Here’s why American students don’t learn computer science

America’s youth isn’t getting a decent education when it comes to the basics of technology, and now we’re seeing some data on why that’s the case.
A survey conducted by Google and Gallup shows that many Americans believe computer science should be taught between kindergarten and the 12th grade. Yet most schools don’t offer the courses due to budget constraints, a lack of teachers, and the need to focus more on subjects included in standardized tests.
The results are another mark against standardized tests, which have become a point of contention among parents, students, teachers, principals, and essentially anyone else who doesn’t profit off their continued existence. Yet these reviled constructs aren’t the only cause of computer science courses’ woes.
Another problem might be the lack of communication between administrators, parents, students, and teachers. The survey showed that 91 percent of parents want their children to learn computer science; less than 8 percent of principals thought demand for the courses was that high. That can’t be blamed on tests — it’s simply the byproduct of a good-ol’ fashioned breakdown in communication.
The rising number of low-income students also contributes to the problem. More students qualify for free or reduced-price meals at school (a sign of belonging to a low income family) than ever before. Yet the schools these children attend receive less than their fair share of state or federal funding, according to a 2011 report published by the US Department of Education.
That could help explain why many superintendents who responded to the survey said there isn’t enough money to train or hire a teacher (57 percent); nor a sufficient budget to purchase necessary equipment (31 percent) or software  (33 percent); nor enough equipment (20 percent) or software (27 percent) already in their schools for them to introduce computer science courses.
All those factors combine to create a system where computer science is limited to students privileged enough to belong to schools that value the subject, have the equipment necessary to teach it, and reliable Internet access they can use to complete any homework. The barriers to computer science being taught more widely don’t end with schools; they extend into student’s home lives, too.
None of these problems are unique to computer science. The influence of standardized tests, budget shortfalls, and a student’s lack of resources at home aren’t limited to this one aspect of education held near-and-dear by the tech industry’s top companies. They pervade every aspect of America’s education system — and that means introducing computer science courses shouldn’t necessarily be a goal unto itself, but should instead be another bullet point in any argument meant to overhaul much of this country’s education system.

Report: The refurbished smartphone market is booming

One major factor that’s driven the explosive growth of the global smartphone market is its short, roughly two-year upgrade cycle. But now that that even three and four-year old smartphones are powerful enough for most people’s daily use, there’s about to be an big jump in sales of secondhand and refurbished smartphones, according to a new report from Gartner.

Gartner expects the worldwide market for refurbished smartphones to hit 120 million units by 2017, for a projected $14 billion in wholesale revenue. That will be up from 56 million refurbished phones shipped in 2014. Often, refurbished devices are “good as new” for the consumer. Although they might not come in original packaging, they usually have been tested for defects and arrive scratch- and dent-free, sometimes with a new battery.

Obviously, anyone who purchases a secondhand smartphone is significantly less likely to purchase a new smartphone, which could affect the revenue not only of smartphone makers like [company]Apple[/company] and Samsung, but also the demand for parts in the supply chain. It could also affect companies that focus on mid-range devices, like Xiaomi. Instead of purchasing a phone that’s a “good value,” an older premium device for the same price could be very attractive.

Gartner points out there’s an opportunity for United States companies to send old devices overseas — or, into the “worldwide market.” The iPhone 4S might be seen as an older, unattractive device in rich markets, but given Apple’s premium brand recognition, refurbished units could be more desirable than a similarly priced new phone in developing markets.

Manufacturers also use refurbished units as warranty trade-ins. When you get a new iPhone from an Apple Store because your old one wasn’t working, it’s probably a refurb unit.

Where are these secondhand devices coming from? Gartner surveyed consumers in the United States and Germany — two mature and rich smartphone markets — and found that nearly 64 percent of devices found a second life, usually through private sales and trade-in programs, like the ones your carrier offers when you upgrade your device. Twenty-three percent of devices were handed down to a friend or family member. According to the survey, only 15 percent of devices languished unused, and only seven percent were officially recycled.

Of all the American carriers, Sprint might be in the best position to take advantage of the global market for refurbished smartphones. Its CEO, Marcelo Claure, cut his teeth at Brightstar, which does a lot of smartphone refurbishing business. Plus, its new leasing programs mean that in about two years, the company is going to have a lot of used iPads, iPhones, and other high-end devices on hand. Many of those devices could stay in the United States, because Sprint’s roster of smaller prepaid operators need phones that work on Sprint’s CDMA network.

 

The poor private cloud gets no respect

Pity your private cloud, if you have one. If cloud analysts are to be believed, private cloud is losing ground as public cloud providers — chiefly Amazon Web Services, Google, and Microsoft — keep adding features and functions, many of which target enterprise IT buyers.

Last week, for example, Gartner analyst Thomas Bittman blogged that 95 percent of enterprise IT types he surveyed found something lacking in their own private clouds. Of course Bittman loaded the gun for them, distilling the reasons “your enterprise public cloud is failing”  into six key categories and then polling an audience about them at an event.

Part of the problem may be in definitions. Private cloud is not merely a highly virtualized data center. It needs to deliver on-demand services easily and offer the sort of scale-up-and-down-as-needed elasticity that is the hallmark of public clouds. In a response to one comment on his post Bittman defined private cloud as the

cloud computing style delivered with isolation. Fully private would be fully isolated. It doesn’t need to be owned and managed on-premises, but today it often is (I’d say, 90-95% of the time).

Of the 140 companies Bittman surveyed, the most common reason for dissatisfaction (noted by 31 percent of respondents) is that too much emphasis was placed on cost-cutting, not on providing agility in creating, spinning up and down capabilities as needed. The second most-cited complaint, for 19 percent of respondents, was that their private cloud doesn’t do enough. But check out the whole post, along with the comments.

In August Gigaom Research published its own analysis showing public cloud options outstripping private clouds (subscription required) for several reasons. Notably, even if you are running a real private cloud — not just a heavily virtualized server room — you are probably still buying, deploying and maintaining your own hardware and software.

Gigaom research analyst David Linthicum — who is also SVP at Cloud Technology Partners, which works with the big public cloud providers — noted in that report that security, or lack thereof, has been touted as a key private cloud selling point but is not necessarily a differentiator in the way most people expect. He wrote:

Private clouds, while they feel more secure since you can see the blinking servers in your data center, are as secure or less secure than public clouds, generally speaking. Enterprises are just discovering this fact, and are opting for public clouds as cloud projects come on-line.

Ouch. Private cloud purveyors, please feel free to comment below.

Philip Bertolini, CIO of Oakland County, Michigan, said to term private clouds as failures because there is not 100 percent satisfaction is unfair. In the Gartner blog post, he noted, Bittman discusses how 95 percent of the users have had problems but that doesn’t mean their efforts failed.

“Moving to the cloud is difficult and has to be planned out carefully. Any IT project requires good planning or the results can be less than desirable. I do believe that the is not the magic wand for everything that troubles us. Using the cloud wisely with good planning can be very successful,” Bertolini noted by email.

There is some merit to the private-cloud-doesn’t-meet-expectations argument. Vendors have fed into that by overselling the technology, for one thing. But, the notion that a small number of public cloud vendors (even vendors as huge as [company]Amazon[/company], [company]Google[/company] and [company]Microsoft[/company]) can fill every need is a stretch.

As more than a dozen vendors, many of them pitching OpenStack-based private clouds, duke it out, they need to counter this perception that public cloud is becoming the inevitable destination for many, many workloads going forward.

This story was updated on February 12 with quotes from Oakland County CIO Philip Bertolini and on February 13 with a note of David Linthicum’s affiliation with CTP.