States All Over the Map on Setting Computer Science Policy

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — April 06, 2017 3 min read
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One of President Barack Obama’s pet education initiatives was Computer Science for All: Obama proposed $4 billion to help states develop their computer science programs, arguing that working with technology is an essential skill. [5/1/2017: This post was corrected to clarify that, while President Obama proposed devoting $4 billion to computer science programs, the funds were not actually dedicated.]

But with funds for federal education programs in question, future leadership in computer science education will likely come from states. And right now, there are major differences in how states have approached strategy, standards, and other state-level computer science education initiatives. For instance, seven states now have standards for computer science education and 22 have teacher licensure standards for the subject. Those aren’t the same states as those that require high schools to offer computer science, or those that have created a state computer science position.

That’s according to a new report from the Massachusetts Computing Attainment Network, or MassCAN, an initiative of the Education Development Center, and a number of partner organizations. It takes stock of the current state of computer science education-related policies in states across the country and recommends that states create plans for increasing access to this fast-growing field.

Jim Stanton, a senior project director at EDC and the executive director of MassCAN, said that the report comes after a few years in which many states have created new policies or laws related to computer science education. The goal is to help develop and share best practices for computer science education among states.

“It seems clear that the federal government will be playing less of a role driving computer science education now, so it’s really going to be up to the states,” Stanton said.

The report argues that computer science is quickly becoming an essential subject and that states need to create plans for education in the subject. It also encourages states to focus on diversity and equity by ensuring that students from all racial and socioeconomic groups and genders have access to computer science.

Stanton said that educators basically have to “build the plane while flying it,” as computer science has a much shorter history and is less established as a discipline in schools than other subjects. But, he said, “there’s been such an extraordinary transformation in our world and economy just over the past 15 years. Tech is ubiquitous. As an education community, we haven’t grasped how quickly things are moving and how essential these skills will be.” He said students need to understand computer science to engage in civic discourse about issues like data and privacy.

The report surveys whether states have:

  • A plan for K-12 computer science
  • Initiatives to address diversity in computer science
  • Adoption of K-12 computer science standards
  • State-level funding for K-12 computer science education
  • State computer science teacher certification
  • State-approved preservice teacher-preparation programs
  • A dedicated state-level computer science position
  • A requirement for all high schools to offer computer science
  • A system in which computer science can satisfy a high school graduation requirement
  • A system in which computer science can satisfy an admissions requirement for postsecondary institutes.

It notes Arkansas, Massachusetts, Utah, and Washington as having more of these pieces in place than other states. Individual cities or districts in places like Broward County, Fla.; San Francisco, and New York have also focused on the subject.

Earlier this week, the nonprofit released findings that showed that the number of students earning bachelor’s degrees in computer science is rising.

Photo: Jim Stanton talks about computer science education at a conference this week. Source: Burt Granofsky/EDC

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.