Should Palo Alto students be required to study computer science?

School board discusses K-12 computer science, graduation requirement

A school district committee's recommendation to make computer science a high school graduation requirement has sparked opposition among students who say there is already an imbalance between STEM and humanities in Palo Alto Unified.

The Computer Science Curriculum Design Advisory Committee has recommended that computer science be treated like a core subject, offered in various forms from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and required to graduate from high school. Committee members argued to the school board on Tuesday night that computer science teaches skills beyond programming — critical thinking, problem solving, logic and the like — and that making instruction more widely available would level the playing field between the haves and the have-nots in Palo Alto.

Some high schoolers, however, bristled at the potential of an additional graduation requirement. They don't debate computer science's benefits but emphasized the importance of maintaining choice for students who are more passionate about history, social sciences and the arts.

"Because of where we are students are aware of the growing power of computer science," said Gunn High School student Claire Cheng. "My mom supports me coming out tonight but once I go home she's going to frequently remind me that computer science is a much more practical way to get a job. It takes courage for theses students to pursue something that they're passionate about despite their parents, their environment and their peers," she said.

A group of Gunn students lobbied the school board earlier this year for more advanced and honors humanities courses, which they said are less available than advanced STEM classes.

Students also worried about fitting another course into what feel like already impacted schedules. Paly senior Richy Islas, Palo Alto High School's student board representative, said that the additional requirement could be particularly stressful for students with disabilities who take academic planning classes on top of their regular courses.

The committee proposed that high schoolers could satisfy the graduation requirement by either taking one semesterlong introductory course or any of the existing yearlong courses offered at Paly and Gunn.

To avoid adding more units to the overall graduation requirements, the computer science course could replace required units in history-social studies, Career Technical Education or electives, the committee proposed. Doing so, the committee acknowledged, would reduce choices in those areas for students.

Currently, 519 students at both high schools, or 13 percent of the district's total high school population, are enrolled in computer science courses. Only 26 of them are underrepresented students and 157 are female, according to the committee.

"If we do nothing," one student committee member said, "we are promoting the opportunity gap."

Several board members described opposition to the graduation requirement as a "distraction" and urged staff to focus on integrating computer science into existing curricula, such as math or science classes.

"If we integrated this well at the lower grades, by the time it gets to high school whether it's required or not is not the most important question," said board member Terry Godfrey.

"This isn't a CS versus humanities conversation, she added. "We need it all."

Board President Ken Dauber said he supports a graduation requirement as an effective means to address inequities in access to computer science.

"If we believe that computer science is a critical skill for being a citizen in the modern world then we should not accept, we really can't accept a situation in which our female students and underrepresented minority students are not participating in that at the same levels," he said.

He asked staff, however, to take students' concerns into account and evaluate whether the current graduation requirements are "paying their weight in terms of value."

Gunn senior Advait Arun, the school board's student representative, urged, ambitiously, a total rethinking of "the way we do high school," which he described as defined by burdensome — and not necessarily helpful — academic requirements.

"Right now we're all working under a system collapsing under its own weight," he said.

Arun and others urged the board to gather more input from students, parents, teachers and even alumni before making a decision on computer science. Board member Melissa Baten Caswell requested involving more directly the high schools' Education Councils, or leadership teams.

Under the committee's proposal, there would be computer science teachers on special assignment at the elementary, middle and high schools overseen by lead teachers. The lead teachers would get release time to work on curriculum and professional development. Coding would also be incorporated into existing curriculum by classroom teachers.

The district would have a pre-K-12 computer science department and steering committee, as it does for core subjects.

Rolling out computer science districtwide would cost an estimated $1.9 million next year, $1.4 million in the 2019-20 school year, $2 million in 2020-21 and $2.6 million the following year.

The California Department of Education is in the midst of finalizing statewide content standards for computer science for elementary through high school.

Interim Superintendent Karen Hendricks said staff will take board members' comments into account with an eye toward picking up the committee's proposals in the next school year.


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


50 people like this
Posted by Stephen
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 23, 2018 at 11:18 am

For Pete's sake - how about instead insisting that children start learning a 2nd language as soon as they enter school? Or how about insisting that middle school and high school English teachers teach English grammar? I would put CS pretty far down the list of things students probably need to learn in K-12.

25 people like this
Posted by Too many requirements too late
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 23, 2018 at 11:26 am

Too many requirements too late is a registered user.

I agree with the comments in the article that we should be doing more earlier, and then can avoid a requirement at the end. I would like to see foreign language and computer/data literacy happening earlier, and fewer requirements in high school, so kids can continue to explore their interests. There is so little flexibility in our upper schools, but such a wide diversity of students. Let's provide exposure earlier, and let kids find their own way as they get older.

15 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 23, 2018 at 11:33 am

Perhaps if we got rid of all the ridiculous amount of testing that takes place in the lives of our students, we might have time to teach useful subjects like computer science, real life skills (as opposed to the curriculum we have at present in living skills) and basic finance.

The stresses in the lives of our students are not necessarily graduation requirements but all the repeat testing that takes place.

13 people like this
Posted by Bravo PAUSD
a resident of Mountain View
on May 23, 2018 at 11:37 am

Computer science is just as important (and not more important) than any of the traditional subjects, defined a century ago, in opening new opportunities for students to think and create.

