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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Evidence of Khan positive impact

By Caitlin Emma
05/08/2017 03:49 PM EDT

Students who use free SAT preparation materials from the nonprofit Khan Academy for about 20 hours gain an average of 115 points on the 1,600-point test, the College Board said today.

The College Board in 2014 announced it was partnering with Khan Academy to offer the free materials at the same time it said it was redesigning the college admissions test.

The announcement came in response to criticism that low-income students were unable to afford costly test prep materials that gave them an edge. The test overhaul, which was rolled out two years later, eliminated obscure vocabulary words and placed more emphasis on real-world data in subjects like math and science.

For the evaluation, the College Board looked at nearly 250,000 test takers to determine whether they made gains between when they took the PSAT and the SAT. Students who didn't practice at all saw a gain of 60 points, it said. Practicing six to eight hours led to a gain of about 90 points. Overall, it said that 16,000 students saw increases of 200 points or more.

David Coleman, president of the College Board, said the gains made were consistent across race, gender, family income and ethnicity. The testing organization didn't immediately provide reporters with a breakout of that data during a media call this afternoon.


Coleman said he believes the test prep materials go beyond just familiarizing students with the SAT by helping students better learn the material and target points of weakness. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Kindergarten Red Shirting

Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten?

Redshirting may do more harm than good






EducationNext
By  and  
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SUMMER 2017 / VOL. 17, NO. 3

In his 2008 blockbuster, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell makes the case that a person’s age relative to his or her cohort is a key predictor of success. That is, the older you are in relation to your peers, the more likely you are to perform at an elite level in sports, to excel in school, and even to attend college. We see this principle applied in college athletics when coaches “redshirt” freshman athletes, allowing them to practice with the team but not play in official games. Redshirting gives younger athletes an additional year to develop skills and extends their playing eligibility, since colleges allow these freshmen five years to attend and compete.

On the other end of the student age spectrum, many parents of preschoolers have bought into this concept, choosing to delay their child’s entry into kindergarten for a year—a practice known as academic redshirting. Their justifications parallel those of college coaches: these parents believe that their children need that extra year to develop the necessary skills and maturity to succeed in kindergarten. A redshirted child is a year older at kindergarten entry and thus becomes one of the oldest in his class and remains so throughout his school years, enjoying the presumed advantages of age.

Preschools and elementary schools often recommend redshirting, asserting that it bestows the “gift of extra time,” but parents should take such advice with a grain of salt. After all, a preschool stands to gain financially from the practice, since the school will likely capture another year’s tuition. And elementary schools may also have mixed motives: older children are easier to teach and they perform at higher levels, just by virtue of being older. In other words, older children make the school’s job a little bit easier.

How should parents decide whether they should enroll their child in kindergarten when he is first eligible or hold him back for a year? In this article, we draw upon our combined experience—Schanzenbach as an education researcher and Larson as a preschool director—to provide some practical, evidence-based advice. Notably, we find that Larson’s take on the issue, formed by 14 years of experience with preschoolers and their parents, accords perfectly with Schanzenbach’s conclusions based on academic studies: redshirting is generally not worth it.

Despite the weightiness of the decision, rest assured that a child is likely to be successful whichever path his parents choose. We know dozens of families who have redshirted their children and have been perfectly happy with the outcome. On the other hand, in most instances there is a good case to be made for resisting the pressure—not only from schools but sometimes from other parents as well—and sending a child to school when he is first age-eligible.

Why Delay? 
We recognize that deciding whether or not to redshirt a preschooler is difficult. Parents want what’s best for their children now and in the future, and they have to make the kindergarten-enrollment decision with limited and uncertain information. The concerns that lead parents to contemplate redshirting are most often related to the child’s physical, social, and emotional maturity as the parents perceive it. In particular, parents seem to wrestle most with the redshirting decision when they have a son whose fifth birthday falls just before the cutoff date for kindergarten eligibility, which is most commonly on or around September 1. If the child starts kindergarten “on time,” he will be among the youngest in his grade; if he is redshirted, he will be one of the oldest.

