Decoding Why Coding Matters

By Rebecca Dovi

CodeVA is partnered with  to implement computer science teacher training here in Virginia. Currently, there are only a handful of computer science teachers in the state. We are changing this.  This summer we worked with 8 Virginia public school districts training more than 30 teachers. These teachers are starting new computer science programs in their schools, nearly doubling the number of computer science teachers in Virginia by Fall 2014.   Next summer this program expands. Even as our teachers begin teaching in the Fall, CodeVA will begin expanding its district partnerships, actively seeking out more school systems and teachers for this training. In addition, this Fall we start working with Virginia elementary school teachers, offering them guidance and resources that will allow them to begin integrating computer science lessons into their classrooms. 
Anyone can code. We believe every child in Virginia deserves the opportunity to learn this important 21st century literacy skill. Education and industry leaders seek to increase STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education, but without also teaching students computer science, these efforts are a bit like teaching works of classic literature to students who have not yet been taught to read.  We’re teaching students the common language of STEM. 

Even as CodeVA brings computer science into schools, we also are bringing computer science to the kids of Virginia though engaging events, camps and programs.  Through generous donations from local businesses.  While we often look to New York and Silicon Valley when we think of computers, the fact is the highest concentration of computer science jobs are right here in Virginia.  

We're seeding Virginia for entrepreneurship and business. The only way for all kids to have access to computer science is through partnerships with business, schools, colleges and local communities across the state. We are working with policymakers, actively engaging them to educate them about what Computer Science is and what it does for industry, economic development and community wealth building.  Virginia is starting a dialog about why we need computer science available for every child, and its successes will serve as a model for other states.   

Last week we gave some stats on the state of girls in cs education in Virginia. Here are some simple things you can do to help and some important questions to ask:  Does your local school offer computer science classes? Having a strong computer science program in schools is the best way to be sure all kids have access.
  • TechGirls - this great monthly newsletter has tons of resources to get girls working on technology. Have an elementary aged girl? 
  • Download Scratch. This free program was designed to get all kids coding. Older kid? 
  • Try AppInventor. Again, this is a free tool that lets you learn to code while creating Apps for Android devices.
  • Made with Code - using code to be creative. Lots of inspirational stories, this site lets girls code a 3-D bracelet and lists local coding events. 
  • Technovation - girls ages 10 - 23 participate in entrepreneurial challenges. 
  • Project CS Girls - girls design projects around the themes Global Health, A Safer World, or Intelligent Technology. The point isn't to make coding girly, or to choose pink vs. blue tools. Our goal is to encourage all kids to code early and often, so that as they grow coding is as much a part of their toolkit as reading and math.
It’s one thing to talk about hypotheticals. But it’s another to take a look at our ground game. Nowhere is that game being played more vigorously than in Henrico County Public Schools. And yet, even with star players like Apple and Dell and a team that consists of every middle and high school student in the district, Team Henrico has barely moved in the points race.

A decade after more than 12,000 Henrico County high school students received their very own educational laptop computers specifically for the purpose of digital literacy, Henrico has just two computer science teachers. One of them is brand new in 2013. Prior to this year, in a district of more than 40,000 children, on average only about 30 of them ever took a computer programming class before their senior year in high school.

In the city of Richmond, where there is no student laptop initiative, the district offers no -- not a single one -- computer programming classes.

Just think of the thousands of great, high-paying jobs in STEM fields that Virginia students will be unqualified or under-qualified to fill because they lack basic computer programming skills.

More than 70 percent of all STEM field jobs are computer-programming jobs. Among the other 30 percent, nearly all require some knowledge of computer programming as a basic skill. 

Fact: In the Richmond region, fewer than one percent of students will, on graduation, will have any knowledge of a topic that is the number-one required skillset of 21st century Virginia employers and 21st century Virginia jobs. 

What's It All About, Tichi?

I practically did a spit-take when I read the news that Tichi Pinkney-Eppes, the 9th-District Richmond Public School (RPS) School Board member, may have violated the confidentiality of at least 20 RPS students when she attempted -- without prior parental consent -- to share private information from their files with a third-party Medicaid vendor.  

I have known the current 9th-District member of the City of Richmond Public School Board longer than I have known any of her other school board colleagues. And while Pinkney-Eppes and I have had differences on issues over the years, our common ground has always been that we are willing to fight as hard as humanly possible to help all children in Richmond get the best education possible.

That said, I confess that I have given up trying to understand some of Pinkney-Eppes' actions since becoming an RPS School Board member in 2012.  Remember when she endorsed Ken Cuccinelli and later that same week declared bankruptcy? Remember how the Cuccinelli campaign stood by her?  
Who can forget the awful  kerfuffle in City Hall basement when she and 6th-District member, (Not Dr.) Shonda Harris-Muhammed, reportedly threatened to "whoop" 2nd-District School Board member Kim B. Gray's "ass"?

This latest incident cannot be ignored.  

Given the potentially serious consequences for violating confidential academic, disciplinary and (in some cases) medical records of students -- a loss of federal funding, imposition of fines and penalties up to $1.5 million as well as the possibility of criminal prosecution and jail time -- the members of the School Board and Supt. Dana Bedden are doing the smart thing by calling for an investigation.

Click here to see for yourself how serious the possible consequences of  violating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule related to the use and disclosure of confidential information could be.  