Especially minority students, the lack of comfort with applied subjects like CS and science in general have kept many working class families from benefiting from the prosperity rising all around them in the Silicon Valley.

21 people like this
Posted by Devon
a resident of Community Center
on May 23, 2018 at 11:40 am

Instead of trying to require CS in place of a humanities or an elective course, the schools should be looking into how CS could fit into a thorough 4-year set of classes in math or science. I personally think CS is more relevant than calculus or AP Physics/Chemistry/Biology. Different families may feel differently. Decreasing time for students to take non-STEM classes will increase stress, detract from the high school environment, and produce less well-rounded students.

22 people like this
Posted by No cs requitement
a resident of Stanford
on May 23, 2018 at 12:49 pm

The content, approach, and nature of relevance of CS to work and life changes very quickly.

That is not a fit to what our schools are good at. They change slowly; new teaching (approach, skill level, and content) requires changes in teacher’s own education which in turn requires changes to their teachers’ education.

I wouldn’t want a teacher who’s exposure to CS is a few courses in computer science to teach my son CS.

Generally, students are more computer literate than our public school teachers.

Teaching not to believe everything you read in a newspaper or on the internet is a good idea.

But requiring computer science is a bad idea.

9 people like this
Posted by Terrace Antelope
a resident of College Terrace
on May 23, 2018 at 12:51 pm

Terrace Antelope is a registered user.

This is Palo Alto in the heart of Silicon Valley and the computer innovation capital of the world. Of course our kids should be getting CS training, IMHO.

15 people like this
Posted by Marty
a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2018 at 12:54 pm

Marty is a registered user.

Our schools should not be a training ground for Apple, Google and Facebook. They can afford to train their workers themselves!

37 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 23, 2018 at 1:30 pm

If Computer Science is "science" then it seems like it should be part of the science requirement. PAUSD follows the state and UC requirement - 2 years (UC recommends 3), chosen from biology, chemistry, and physics. If the state figures that CS is as valuable as those (certainly seems plausible), they can add CS to the list, and kids can choose to study CS instead of one of the other 3 (as many would happily).

The last thing we need is more requirements, esp. more STEM requirements - they get plenty of pressure in that direction already. The idea this supports "equity" is nutty - forcing everybody to do the exact same thing (as with a point graduation requirement) is a ham-handed approach to creating "equity." I would love to see the state give kids more "science" options; let's face it - very few of us benefit from our high school chemistry knowledge.

14 people like this
Posted by ferdinand
a resident of Barron Park
on May 23, 2018 at 2:41 pm

There are many useful insights from all sides on this issue. Everyone sees the value in exposing kids to CS skills but there is some truth to the rigidity and minimal choice currently present at all 3 levels. Elementary teachers are really feeling the crunch! I worry requiring CS will kill off some of the traditional career/ed tech electives which often motivate kids to come to school [while also offering balance]--arts, auto, video/broadcast, textiles, foods, etc.

I cast my vote with "Reader"--incorporate CS into science/math classes to highlight its powers/worth. CS also offers other subjects an opportunity to expand their reach: eg, English could include a project where kids create surveys or simple instructions/logic/analysis problems.

Allow more choice not less, and why not expand some STEM courses to offer the humanities students something more compatible [eg, a more basic chemistry lane as we do in physics]. Despite all the focus on STEM, this volatile forum is an excellent example of how argumentation/critical thinking and social collaboration skills have declined!

And for what it is worth, our son had zero interest in programming until he was a junior. He took his first class and was not only hooked but also accelerated in his competency. Maybe his brain wasn't ready until it matured?

19 people like this
Posted by Concerned, please!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 23, 2018 at 8:02 pm

Please--no cramming anything more into elementary school.
•Give very careful thought to requiring computer science training or proficiency in early elementary school.
Every computer scientist knows that if one failed to learn to read, think mathematically, write, think critically, appreciate and create art, express oneself, communicate clearly/respectfully with others, develop confidence/trust/responsibility/teamwork, finger dexterity, coordination, small &large muscle motor skills, organizational skills------then no amount of computer science training would be valuable.
There is a reason young kids are in elementary school. They have lots of foundational skills to develop, physically, socially, neurologically, conceptually.
•Educators and parents must wake up and value the importance of young students learning to get along, play games fairly, read, write, and think mathematically in early years. These things take hours out of the elementary school day.
Are we really so short-sighted that we think we can cram more into the school day? Do we really want to rush our students through the school day and "do" more school? Do we really want them staring at more screens, but unable to understand each other, help each other, interact face-to-face and empathize?
Do we really thing we should shortchange developmental milestones that are essential to us as human beings, so we can establish computer science requirements in elementary school?
•The elementary years are precious, valuable years when children must have the pressure-free time to develop the wiring for life-long skills. I am NOT saying that students should not be exposed to tech, or that a tech-type program should not exist. I am pleading that you not do this at the expense of a young child's development.
•My child had a full & already challenging life at elementary school. Playing, friendships, music, art, reading, writing, math, developing interests through books, learning how to make mistakes, thinking independently, taking risks, organizing their own belongings, etc. These are essential and irreplaceable skills that can't be rushed and kids need time, relaxed time, at school. Please, no cramming down into the already super-full elementary curriculum anymore expectations. Let's start off things right from the beginning. •Do we want mentally healthy adults? Decrease mental illness, depression, bullying? Let's have age-appropriate curriculums in elementary school. Let's build a healthy foundation, while we have that chance. Please, no cramming more things into elementary school! That's not a solution. Yes, some CS can be integrated, exposed, taught. But do you really want some teachers using tech as an electronic babysitter (as some few elementary teachers do now--getting the computer cart and having the kids play on different websites all day, while the teacher does....what?? and the PRINCIPAL LOVES it! Thinks it's so great that the young kids are staring at a screen for 6 hours that day and ruining their eyes! Please. Palo Alto has always been a wise place that respected the development of children. Please.

