13 high schools, teaching to 800 students.

The results speak for themselves. In 2011, the TEALS program was responsible for 13 additional AP computer science test takers in Washington,  a 5 percent increase over the 275 test takers in 2010. This year, the program is on track to increase last year’s total by 20 percent. And quantity is not the only measure of the program’s success. According to Microsoft’s data, on a scale of 1 through 5, TEALS-taught students scored an average 4.15 on AP computer science tests. The national average is 3.14. Students who decide not to take the AP computer science courses still receive a heavy dose of computer science and technology literacy that will be applicable to other fields.

As volunteer teacher programs go, the TEALS program model is unique in a number of respects. First, it capitalizes upon the unorthodox hours that many software engineers work by putting engineers into classrooms during the morning hours before their normal workdays begin, and allows them to teach morning AP Computer Science, Introduction to Computer Science and Web Design courses alongside permanent teachers without giving up their day jobs. Second, software engineers are present in the classroom four days a week all year long as an integrated part of the daily schedule, rather than as part of an after-school or weekend add-on program. Third, the team-teaching approach allows the schools’ permanent teachers to learn how to teach computer science curricula at the same time students learn the material, which helps put the courses on a sustainable path.

It is worth mentioning that all TEALS volunteers have engineering degrees from prominent institutions (including Berkeley, University of Washington, Brown University, Harvard, Princeton University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, and University of California, Los Angeles) and 17 have graduate degrees, including 2 PhDs.

Satya Nadella, President of the Server and Tools Division of Microsoft, has called TEALS “a great example of Microsoft employees putting their technology expertise back into the community and creating measurable impact and opportunities for local youth.”

As Wang has already demonstrated in just one short year, the program is highly scalable. His goal is to expand the program and create a consortium of high-tech companies to bring in more employers, more volunteers and more schools, and fill the need for qualified computer science teachers in any high school classroom committed to having a computer science program.

Contact Kevin Wang directly if you are an industry professional with a background in computer science, or represent a school or a company that would like to participate in the TEALS program.

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