In terms of physical maturity, it is true that redshirting changes the child’s relative height in the kindergarten class. For example, using national data, we calculated that a summer-born boy who is in the bottom third of the national height distribution will be, on average, the fourth-shortest child in a class of 24. If he is redshirted, the height he gains during the additional year of preschool will move him closer to the middle of the pack. On the other hand, if the boy enters on time, he will also tend to gain relative height over the years, and by 3rd grade the odds are only fifty-fifty that he will remain in the shortest third of his class.

Emotional development presents a thornier issue. Parents correctly want their child to be able to walk into his kindergarten classroom with confidence—standing tall, asking questions, developing relationships with the teacher and with other students. If the child’s work habits or ability to sustain attention or fine motor skills are less advanced than those of his peers because he is younger, parents fear that the child will be left behind. One challenge here is that the child’s skill level in April, when the redshirting decision is often made, is a poor predictor of what his skills will be in September or October, when the school year is underway. Children’s development is highly uneven, with bursts of improvement in language, fine motor skills, and other capacities coming somewhat unpredictably.

Who Is Redshirted? 
Most parents wrestling with these issues ultimately decide to enroll their child on schedule, as the vast majority of children are not redshirted. Among parents of the kindergarten class that entered in fall 2010, 6.2 percent reported that they delayed their child’s school entry by a year, and the share was slightly higher for boys (7.2 percent) than for girls (5.2 percent, see Figure 1a). The rate was higher among highly educated parents (see Figure 1b), with college graduates approximately twice as likely to redshirt their sons as high-school graduates are. The variation by parental education was especially stark for boys born during the summer months: among those with college-educated parents, approximately one in five was redshirted, a rate that is about four times as high as that for summer-born boys with high-school-educated parents. Note, however, that even among summer-birthday boys with college-educated parents, the great majority of them enter kindergarten on time.

The Research
In his analysis, Gladwell overstates the benefits of redshirting to some degree. In fact, a balanced look at the research suggests that while children derive a short-term gain from being redshirted, that advantage dissipates quickly over time.

It is difficult to study the impacts of redshirting because students who are redshirted differ across a host of dimensions from those who start on time. As noted, children of more-educated parents are more likely to be redshirted; separating out the effects of the delayed school entry from those of other characteristics, such as family background, presents a challenge.

No one has conducted a true randomized trial related to redshirting. Instead, researchers have sought out opportunities to isolate the effects on student outcomes of the two variables that by definition change when a student is redshirted: age itself and the student’s age relative to those of classroom peers. Once these effects are known, one can simulate the impact of being redshirted by statistically aging a kindergarten entrant by one year, and predicting the impacts of absolute age and of relative age on his outcomes.

The research literature includes many serious attempts to estimate the impact of being one of the oldest students in a class or grade, using variation in students’ age or relative age that is driven by external factors. For example, a study by Todd Elder and Darren Lubotsky leverages cross-state differences in birthday cutoff dates for kindergarten entry. In some states, a child must turn five by December 1 to be eligible for kindergarten in a given year; in others, the cutoff date is September 1. In states with earlier cutoff dates, eligible children who enter on time (and not a year late or early) are, on average, older than their counterparts in states with later cutoffs. These differences in state policy allow researchers to estimate the impact of the child’s age at kindergarten entry.

Another study, co-authored by Elizabeth Cascio and Diane Schanzenbach, uses data from the well-known Project STAR experiment in which students were randomly assigned to classrooms prior to kindergarten entry. Project STAR was initially designed to study the effects of reductions in class size. The random assignment of students to classrooms, however, meant that pairs of children with the same birthday fell into different positions in their classroom age distribution by the luck of the draw.
Both studies find that the benefit of being older at the start of kindergarten declines sharply as children move through the school grades. In the early grades, an older child will tend to perform better on standardized tests than his younger peers simply by virtue of being older. This makes perfect sense—a redshirted kindergartner has been alive up to 20 percent longer than his on-time counterpart, which means his brain has had more time to develop and he has had that many more bedtime stories, puzzles, and family outings from which to build his general knowledge. This initial advantage in academic achievement dissipates sharply over time, however, and appears to vanish by high school when, as a 9th grader, the redshirted student is at most 7 percent older than his peers.