21 people like this
Posted by Terry
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 23, 2018 at 9:42 pm

Anecdotal Logic Warning
1) In 1985 I wrote about 5000 lines of code to automate some personal business accounting procedures. (Because I was too lazy to do it the conventional way.)
2) In the next ten years that code led to millions of income and early retirement.
3) I never took a computer science class. (I just read the manual.)
4) I did enjoy the privilege of a strong math and science education. (Physicist)

I suggest concentrating on math and science.

A good scientist can easily master computer science, as well as other unexpected opportunities that may appear.

3 people like this
Posted by Ferdinand
a resident of Barron Park
on May 23, 2018 at 9:51 pm

Removing one of the redundant-redundant-redundant US history/govt classes that starts in elementary school would be a nice place to fill with a new option for those who want it.

9 people like this
Posted by We need Computer Science
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on May 23, 2018 at 10:11 pm

Software is eating the world. We need to have a strong CS program in our schools. Just about every future job will involve software. We are doing a huge disservice to our children if we don't have good CS program in our schools. Programming is becoming a life skill even if you aren't a programmer.

8 people like this
Posted by Engineer
a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2018 at 10:14 pm

If our students do not learn computer science (along with math and science) as part of their school and high school curriculum, they will be well behind the international students who will run the most critical aspects of our society. I can't believe we will elect a president (or senator) in twenty years from now who do not understand probability, statistics, data science, convolution, deep learning, Turing test, etc.

7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 23, 2018 at 11:33 pm

Having spent time in Europe and having friends in Europe with teens, I have been made aware first hand of the amount of time European schools spend on more useful subjects. I have seen work experience, computer science, practical finance as part of the high school curriculum. I have seen more hours per day and more days per year spent in school. I have seen less testing even in countries with examination based graduations.

If Computer Science is not taught in our schools, it will mean that the Googles and Facebooks of the future will be filling up with employees garnered or harvested from overseas because those individuals will be way ahead of American educated graduates.

When we hear of all the immigrants coming to fill high tech jobs in Silicon Valley we must ask ourselves why. It is not because they are willing to work for less (as many say). It is because they are better educated.

Yes. Employers want better educated employees. I will say it again. High tech employers want better educated high tech employees.

It is time we realized that if we want our own young people being the innovaters of the high tech world, then we have to start training them, educating them, and giving them the goals and vision that the rest of the world are teaching the next generation of movers and shakers.

13 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Professorville
on May 24, 2018 at 3:24 am

CS should be an elective. Our parents used to take carpentry, home ec, auto mechanics, etc. These should be electives too. Not every kid wants or needs to go to college, but some basic skills (changing a tire, making a useful wooden object, how to put together a meal without takeout, drive-thru, frozen entrees, or WoW) can prep a kid to get a manual labor job. How about basic cobbling? Why do all of our service workers have to be immigrants with minimal English communication skills?
For the late-bloomers, a year or 2 of entry or apprentice-level work may inspire them to continue educations. It also reduces the dropout rate for kids who have little academic skill but want to remain part of their school communities, participate in athletics, etc, without feeling insecure or isolated by lesser academic aptitude.

17 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Barron Park
on May 24, 2018 at 6:21 am

Sanctimonious City is a registered user.

Liberal Progressives oppose requiring the STEM classes because they promote concepts of objective facts and rational thought. Adding a requirement for computer science would take away time from the curricullum of political correctness orthodoxy.

Never fear, computer science already has topics about triggers, privelages, hiearchies and promiscuous modes. Described in that manner, I am sure the school board would embrace the requirement faster than one can say intersectional identity politics.

6 people like this
Posted by Suggestion
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 24, 2018 at 6:54 am

The question isn’t whether to teach Computer Science (yes, duh), it’s when to find time for it.

[Portion removed.]

15 people like this
Posted by Posted by Too many requirements too late
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 24, 2018 at 7:49 am

Posted by Too many requirements too late is a registered user.

"fire all the middle school English teachers"

FWIW, my kid has had FANTASTIC English teachers in middle school (6th and 7th grade). Way to go, JLS!

23 people like this
Posted by Retired teacher of foreign language
a resident of Midtown
on May 24, 2018 at 8:36 am

Adding computer science as a requirement will only further impact the already overloaded high school student's schedule and will negatively affect elective courses. Students already use computers as a tool in almost every subject they take. For those students who are interested in computer science they have the option to take the course. However, requiring all students to take computer science is unnecessary.

