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Communications of the ACM


Taking Incremental Steps Towards CS For All

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Mark Guzdial

Georgia Institute of Technology professor Mark Guzdial

At the end of October, the Expanding Computing Education Pathways (ECEP) alliance organized a summit with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) on state implementation of the President's CS for All initiative. You can see the agenda here and a press release on the two days of meetings here. I learned a lot at those meetings, and one of the insights I gained was that the CS for All initiative will succeed in increments. U.S. states are developing novel, incremental approaches to CS for All.

The second day of the event was focused on the teams from the 16 states and Puerto Rico who are part of the ECEP Alliance. At a breakout session on teacher certifications, some of the attendees were concerned with what they saw as lowering standards in order to get more certified teachers. "We have a shortage of doctors in rural areas. That doesn't mean we make it easier to become a doctor!" That made a lot of sense to me, but then I heard others push the metaphor a bit. Adding more nurses and more physician assistants does improve quality of care, and it's less expensive to have more of these health care providers than to produce enough doctors.

Only a few U.S. states (like Indiana) offer CS teacher initial certification. That requires a choice to become a CS teacher while still an undergraduate and take years of classes. Georgia and California, like several other states, offer an add-on certification (sometimes called an "endorsement") that teachers can earn after gaining a certification in something else (e.g., business, mathematics, or science). An endorsement typically still requires multiple semester-long courses. Utah has one of the most innovative CS teacher add-on certification schemes, with three levels: an initial level that requires only some summer professional development, and two further levels requiring post-secondary courses.

Leigh Ann DeLyser hosted a great breakout session at the ECEP Summit about CSNYC and the new CS for All Consortium. CSNYC is charged with implementing Mayor Bill de Blasio's initiative to make CS education available to all students in all grades in all New York city schools by 2025. Leigh Ann told us that CSNYC is defining the Mayor's initiative as a school-based mandate. Even 10 years and $81 million isn't enough to provide certified, full-time CS teachers in every school so that every student gets a CS course.

Rather, every school must offer to every student in every grade a high-quality CS learning experience. Maybe that's a full course, like the BJC CS Principles curriculum which is now in NYC schools. Alternatively, it might be a Bootstrap unit in an algebra class, or a CT STEM activity that uses StarLogo to achieve NGSS science learning goals. It's a reasonable incremental approach towards CS for All.

New Hampshire is one of the newest ECEP states, and it is exploring micro-certifications. Rather than getting a certification as a CS teacher, a mathematics or science teacher might get a micro-certification to demonstrate proficiency in using a computer science approach in their teaching. There might be micro-certificates in Bootstrap, CT STEM, or Project GUTS for middle school science.

We want a future where computer science is taught by certified teachers and is as universally available as mathematics and science classes are today in most US high schools. That's the vision that Briana Morrison and I write about in this month's CACM. Along the way, we need ways of growing computer science education where we develop teachers who know about and teach computer science, even if not full-time, certified CS teachers.


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