One benefit that redshirting might indeed confer has to do with grade retention and special education placement. Statistically, older children are less likely to be retained in a grade or to be diagnosed with learning disabilities such as ADHD. This may be because schools make judgments about retention and referrals based on a student’s relative achievement within a grade, and by virtue of their age, older students are less likely to have very low achievement. Most parents who are considering redshirting, however, have children who are not likely to perform at levels that would put them at risk for grade retention; thus, we would argue that the slightly decreased probability of retention afforded by redshirting should in most cases be given relatively little weight.

The Influence of Peers
Both of us have stories of children who were redshirted and would likely have had a better school experience if they had enrolled on time. Larson tells the story of Joshua, a preschooler with a spring birthday who was on the low end of the normal developmental range in terms of work habits: he had trouble sitting still during circle time, for instance, and finishing multi-step projects. His parents decided to hold him back and give him an extra year of preschool. By fall, though, he had matured tremendously and clearly would have been flourishing in the kindergarten classroom. The following year, when he entered kindergarten at age six, Joshua was well ahead of his classmates and was often bored in class. Over subsequent years, he became demotivated and even developed behavioral problems. He was physically and emotionally more mature than his younger classmates and had trouble making friends.

Schanzenbach teaches Sunday school to preschoolers. It turns out that her experience in teaching college students does not transfer to good classroom-management practices for preschoolers, and the room can be somewhat chaotic at times. While some children sit on the story blanket and are engaged in listening to the short Bible lesson, others—typically the high-energy boys—tend to misbehave, goof off, and need constant reminders to pay attention. One little girl who was especially small for her age, Julia, would always sit front and center, actively listening and asking questions about the lesson. After story time one Sunday, as the kids were transitioning to the next activity, Julia walked up to her teacher, got within an inch of her face (as kids will do), and demanded to know, exasperated, “What is wrong with those boys? Why can’t they just sit still and listen?”

Not 30 minutes later, over coffee, the girl’s mother mentioned to Schanzenbach that they were planning to redshirt Julia because of her small stature. Schanzenbach tried to convince the woman that her tiny, bright, self-possessed girl would do just fine despite her small size, and in fact would be worse-off being delayed, because attending school with less mature peers would frustrate her. Nevertheless, Julia’s parents decided to redshirt her. Now in 3rd grade, she is bored, and frustrated by her less-mature classmates—and is still among the shortest in her class. It is likely that Julia, with her sharp intellectual curiosity and mature self-possession even at age five, would have been better-off starting school on time.

What do Joshua and Julia have in common? Because they were redshirted, they were both matched with younger peers. As the research literature confirms, the peer composition of a classroom is very important: not surprisingly, children benefit from being in a class with well-behaved, high-achieving children, and are harmed by the presence of poorly behaved classmates. One recent study by Scott Carrell, Mark Hoekstra, and Elira Kuka was able to measure the lasting detrimental impact of being in class with a disruptive peer in elementary school, suggesting that the presence of just one disruptive student out of 25 reduces the earnings of other students in young adulthood by a modest but measurable 3 to 4 percent.

Consistent with this evidence, the research on relative age indicates that being among the youngest in the class has benefits, in both the short and long term. Why? Because older classmates tend to be higher achieving and better behaved. They model positive behavior, and the younger students achieve greater academic gains from learning and competing with older ones. And two studies cited above—the one by Elder and Lubotsky and the one by Cascio and Schanzenbach—find that, with age held constant, learning with older classmates boosts students’ test scores.

For the older students, on the other hand, the positive impacts of being more mature are offset by the negative effects of attending class with younger students.

This is not to suggest that students would benefit from being in classrooms with far older children. The studies finding positive effects from older peers are based on classrooms where the age variation is typical—usually a few months. These results cannot be extrapolated to situations where a child is learning alongside much older students.

But one implication is that if a handful of families in a school decide to redshirt their children, they may be doing the other families a favor by improving the children’s peer group. Rather than feeling pressure to follow in their footsteps, parents may want to thank them.

In the Balance 
Looking at the evidence, we advise parents to redshirt their child only in unique circumstances. Just what are those situations? Here we have less research to draw upon, but experience suggests a few scenarios. One is extreme developmental delay, outside of the normal range, to such an extent that another year’s development will potentially put the child in range of his classmates. Another is when a child is experiencing trauma, such as having a terminally ill parent or sibling.