11 people like this
Posted by kids
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2018 at 12:43 pm

kids is a registered user.

I think it would be better to add logic and number theory as a strand that starts in kindergarten and is taken more seriously than just a page at the end of the book. There is an open courseware class at Stanford just called "Algorithms" that could be a great option for High school students. Learning computer systems and languages that will be obsolete in one or 10 years would be ok because they would be using good logical thinking.

I would much rather see the math presented and an actual formal logic class that all the students could use in many, many fields and their real lives. HOw many times should I vape before I get addicted? Can I get cancer with one exposure to this or that? How many times will this teacher let me off the hook before flunking me? If I choose not put my seatbelt on, will I eventually be injured? I am not sure if pure logic could help teens or adults make better decisions?

Probability and how to look for the best way to go forward might be supported by learning how to think and kids knowing this would be awesome in the computer fields. The history requirement of 4 years will teach them that they can make all the best choices and create perfect machines, but things can go wrong. I hope that stays put. I would love to see the PE and life skills requirement combined and also use the wasted mandatory flex time for whatever presentation they need to fulfill time constraints. This would free up one free semester for every kid. If they do put in computer requirement,they should also put in a section in privacy rights and how to protect themselves within the interweb, the cloud and with their virtual contacts with everyone. Hope they can consider that most kids are pretty computer savvy. Think about it... the best "computer" people in the world did not grow up with computers or take "computer" classes. It was their thinking that made them great.

5 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 24, 2018 at 2:56 pm

Really. Computer science as it would probably be taught in K-12 is the 21st century equivalent of vocational shop class. I'm sure we are all putting those woodworking skills to good use.

8 people like this
Posted by MidtownMom
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 24, 2018 at 3:01 pm

Typing / keyboarding is a class that kids take in middle school. Its a good skill - why because almost every job requires a person to type. If not on the job, most people use a computer sometime / somewhere.

I support the basic programming skills class. A very basic, fundamental class in 5th grade or middle school. No pressure. Some kids are not geared towards the programming - they should be able to take the class and get a decent grade. This will open them up to whether they like programming or want to stay away from it.

Totally support the introduction of another language in the elementary school too .. infact do two years of German/French and two years of Spanish ( or some such combination )

And yes, I know - all kinds of rules and funds and what not - let the district manage that. Let PiE pay for all this - PiE asks for donations anyways .. put them to good use for the kids at young age.

25 people like this
Posted by 50-Year Computer Pro
a resident of Professorville
on May 24, 2018 at 6:45 pm

For 95% of people, useful computer science education consists of learning how to use basic consumer-oriented software like word processors. A simple two month introduction in elementary school, followed by consistent usage in classwork, is sufficient.

For the professionally CS-oriented students, 95% of any classropm CS they learn before entering college is apt to be functionally obsolete when they enter the workforce, so their pre-college time would be much better spent studying something lasting like the humanities.

"Typing / keyboarding is a class that kids take in middle school. Its a good skill - why because almost every job requires a person to type. If not on the job, most people use a computer sometime / somewhere."

Typing / keyboarding was a vital skill before phones and tablets obsoleted it. Everybody is doing two-finger hunt and peck again.

Like this comment
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on May 24, 2018 at 9:43 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

For some additional thoughts and caveats from a former CS teacher, see my blog , and the comments, of a year ago:
"Computer Science in PAUSD" (Web Link).

13 people like this
Posted by CS or Technology Literacy?
a resident of Barron Park
on May 25, 2018 at 2:23 am

Students today need computer literacy, some programming, broad familiarity and facility with technology. But they do not need to know the theory of designing and developing computers or a deep familiarity with the theory of computing. Even 42 in Fremont says it’s for “software engineering” and “programming”, NOT a degree in computer science. Computer science is far too specialized a field to be worth the extra burden to our students. Most everyone needs to learn how to drive, but most of us don’t need to know how to design internal combustion engines.

I agree with the students, they are already doing too much. Computer science is less important than helping kids learn how to use the computers as tools, which is not computer science. It makes no more sense to require computer science than to require electrical engineering just because everyone spends so much time every day in close proximity to so many transistors. Teaching computer and technology literacy, programming, and other practical technology skills can be taught by integrating them into the curriculum. And also by giving kids way more free time by sharply cutting back the unnecessary overhead in our local educations so the kids have way more time to explore what our area has to offer.

A far better subject for local youth would be making/entrepreneurship. Teach the kids how to solve problems, rapidly prototype their ideas, actually patent them, and turn them into a way to pay for college and earn a living. Teach them by giving them real world help to DO those things. In Switzerland, 5th and 6th graders learn the chocolate industry. We’re in Silicon Valley, why shouldn’t we be teaching entrepreneurship and a very broad familiarity with technology across disciplines? Sure, it’s great for kids to know how computers work, but that can be done well enough as they need it in a week for most of them.

I also agree with the students that the schools are already too STEM oriented. Didn’t anyone note that the Google Exec who spoke at that documentary at Gunn said art students are making six figure salaries now, too? Why aren’t our students all learning principles of design? That would get more of them employed earlier than computer science degrees. (Again, CS is not the same as software engineering or programming. No offense to my computer science brethren but I also disagree that CS is the best way to teach logic, critical thinking, or problem solving.)

