Politicians from New York City to Texas have pledged to expand access to computer science courses in K-12 schools, but one state’s efforts stand out for gearing teachers up for the effort.
Bringing coding classes to every school in Arkansas was a central tenet of Governor Asa Hutchinson’s 2014 campaign. “It’s probably the first time in the history of politics that the word ‘coding’ was used in a political commercial,” the Republican told WIRED magazine. Following up on his campaign promises, he signed a bill last February requiring all Arkansas high schools to start offering computer science classes this fall. And it worked: Every Arkansas high school is offering coding this year. By contrast, Texas was the first state to promise that all schools would offer coding, but districts there have largely ignored the mandate. What set Arkansas apart was Little Rock policymakers following up on their pledge to provide millions to train teachers.
Far from the nation’s tech hubs, Suzanne Mitchell, director of the Arkansas STEM Coalition and a member of the governor’s Computer Science Task Force, estimated that there were only about two-dozen teachers in the state who were prepared to teach the new coding classes before the new law was passed. Over the summer, 130 Arkansas teachers received state-funded professional development to learn how to teach coding classes. More than a dozen of those teachers attended a free, weeklong boot camp hosted by the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts, a residential high school for students gifted in math and science that has been offering computer science classes for more than 20 years.
Daniel Moix, ASMSA’s computer science education specialist, described the teacher boot camp to Kim Dishongh of Arkansas’s AMP magazine:
It's not just a weeklong professional development [course] where teachers come and get their stuff, and then they go back and they have a year to figure it out. My full-time job is to support computer science teachers in Arkansas. I will be mentoring these teachers in their classrooms, online, helping provide them with instruction some days of the week, helping provide them the support to do face-to-face instruction the other days of the week. They're basically getting training wheels for 12 months while they get on their feet, with the goal being the following year for them to be able to teach that course independently."
As of August, 87 schools had applied to the state for $20,000 grants to pay for professional-development programs to prepare even more teachers. In addition to providing for in-person professional-development sessions, the state is paying for every Arkansas teacher’s subscription to Lynda.com, a tech-oriented training website.
Mitchell of the governor’s Computer Science Task Force says that the long-term solution for having enough coding teachers is making sure preparation programs offer more computer science courses.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.