Many instances of redshirting, however, involve parents who are trying to gain an advantage for their child down the line. Parents sometimes ask us whether redshirting their child will make him more likely to be accepted into gifted and talented programs. Although we could find no direct evidence in the research literature that this is the case, we can extrapolate from the literature that older children may indeed be more likely to be placed in a gifted and talented program. This depends on how schools assign students to such programs, in particular, whether a child’s eligibility is based on a comparison to other children in his grade or to other children his age. With variations according to individual talent, children’s test scores increase both as they get older and as they experience more years of schooling. So, within a given kindergarten classroom, a six-year-old will, on average, score higher than a five-year-old by virtue of being older. And a six-year-old in 1st grade will, on average, outscore a six-year-old in kindergarten, because the 1st grader has had an extra year of schooling.

If qualification for the gifted program is limited to the top 10 percent of the 1st graders, then being older may give some children an edge. (We are quick to add, though, that age tends to convey only small advantages that are likely to be trumped by differences in innate academic talent, and that there are many young-for-grade students in gifted programs.) On the other hand, if qualification is based on a test that is normed by age—and therefore six-year-olds are compared to other six-year-olds no matter what grade they are in—then the advantage may tip to the relatively younger child who has been in school longer.

And finally, parents should bear in mind that redshirting can even have an effect on their child’s economic future. Starting school at age 6 instead of age 5 means heading off to college at age 19 instead of age 18. (Perhaps spending an extra year with a teenager in the house is another cost to consider!) Then the student graduates from college and enters the workforce at age 23 instead of age 22. The redshirted individual will ultimately spend one less year in the labor force and forgo the returns of an extra year of experience throughout his working life. Assuming that, as research seems to indicate, being redshirted has no net long-term impacts on skill level, we can estimate the cost of losing that year in the labor force for a college-educated male who retires at age 67. Over the course of the worker’s career, working full time and year-round, he can expect to earn $80,000 less.

In sum, we find that redshirting at the kindergarten level bestows few benefits and exacts some substantial costs. Both research and experience suggest that the gains that accrue from being an older student are likely to be short-lived. Because of the important role of classroom peer effects, redshirted children can be educationally and socially harmed by being with others who are performing and behaving at lower developmental levels. Furthermore, while it is hard to predict a child’s likely growth trajectory in the months prior to his expected school entry, the perceived developmental delays and immaturity that prompt parents to choose redshirting in the spring have often resolved themselves by fall.

As any good educator will tell you, parents know their children best. There are multiple factors to weigh when deciding whether a preschooler is ready to thrive in kindergarten. What research tells us about the “average” child or “most” children may not apply to a particular son’s or daughter’s unique abilities and delays. Families might want to speak with parents of older children about their own kindergarten-enrollment decisions and how they view them in retrospect. And then, parents should follow their own best judgment.

Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach is professor of education and social policy at Northwestern University and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Stephanie Howard Larson is the director of Rose Hall Montessori School in Wilmette, Illinois. Kin

Monday, April 3, 2017

Report Breaks Down the Big Appetite for EngageNY Among Nation’s Teachers

Report Breaks Down the Big Appetite for EngageNY Among Nation’s Teachers

Senior Editor








We’ve known for some time that EngageNY, an online repository of open educational materials, has a magnetic quality for many of the nation’s educators, millions of whom have downloaded its resources for use in their schools.

A new report by the Rand Corporation offers some specifics on why teachers’ appetites for the English/language arts and math resources are so strong.

The materials housed on EngageNY are aligned to the Common Core State Standards and were created as “open” education resources, meaning they are free to users and can be shared and altered as educators want. The site, created by the state of New York, has drawn more than 17 million users and has had 66 million downloads since its resources went online in 2011,  according to the most recent numbers from New York’s education department, as my colleague Liana Heitin reports.

The Rand report says that 30 percent of math teachers and more than 25 percent of English/language arts teachers nationally are using the EngageNY in some way. The numbers were higher in individual states that are using the common core and similar standards, according to Rand.