I like this article for how it discusses more ways of integrating education across subjects, and letting students take the lead (and make better use of their time).
Web Link

8 people like this
Posted by Paly Student
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 25, 2018 at 10:55 am

We need to implement a CS requirement to graduate. Palo Alto is at the heart of Silicon Valley, and teaching the students CS not only provides great knowledge, it creates more job opportunities for us. Most adults and students do not know how to use a computer sufficiently, which dampen our learning heavily. If a student cannot be computer-literate, then they will go no where far in life. I starting learning CS when I was young, and I continue to because our district is incompetent of providing CS education. The only CS education we get at Paly is CS Principles (which is a joke), FP/OOP which is useful, APCS, and Web Development. Nothing else. And we might lose those due to 2 CS teachers leaving. PAUSD needs to stop wasting our time and start listening to what we want, and we want CS education. #giveusourCSrequirement

7 people like this
Posted by Stephen
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 25, 2018 at 1:47 pm

[Portion removed.] Being able to communicate effectively in writing is a vital life-long skill. In contrast, as others have pointed out above, CS can easily be taught as a vocational skill, one that has a limited life. I.e., look around Silicon Valley and see how many coders aged 50 or more one can find; I suspect not many. The aspects of CS that synthesize math and language are intellectually fascinating and challenging, but I doubt that is what Paly Student wants to be taught. Moreover, I suspect that these would be quite challenging to teach in high school. However, speaking as someone whose daily life involves lots of mathematical physics and computation, I very much like the suggestions above that computation be introduced as part of the teaching of science and math.

Like this comment
Posted by @programmer
a resident of Midtown
on May 25, 2018 at 4:32 pm

Who says older people do not code! I am 70+ years old and still do coding! The reason computer science/engineering (CS/E) should be one of the fundamental subjects to be taught in schools is that most of the processes that affect our daily life (from our mobile communication to hospital operation) are run by software. We don't want these critical processes to be programmed by simply coders. We want the coders to first be computer scientists or engineers and then as part of learning the science, practice how to write reliable software. The student have to learn CS very early in their educational life just like they learn chemistry and physics. There is a lot to be learned.

7 people like this
Posted by 50-Year Computer Pro
a resident of Professorville
on May 25, 2018 at 5:36 pm

"The student have to learn CS very early in their educational life just like they learn chemistry and physics. There is a lot to be learned."

There are two levels of CS. The first concerns the fundamentals: basic logic structures, and how to use them to engineering a computer and make it do something useful. That, plus the physics of miniaturizing semiconductor devices, was the focus of the pre-Internet Silicon Valley.

The second and far bigger level applies the ever-burgeoning myriad of programming paradigms and languages to peddle goods and consumers ever more efficiently over the Internet. It is much, much closer to legislating and lawyering than to engineering or science, and it changes extremely rapidly. A background in psychology is much better preparation for success in the modern Silicon Valley (an obsolete name) than is any physical science or coding education.

Programming is not hard to learn. That's a good thing, because computer professionals need to relearn it often. The essential Silicon Valley skills are knowing *what* to program at the moment, and a monkeylike ability to leap onto the latest Madison Avenue fad. "CS" courses that don't drill in these realities are a waste of a student's time.

9 people like this
Posted by CS or Technological Literacy?
a resident of Barron Park
on May 25, 2018 at 7:31 pm

@Paly Student,
Perhaps it would be a good idea if the students asked the district to clarify what it means by "computer science". Your post even uses the term "computer literate". Computer and technological literacy and programming are different and much broader than computer science, which is really unnecessarily specialized to be a high school requirement.

The committee has a point if the idea is that general technological literacy ought to be a bigger part of students' education. I don't think that has to add any additional burdens to kids' time, but the effort to do that in our district will be major and they probably have to engage the entire community, teachers and parents, to do it.

If better technological literacy is the goal of the committee, I hope they will use more specific terminology. If the goal is to teach computer science by a strict definition, I just don't think that's a good use of kids' time.

8 people like this
Posted by Terry
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 25, 2018 at 8:18 pm

I suggest that "Paly Student" could learn much from the comments of "50-Year Computer Pro". Those of us having decades of history in this field know that success is based on problem solving, and writing code is just a tool.

There is much opportunity for innovation in CS, but I believe it is a self motivated endeavor. It is better to learn from your own ambition than rely on a classroom.

10 people like this
Posted by Paly Grad '73
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 25, 2018 at 10:06 pm

The biggest failure of my education at Paly in the early 1970's was a lack of personal finance skills.

I would gladly have traded my three years of Latin for some grounding in personal finance. The first time I received a W2 form and had to file an income-tax return after graduating, they were completely alien to me. I could conjugate a Latin verb but was clueless when it came to income-tax exemptions. It was unforgivable then and, if things haven't changed since 1973, unforgivable now. Students need to learn more than how to balance a checkbook; they need to learn about taxes and mortgages and cash flow.