Click here  to see what the consequences could be for violating HIPAA confidentiality and releasing medical information  about a student without prior consent of parents or guardians.

In an effort to be fair and not rely upon hearsay or accounts from other journalists, I called Pinkney-Eppes and asked her to help me understand what was going on.  She said she thought her colleagues were "trying to undermine and discredit" her.  

I asked if it was true that she told her board members that she not only discussed confidential information over the telephone but also drove to the third party medicaid vendor's office and tried to open the confidential files there?

She refused to give a direct answer.  Instead, she took great umbrage with the question and said she was "shocked" that other School Board members would violate "closed session" and speak publicly about the allegations and investigations discussed therein.  She accused them of playing politics with her and likened their release of a statement as "political grandstanding."  

I asked (again) if it was true that she told her colleagues that she discussed the student's record over the telephone with the vendor and then drove to the vendor's office ?  She (again) refused to answer and repeatedly said: "I have done nothing nefarious or intentional."  

In response to that comment, I asked how she (or anyone) could view driving to the vendor's office and attempting to open the files there as somehow "unintentional?" Silence.

Finally, I asked her to imagine how she would respond if someone were to share her child's (or grandchild's) academic, discipline and medical records with a third party without her prior consent.  

Again, she refused to answer.  

Enough said (or not said).  The RPS School Board and Supt. Dana Bedden are to be commended for taking swift action on this matter and publicly calling for an investigation.  

Pinkney-Eppes needs to stop playing the victim in the drama she created, take responsibility for her actions and stop blaming her colleagues and RPS Superintendent Bedden,  for acting in the best interests of the school system.   

Text of statement School Board issued upon learning of the breach of student records by Pinkney-Eppes:

"On October 6, 2014, the Board was informed of a breach of confidential student information by Board Member Tichi Pinkney Eppes. We are very concerned about this breach of information and do not condone this action. We are working closely with RPS administration to gather the details of the breach. At the current time, we estimate that approximately 20 student records were compromised. We are dedicated to fully investigating this matter to ensure that all student records are held to the highest state and federal standards of confidentiality. We will continue to keep all stakeholders updated on this issue as public information becomes available. Parents of the affected students can expect to receive written notification this week from RPS administration and are encouraged to contact the Department of Academic Services at (804) 780-7700 if there are additional questions or concerns."

High Stakes Test Tonight ...

Advice to School Board:  WALK TALL


The Times-Dispatch reports that the principal at G.H. Reid Elementary School has been recommended for demotion because of the performance at his school: In the past two years Reid has plunged into “priority” status among the lowest-performing 5% of Title I schools in the state.  Reid is one of twelve “priority” schools in Richmond (which has 1/3 of the priority schools in the state this year).
At first glance this seems terribly unfair: Richmond, under the “leadership” of Yvonne Brandon, did not update its curriculum to reflect the new math SOL tests in 2012 or the new reading tests in 2013.  So we have to wonder whether the principal is being singled out for participating in a general failure.
A glance at the numbers from VDOE’s handy Build-A-Table front end to their database suggests otherwise.
First, Reid participated in the general plummet on the math tests in 2012.  In the following two years, however, the division recovered slightly while Reid continued to slide (to a 37.3% pass rate!).
(Reid* scores are reported separately for 2006 and ‘07, presumably before some kind of redistricting.)  This looks even worse when we notice that Reid was performing well above the Richmond average until after 2012.
The pass rates on the Reading tests show a similar pattern, with the Reid pass rate dropping to 36.6% (!) this year:
Next, the database sheds some light on Reid’s performance vs. the other priority elementary schools.  First the math tests:
Based on the math scores, I’d like to know whether the Woodville principal is being similarly demoted and where the Oak Grove and Blackwell principals stand.
Looking at the Reading scores, I’d add the principals at Oak Grove and Woodville to the short list.
I’d like another datum: Have these three principals been in the saddle for three years or more?  If so, their failures are on their own watches and I’ll think it time for some accountability.  
Thus, we’ll need information about tenures and  these other principals before we can decide whether it’s time to praise our new Superintendent for bringing accountability to our schools for the first time in recent memory.  But the Reid situation may be cause for some hope.
Note added on Oct. 6:  This morning I found Reid’s School Improvement Plan in the documents for the 10/6 School Board meeting.  
  • Item 3 under “Essential Actions” is “Create division lesson plan template.”  Surely that must mean “school” lesson plan; there is no way Reid can create a “division” lesson plan.
  • Item 4 makes more sense: “Use RPS template to create lesson plans . . . .”
We know from the Channel 12 story that the new RPS administration created a new curriculum last summer, put it on the Web, and held workshops for teachers.  If it is true, as this Plan suggests, that Reid still has not aligned its lesson plans to that curriculum, then for sure it’s time for a new principal.
Further Note on Oct. 6: It turns out there is some history on principal replacement.  A VDOE document reports that the principal at Ginter Park was replaced in ‘12, Blackwell in ‘13, and Oak Grove in ‘14.  I’ve modified the graphs above to add red circles to show the year of replacement:
Reid and Woodville were not designated “priority” until this year.
On these limited data, it looks like the replacement at Ginter Park is producing results (altho it appears that GP was not a priority school until 2013) and it’s early to draw conclusions about the other two schools.