Among the other findings:

  1. EngageNY’s math curricular materials are used much more, at roughly three times the rate, that ELA resources are by teachers across the country. But the researchers’ data suggests that ELA teachers may use EngageNY materials “more comprehensively” than do math teachers;
  2. The curriculum is accessed by teachers in every state, but educators in states that have adopted the Common Core State Standards or similar standards are 65 percent more likely to use EngageNY than are their peers in non–Common Core states.
  3. Despite the openly licensed nature of EngageNY, teachers did not say that the”availability” of the materials was an especially big influence in why they choose them. Other factors, such as the influence of the district’s curriculum guidelines, mattered more.

Among a subset of teachers–those who indicated that EngageNY was one of the top three instructional materials they use–more than three-quarters said that their district either recommended or required them to use at least some of the New York materials. A slightly higher portion of teachers using ELA said their districts compelled them to do so.

The graphic below offers a breakdown of what teachers said about how district policy influenced their decisions in using EngageNY:
The report draws from different data sources collected during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years. The data include prior surveys of teachers conducted by Rand as part of the American Teacher Panel, as well as Google Analytics reports provided by the New York state education department.

For a deeper look at changing district demands for open resources, stay tuned for an Education Week special report on curriculum being released this week.


Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Survey Says 86 Percent of Schools Expect to Spend More on Digital Curriculum


Investment in digital is rising, and schools need to prepare teachers and students for its adoption.


With 78 percent of students using a digital device for large portion of their school day, it should come as no surprise that 86 percent of K–12 schools are looking to spend more this year on digital curriculum.
These are findings from The Learning Counsel’s most recent Digital Curriculum Strategy Survey. In it, the research institute that studies and writes about digital curricula in education found that the digital courseware market is maturing, as spending shifts from individual teacher investments to districtwide spending.
Another survey, conducted last April by OverDrive and ASCD, found that 80 percent of schools and districts use some form of digital content in the classroom.
However, both surveys found that only a small portion of educators are using digital resources as the primary source for teaching.
Though spending on these tools might increase, schools now must work to find the return on investment, prepare teachers for new tools and address the digital equity issues that might exist.
“They actually access that curriculum and work at their pace,” Mike Hickman, an assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, told the Telegraph.
Concern about the lack of internet access at home was found to be one of the biggest barriers to adoption of digital curriculum, the OverDrive and ASCD survey reports.
Monroe County Schools had this is mind when developing its program. The Telegraph reports that before rolling out any digital curriculum, the district conducted a survey and found that a majority of students had internet access at home. For those who didn’t, alternative options were developed so they wouldn’t be left behind.
Many educators find the appeal of digital curriculum to be a no-brainer, writes Amy Brown, a K–12 education strategist for CDW·G, on EdTech.
“I’ve heard educators heap praise on the interactive, multimedia content for its ability to engage students in new and interesting ways,” writes Brown.
However, Brown indicates that schools will only get the most out of these options by ensuring that educators get proper training and professional development.
“Educators need to understand how classroom devices function,” she writes, “and how digital resources fit into the classroom.”

Friday, February 3, 2017

Why do we still talk about inBloom?