7 people like this
Posted by Terry
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 25, 2018 at 11:55 pm

Paly Grad '73 has a good point. Instead of discussing CS, I would propose a class in Adult Responsibilities 101. It would include topics in personal finance, business law, health, etc.

A 2018 CS class will be as useful as Latin in 2024.

13 people like this
Posted by Paly Alum Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 26, 2018 at 12:53 pm

No! At least, not for high school where the grades are too important. CS is not an easy subject and will add stress.

What our children need are TYPING classes like we had back in the 70s-80s throughout middle school. Right now, our students only have typing class once per week in elementary school, thus, they have to learn on their own time. Maybe in one grade year, they could learn to type!

They also need to be taught to write like we were taught back then when the PAUSD English departments in middle and high schools were outstanding. But this requires teacher participation, taking the time to correct papers (which most don't want to do) resulting in very little practice in learning to write. Many just have peer corrections (how can a middle school or high school student know as much as a teacher with an English degree?).

4 people like this
Posted by Paly Student
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 26, 2018 at 3:33 pm

Same Paly Student as above

I do agree most points given above.
I think on top of some new type of CS class (if programming or basic computer literacy), we need an Adult Skills class like 'Paly Grad '73' said.

9 people like this
Posted by CS or Technological Literacy?
a resident of Barron Park
on May 26, 2018 at 5:10 pm

@Paly Student,
If the administration is giving students more time with a shorter schedule (?), you might be able to find classes like that for homeschool students, whose parents often organize such classes. You can look on the website Outschool or Edx, or Udemy to see if there are cheap/free options for online courses, too. Sometimes those classes can be taken in very short bits rather than as one class.

I wish such courses were available at the schools on a P/NP option. Those are just skills the students want to learn, they should not be graded. On the other hand, just as many schools are using Khan Academy, they may as well start using other resources as well instead of reinventing the wheel for everything.

@ Paly Alum Parent,
I agree with you on pretty much everything you wrote. I found that when our teen decided to independent study, just having more time meant getting to read lots of good books, which meant that writing got so much better all on its own, like all the problems fixed themselves and a techie-oriented kid started getting 99%-ile on the English portion of the college board tests without studying for them. And without taking a formal English class. I suspect this would be the case for a great many students in Palo Alto.

I'm not suggesting everyone homeschool, but I am suggesting that giving students more autonomy and choice, in the way the curriculum is structured, in the way the education plays out, while providing the support where they need it (such as actually reviewing their writing, as you suggested) could mean the kids learn more and do better, and have more time to learn life skills and acquire technology skills, too. School takes up so much time, and it doesn't stop at the end of the school day. There are so many opportunities now for students outside of the traditional classroom, it just seems a shame that their outside endeavors get treated like they are not important. Our student was honing some pretty high-level skills in outside endeavors that couldn't be repeated in school, but was persistently discouraged even pressured frequently to quit them because of school. It turned out the overhead of school was the problem, not the courses or the learning or the endeavors. Some schools like DTech are innovating to reduce that overhead. So can we. If we did, it might make it possible for more kids who want to to learn about CS, to take life skills classes, etc.

13 people like this
Posted by Paly Grad '73
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 26, 2018 at 5:20 pm

There are all kinds of useful real-world adult skills which IMO high schools are negligent in not teaching. These are skills which grads will need every day, year after year, after they leave the nest.

Cash flow
Real estate: renting/leasing/buying
Social Security

If those eight areas are taught adequately in high school, graduates will be much further ahead in real-world skills than I was when I graduated Paly. How many times do students need to be taught about the Dred Scott case at the expense of real-world survival skills?

If it's going to be an all-encompassing course in Adult Life Skills, add cooking and nutrition to the list, as well as how to find a job and prepare a resume, and something about automobiles, which everyone has to deal with. I had to learn all of these things in the School of Hard Knocks because they were not taught at Paly.

9 people like this
Posted by Gunn Grad
a resident of Barron Park
on May 27, 2018 at 10:29 am

Great comment by poster @kids earlier--it'd be really great to see options for number theory, discrete math, logic, etc. classes opened up to high schoolers. These classes are far more important in laying the framework for future studies in computer science than some "intro to java 101" class could ever hope to be.

2 people like this
Posted by 50-Year Computer Pro
a resident of Professorville
on May 27, 2018 at 9:24 pm

Anybody wanting to learn immediately useful and universally applicable programming skills should check out the extensive set of free tutorials at w3schools: Web Link

To start, choose the HTML language, the backbone of web site construction, and begin working through the tutorials. Use the Try it Yourself feature freely. Modify the examples and watch what happens. Make mistakes and learn from them. (No worries, you cannot break your computer or anything else from here.) Watch for things you don't know about in the Try it Yourself windows, look them up on the w3schools site, and work through them in their own Try it Yourself windows. That's how professional programmers learn new tricks. Branch out into JavaScript, which is a very versatile programming language that runs in any web browser.

Very importantly, apply what you are learning as you go along. Build a web site about something that interests you. Copy code snippets from the Try it Yourself windows into your project to help you get started, then modify them to do what you need. Keep adding new features: fonts, colors, images, links to other websites. Check out your work often by running your code in your browser, and find and fix what isn't working. That's called debugging. Expect a lot of it. Pros do too. No fear, you cannot break your computer doing this.