Assessing the Legacy of inBloom


Why do we still talk about inBloom? Why is it important?
Today Data & Society is releasing a new report – The Legacy of inBloom – which takes up these questions. Coauthors Monica Bulger, Patrick McCormick, and Mikaela Pitcan engaged in a year-long series of interviews and research to map the story of inBloom and its closure, which ignited a public discussion of student data privacy and has become the legacy any future edtech project will have to contend with.
What they found was a disconnect between Silicon Valley-style agile software development methods and the slower moving, more risk-averse approaches of states and school districts. inBloom itself incorporated conflicting approaches, proceeding now as startup, now as established firm, now as nonprofit. Despite considerable funding and resources, inBloom’s internal inconsistencies contributed to the initiative’s failure to communicate the benefits of its platform and achieve buy-in from key stakeholders.
“Ultimately, inBloom lacked a clear story of its benefits for teaching and learning,” said Monica Bulger, one of the coauthors of the report, “so it did not get the necessary buy-in from parents and schools. The legacy of inBloom matters because most current edtech platforms would fail the rigorous checklist applied to inBloom. Most current iterations are not transparent about their data use, do not resolve issues of data security, and fail to provide interoperability across platforms.”
In the wake of inBloom, 400 pieces of state-level legislation around student data privacy have been introduced, and the trend in data-driven educational technologies has since been toward piecemeal adoption of closed, proprietary systems instead of a multi-state, open source platform.
“InBloom was the moonshot of edtech and personalized learning,” concludes Patrick McCormick, one of the coauthors of the report. “The shared platform was intended to shatter barriers to data interoperability, lower costs, and unleash new opportunities for data driven instruction that could better address individual student needs. But ultimately inBloom’s audacious effort to transform education made privacy and security risks easier to grasp than any end goal. We hope that this examination of external and internal factors contributing to inBloom’s demise will inform ongoing strategies to bring innovation to K-12 education.”
The Legacy of inBloom tells the story of inBloom and assesses its legacy in a way that will be helpful for the range of people – teachers, administrators, parents, developers – thinking about and working on edtech and student data privacy.
Data & Society is also expanding the conversation with a set of guest posts reflecting on the report – in our Points publication:
As always, we welcome your feedback: feedback at data society dot net.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Free Computer Science University


Can 42 US, a free coding school run by a French billionaire, actually work?

by Chris Schodt/Edited by Jennifer Hahn.


FREMONT, Calif.—As you read these words, hundreds of students are hunched over iMacs in a massive computer lab. Most of them have little, if any, programming experience, and they haven’t paid a cent to get here.
And yet, here they sit, just 7.6 miles directly across the Dumbarton Bridge from Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, dreaming of joining Silicon Valley’s legions of programmers. Each day, the students get new programming assignments, but there are no teachers. There is a help desk, or rather a “help” desk—which really, really doesn’t want students to ask for guidance—all in the name of “peer-to-peer learning.”

Cyrus Farivar

Welcome to 42 US, a free (as in beer) coding school, which opened just last month. Even the optional dorms are free. (Good news: laundry is also free! Bad news: you have to pay the dorm $75 a week if you want two meals a day.) Admittedly, it sounds totally crazy.
By comparison, programming boot camps have become big business across the United States. Recent research from Course Report shows that nearly 18,000 students nationwide pay an average annual tuition of more than $11,400, which results in annual revenue of nearly $200 million industry-wide.
But Xavier Niel, the billionaire founder of Free, France’s second-largest ISP, wants none of that.
The first 42—and yes, it’s named after the answer to life, the universe, and everything—opened in Paris in 2013. That location has more charm to it, what with its roof hot tub and wine cellar.
Despite being Silicon Valley-adjacent and down the road from an historic local farm, 42 US is actually in a former DeVry University campus that Niel bought in February 2016 from that for-profit trade school. Driving up to the building feels like going to a boring office park that could be in Anytown, USA. Immediately outside is a largely empty parking lot.
When Ars arrived earlier this month, it wasn’t even obvious at first if we were in the right place. We couldn’t see any “42 US” markings anywhere. The first person we encountered was a DeVry employee, who helpfully walked us over to 42’s section of the building. There, we found a Frenchman seated at a computer in a room that was entirely black. It looked like a small high school theater.
Eventually we were led to Brittany Bir, the school’s chief operating officer. She tried to answer our most fundamental question: why offer a free coding school?
“I do know that what [Niel] has been very interested in doing is to fill this gap that we have with Web developers to get projects to advance so that we can continue to evolve as a society and a community together,” she said.
“If we put up barriers to education with money or with backgrounds, that means there are innovative talents and individuals that are not able to have access to education. So the idea behind 42 is to create an opportunity where individuals from all different kinds of backgrounds, all different kinds of financial backgrounds, can come and have access to this kind of education so that then we can have new kinds of ideas. Because in order to innovate, you need to have new people who think differently.”
For now, the school clearly needs to do much more outreach, particularly to women: when we visited, 81 percent of the students were men.
“We’re only limited by the amount of women that want to apply to the program,” she said. “For us, we’re more than willing to take in more women, but more need to apply.”