When you're done start a new project. You learn by doing.

The foundation skills you will learn from this enterprise apply everywhere in computer work.

Above all, HAVE FUN!

3 people like this
Posted by Miriam Palm
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 28, 2018 at 11:34 am

Miriam Palm is a registered user.

I have to stick up for Latin. Many European languages are its descendants, and it taught me logic, language structure, and how to think, in addition to the correct spelling of many English words by knowing their derivation.

My father was horrified when a social studies teacher said in a parent-teacher gathering that he "had never heard a word based on Latin." This was in the 1950s and it appears it is still true today.

7 people like this
Posted by Too many requirements too late
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 28, 2018 at 12:04 pm

Too many requirements too late is a registered user.

FWIW, I strongly agree with those who say a programming class is a mistake. I agree. There are too many kinds of programming, and they are not generally useful. I do think computer literacy is important (e.g., people should know what a browser is, what the internet is, what a display/monitor is vs a computer, what RAM is and why it matters, why privacy can be an issue with online services, etc). But even more important imo is data literacy -- how to understand numbers and statistics. None of these has anything to do with programming, but everything to do with every day life, and making good decisions.

I do not think logic and number theory are a good use of time. They are too abstract for most people, and I don't think will be effective in teaching people to think. Instead, thinking about real-world problems involving technology and data would be a basis for an effective and relevant course.

Nevertheless, even that I don't think should be required. Or it should be an alternative to a foreign language. I consider it to be more important than learning, say, French or Spanish or Latin.

2 people like this
Posted by 50-Year Computer Pro
a resident of Downtown North
on May 28, 2018 at 12:12 pm

"But even more important imo is data literacy -- how to understand numbers and statistics."

Hear, hear!

As the legendary computer applications pioneer Richard W. Hamming* observed, "The purpose of computing is not numbers, but insight."

* Web Link

1 person likes this
Posted by rsmithjr
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 28, 2018 at 12:15 pm

rsmithjr is a registered user.

I think a better idea would be a course in data science. The subject is too new to be reasonable for a required course just now, but we could get started.

High schools and universities are adopting this subject at a record pace. It is a much better match, in my opinion, to what most of today's students need to know.


6 people like this
Posted by Paly Grad '73
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 28, 2018 at 1:58 pm

"I have to stick up for Latin. Many European languages are its descendants, and it taught me logic, language structure, and how to think, in addition to the correct spelling of many English words by knowing their derivation."

Yes, but three years of Latin to the exclusion of adult living skills including personal finance is unforgivable.

I deal with my finances every day, year in and year out, yet I couldn't conjugate a Latin verb now if my life depended on it.

9 people like this
Posted by Professor Poiindexter
a resident of Professorville
on May 28, 2018 at 4:03 pm

Science is math
Computer science is math.
Data science is math.
Logic is math.

Math, math, math .... teach it instead of trying to induce mental blocks in people ... math is fantastic.

Even politics boils down to math and logic.

6 people like this
Posted by Professor Poindexter
a resident of Professorville
on May 28, 2018 at 4:10 pm

Ooops, Professor Poindexter misspelled Poindexter

Also critical are:

Civics, government, political rights and responsibilities.
History from all points of view, not just flag-waving.
Business & Finance
Health and Nutrition

Studies should be part of some project, not just unrelated and un-relatable factoids.

Oh .... and math.

Like this comment
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on May 28, 2018 at 5:15 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

Since I was in the home PC era with having built several S-100 based systems running several operating systems ( including M S-DOS with gates complaining that people would not pay his $400.00 price tag for just an O/S ) I probably outrank most people in Silicon Valley.

The last thing we need is a teacher who is taught on ( by one maker ) by mastering 1 Course in computer teaching and the software is obsolete by the time they master this " CS Course " and thinks they have mastered a course in teaching CS. In the real world, a Professional CS person is obsolete in just FOUR YEARS unless they keep up constantly in their knowledge of the " state of the art " around them. Half of my Engineering duties at Cray Research was spent just reading about ( no www in those days ) present day advances in my specific areas. And I AM a speed reader!
What is needed is someone who can devote the time to develop a common sense approach to teaching CS AND be able to use a BS filter on what they are learning and pass down this knowledge to the students. Software starts with programmers block diagrams to get to a goal. Many students find out they are not software programming specialists. So turn to today's version of auto shop: Hardware creation. Building and Repairing equipment and possibly becoming A+ certified. At least, some direction to move into the future. In my case, I was self taught, even before there was any certification in areas I worked in! ( one employer said I could have written the A+ exam ).
In both cases I recommended, staying current is almost a full time job just doing this.The only thing I got from collage is learning how to learn with a minor of kissing butt to get ahead..Bye SJSU, hello Foothill College, where learning is much more fun. My primary learning place was at AMD and other Silicon Valley jobs. Getting that training was far more of an example than ANY sheepskin was worth. To teach ANYTHING computer related, a person has to keep up with learning new technologies because of the turnover that is in new technologies. Calculus has been around for centuries. CS has been around for only 50 years ( not including the " Gods of Computing like IBM ". Fielding a new CS teaching position is a complete redesigning of how to teach Computer Science because you have a moving target and not a hundred year old subject like Calculus. That was only used in one area of Engineering to explain reactions in waveforms in a Gigabit environment.
Good luck! Diogenes was looking for one person too!

3 people like this
Posted by mom
a resident of Midtown
on May 28, 2018 at 9:37 pm

Although I love programming, my kids HATE them. please at least make computer sciences as an elective not a required course. This is like home econ, performing arts, and music. Students should have choices; not all of them will be programmers!

1 person likes this
Posted by Paly Grad '73
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 29, 2018 at 4:34 am

Every student should be adroit with a spreadsheet program.

3 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 29, 2018 at 5:26 am

^ Every student should be able to play a piano.

1 person likes this
Posted by Crusty
a resident of College Terrace
on May 29, 2018 at 11:44 am

"Since I was in the home PC era with having built several S-100 based systems running several operating systems ( including M S-DOS with gates complaining that people would not pay his $400.00 price tag for just an O/S ) I probably outrank most people in Silicon Valley."

Maybe people who never built a crystal radio from a kit. But I'd be impressed if you designed and built an adder from discrete transistors.

1 person likes this
Posted by Chiming in
a resident of Midtown
on May 29, 2018 at 4:00 pm

I built an adder from mechanical parts. Does that count? (No pun intended).

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 29, 2018 at 4:22 pm

^ "Only to ten, Mudhead."

3 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 29, 2018 at 7:18 pm

I was required to take piano lessons and wood shop. Now retired, I use my music training and woodworking skills more than computer programming. I program to solve a problem or create something useful, not just to program. CS training is often sterile exercises instead of accomplishing a real task.

Like this comment
Posted by Midtown resident
a resident of Midtown
on May 30, 2018 at 4:31 pm

Haha, how about push a little harder on the "underrepresented" part so they will be hired as software engineer without taking any CS classes...As soon as you bring inequality up, everything resolved. - ridiculous.

Like this comment
Posted by Friden Marchant
a resident of Meadow Park
on May 30, 2018 at 7:25 pm

"I built an adder from mechanical parts. Does that count?"

It used to.

6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 31, 2018 at 3:38 am

I think it is time that we had some of our graduation requirements as Pass or Fail. This would enable the students to learn life skills that would be useful without adding to their stress. I would like to see some form of computer literacy, basic finance, business English, health management, etc. covered in a class like this. I would particularly like students to have a better idea of pregnancy and fetal development taught too which is why I would like the health management feature added to sex ed class.

We spend a great deal of time with repetitive US government and history requirements as well as higher math, and for most people they never need the information taught in these classes. Spending more time teaching our students useful life skills that will make them better adults will be doing them a great service.

1 person likes this
Posted by Wrong Audience
a resident of The Greenhouse
on May 31, 2018 at 7:37 am

It is the makers of our city’s web page who should learn computer science. I still don’t get how we took something functional and made it bad. And forced the library page to be part of it.

2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 31, 2018 at 3:41 pm

^ I thought Palo Alto gave up on our website and went to Facebook -- Web Link
Police, Fire, Library, Open Space, Baylands, Foothills Park, and many other of our civic entities have their own Facebook pages now. Probably much easier to modify and maintain. The pages are accessible to anyone even without a Facebook account. You can find the specific URLs by Googling Facebook Palo Alto Police, or Facebook Palo Alto Fire, or Facebook Palo Alto Library, etc. People with a Facebook account can search from within Facebook, and also chime in with comments.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 31, 2018 at 4:14 pm

I should also acknowledge the Palo Alto Online Facebook page -- Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Wrong Audience
a resident of The Greenhouse
on May 31, 2018 at 9:05 pm

“Palo Alto City Library is on Facebook. To connect with Palo Alto City Library, join Facebook today.”

Apparently, we must join Facebook to “connect” with these sites.

3 people like this
Posted by Paly Alum & Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 2, 2018 at 5:54 pm

Why are Kuszmaul and Friebel leaving and where are they going? Former is a relief, but sad to see Friebel leave.

Web Link

Colleges won't care about a CS class on the transcript, don't do it! The Board already requires two years of World Language and now CS too? How far do you want to push our children? To the tracks?

Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 5, 2018 at 1:56 pm

The Palo Alto Library is online at , here:Web Link

1 person likes this
Posted by 50-Year Computer Pro
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 5, 2018 at 4:30 pm

"It is the makers of our city’s web page who should learn computer science. I still don’t get how we took something functional and made it bad."

City hall gave the job to CS geeks; it should have been done by library science experts. The organization of the info being presented is what's important in web authoring, not glitzy "high tech" geewhizzery.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

Gluten-free bakery Misfits Bakehouse is reborn in Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 4 comments | 2,964 views

Premarital and Couples: The "Right" Way to Eat an Artichoke
By Chandrama Anderson | 1 comment | 1,886 views

What did you learn last week?
By Sherry Listgarten | 8 comments | 1,310 views

Some answers, please, PG&E
By Diana Diamond | 12 comments | 1,304 views

The holiday season
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 290 views


Race Results Are In

Thank you for joining us at the 35th annual Moonlight Run & Walk! All proceeds benefit the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday fund, supporting local nonprofits serving children and families.

Click for Race Results