Jump in, the water's fine


Cyrus Farivar
While the Fremont location is equipped to handle hundreds of students, 42 US has plans to expand it to thousands.
“Rather than going to a class with a professor and sitting and listening to lectures, this simulates what you would be doing in real life when you leave 42,” Bir said as she walked us through the space.
The school recruits online and has done well through word of mouth. We saw students from South Korea and Israel, as well as many Americans. Because 42 isn’t a bona fide licensed university, it can’t help with student visas. Students must already have legal status in the US in order to be accepted.
Bir explained how the 18- to 30-year-old students take an online logic test to see if they have the general aptitude and temperament for 42. If they do they are accepted into its “piscine,” the French word for swimming pool, meant to connote the school's “sink or swim” ethos. Students need not provide transcripts, personal essays, or anything else.
The piscine is 42’s month-long crash-course in programming, starting with learning C from scratch. Students spend 12 or more hours per day, six to seven days per week. If they do well, students are invited back to a three- to five-year program with increasing levels of specialty. The school expects many students to drop out, either because they can’t hack it or, ideally, because they get a job. Case in point: the piscine we saw started off with 250 students, but when we visited during the third week, 75 students had dropped out. (The next piscine, which began on August 8, welcomed 500 students, with plans to expand to 2,048 students.)
Bir herself went through the school’s program in Paris. When she started out, she had a degree in Spanish and no programming experience at all. Years ago, Bir left the US to pursue graduate work in Europe, where it would less expensive. She got a master’s degree and taught English at a computer science school before getting connected with 42. While in France, she met her husband, and she was eventually asked to help run 42 US. For now, she and her husband live in the dorms amongst the students.
“It’s kind of a blast from the past,” she said. “It’s reminding me of my days from college.”

A gentle push

Beginner students get lessons in re-coding some of the basic functions in the C library. But how do students know if they’re on the right track?
“In the end they correct each other,” Bir explained. “We have a program which will randomly select five members of our community, who will then be assigned to go correct.”
Students are required to do all work onsite. The school evaluates based on their attendance as well as their ability to grasp the relevant concepts and move forward at 42’s demanding pace.

Lou Guenier is the pedagogical director at 42 US.
Enlarge / Lou Guenier is the pedagogical director at 42 US.
Cyrus Farivar
Bir oversees not only the students, but a group of mostly French men who work as the help desk, serving as a gentle guide more than anything else.
“We make sure they have enough projects to work on,” Lou Guenier, the pedagogical director, told Ars. “During the piscine, if they can finish every exercise of every day, that’s not a good thing.”
He said he’s been impressed by this round of students.
“They have more to lose than in France,” he added. “Because in France, we have free education, free universities. They don’t. Many students gave up two or three jobs just to do the piscine. So they are way more motivated, and I think in America they have the culture where you have to fight for something.”

From one boot camp to the next

One of Guenier’s students and Bir’s dorm-mates is David Lee, a dedicated 24-year-old from Cherry Hill, New Jersey. He came to 42 straight from serving five years in the US Army, most recently as a medic in Qatar. He said that he hasn’t seen anything crazy happening late at night in the dorms.
“Usually most people are coming back, either dead tired or trying to do their laundry,” he said. “It’s very quiet.”
Lee said that he has been learning a lot and would love to join a tech company. But that seems years away for now.
“Before this I had no programming experience, none whatsoever,” he said. “Initially it was really hard. Being able to explain what a type is, finding out how to read a function. Here they basically give you everything you need and [say] watch these videos and go figure it out.”

Hope Czuba, when not programming, is a fire performer.
Enlarge / Hope Czuba, when not programming, is a fire performer.
Cyrus Farivar
In some ways, Hope Czuba is Lee’s total opposite. This confident 21-year-old recently arrived from Chicago, where she had been a semi-nomadic fire performer. She came to Fremont recently after considering other boot camps, but was put off by their high cost. At 42, she thrives under the pressure of learning so much new information quickly.
“The expectations are too high,” she said. “It’s supposed to simulate a real-life work environment where your employer is asking too much of you, and you have to learn to be balanced in yourself.”
“I see tech as this really beautiful thing that is at the forefront of every revolutionary industry,” she said. “I’m not really sure how I’m going to help the world, but I would like to be able to help a lot of people all at once.”
Listing image by Cyrus Farivar