Efforts to ramp up computer science education in K-12 schools have intensified across the nation, and with good cause—most future jobs will require some form of computational thinking.
According to Code.org stats, only 15 states have created K-12 computer science standards. In 35 states and Washington, D.C., computer science can count toward a high school math or science requirement; this is up from just 12 states in 2013.
In a 2016 Gallup report, 84 percent of parents, 71 percent of teachers, 66 percent of principals, and 65 percent of superintendents said they believe offering computer science is more important than, or just as important as, required courses such as math, science, history, and English.
The report notes that U.S. students need more support from parents and stakeholders in advocating for computer science education. U.S. schools and districts need more qualified teachers and more funding to increase the likelihood of advancing computer science education at the rate needed to keep up with workforce demands.
Strengthening U.S. computer science education relies partly on investments in teachers.
Teachers are often reluctant to teach computer science classes because they feel unqualified to do so. A partnership between Code.org and ISTE aims to change that and addresses the need for high-quality professional learning around computer science education strategies. This is the first refresh of ISTE’s Standards for Computer Science Educators in seven years.
“Regardless of what field students choose to go into, they’ll build foundational skills and competencies from computer science classes [to help them in the future],” says Octavia Abell, who serves as computer science lead for ISTE. Abell was director of strategy for the Rhode Island Office of Innovation until early 2018 and still serves as a strategic adviser to the state. “We believe computer science is foundational for every student and we want to create opportunities for every educator to build skills and competencies.”
In 2016, a group of education and computing organizations joined together to create the K-12 Computer Science Framework, which identifies key computer science education concepts and goals for students at various grade levels.
“The landscape around computer science has changed tremendously in the past few years,” says Cameron Wilson, chief operating officer and president of the Code.org Advocacy Coalition. “Major resources are updated and are defining the minimum set of computer science skills we expect every student to know.”
Student standards are evolving, and educator standards must evolve, too, advocates say.
“Given student standards, how should we address teacher standards? It’s a good time to reflect on the framework and look at how states have developed their own standards and efforts, and we can couple that with the increasing need to have certified computer science teachers in the field,” Wilson adds.
A new multi-state initiative also targets teacher learning through a collaboration with nonprofit partners that will help educators bring coding and robotics knowledge with them into classrooms.
The Teach Wonder initiative is a product of Wonder Workshop, the Allegheny Intermediate Unit (AIU), Association of Computer Technology Educators of Maine (ACTEM), the New York State Association for Computers and Technologies in Education (NYSCATE), mindSpark Learning, and Teachers Teaching Tech (T3), and will reach educators in Colorado, Maine, Montana, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Wyoming.
The program cites research noting that 42 percent of principals and 73 percent of superintendents said inadequate training is a barrier to expanding access to computer science education in their districts.
The program will combine Wonder Workshop’s robots—Dash, Dot, and Cue—with 12-hour high-quality online lessons intended to help teachers learn the basics of computer science and robotics and strategies to best integrate the skills into the classroom. Teachers will receive a robot as part of the program.
Rhode Island’s journey
When Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo launched Computer Science for RI (CS4RI) in March 2016, the state’s first computer science education initiative, the goal was to give students in every public school in Rhode Island some type of exposure to computer science by December 2017.
The state’s Department of Labor and Training estimates that more than 4,000 jobs in computer and math will be open by 2022, and creating a diverse pipeline of students with computer science education will fill critical gaps in the state’s, and the nation’s, workforce.
Rhode Island partnered with Microsoft, Code.org, and colleges and universities across the state.
“It wasn’t a state mandate,” says Abell. “We didn’t say, ‘You must teach computer science by this date.’ We put it out as a community goal, and we really worked on creating momentum and driving a demand for computer science education, so there was shared ownership throughout the collective Rhode Island community.”
The state did this in two ways. First, a CSRI summit driven by the student experience, which resembled a science fair and a career fair rolled into one, gave students a chance to connect with and engage in hands-on learning with computer science professionals. Second, the state created partnerships with local Rhode Island companies supporting the initiative. Those companies supported CS4RI by providing funding support and grants, offering thought leadership, and serving on an advisory council.
The state also incorporated two other core strategies focused around building rigorous and robust K-12 pathways, and building teacher capacity and educator strength.
CS4RI offers schools a variety of ways to jump-start participation and outlines eight levels of computer science education engagement.
Before CS4RI’s launch, just 42 Rhode Island public school students took the Computer Science AP test in 2015, and only 26 passed with a score of 3 or higher. AP Computer Science was offered in only 9 public high schools, and not Title I schools. Just 1 percent of the state’s high school students were enrolled in computer science courses. In 2017, 37 high schools offered AP Computer Science and 247 students took the AP exam.
Nearly two years after the program launched, state officials said the state has met its goal of 100 percent exposure, and is now turning its eye to offering computer science courses in each school and doubling the number of computer science graduates in the state.
More states are focusing on making computer science education more accessible.
Indiana’s Metropolitan School District (MSD) of Decatur Township implemented the K-12 Computer Science Framework, giving all students a chance to develop foundational computer science skills. Through the program, students also are building problem solving, creativity, and critical thinking skills.
In its first year, more than 200 middle school and high school student enrolled in three computer science education courses, ranging from simple design and coding to advanced skills such as app development, writes Nate Davis, the district’s assistant superintendent of schools.
Through the district’s partnership with Nextech, teachers receive yearlong professional development focusing on content, instructional strategies, and real-world context.
The district also partners with Apple and is one-to-one. Educators received training on Apple’s Swift curriculum, which they will pair with the computer science framework to develop coding and app-building skills.
Virginia became the first state to require schools to teach computer science, and in late 2017 the state established standards to help schools weave computer science education into the curriculum.
In December, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed legislation requiring the state’s department of education to adopt standards and a curriculum for K-12 computer science education, though the bill leaves offering computer science courses up to districts. Under the bill, students can use an advanced computer science course in place of the state’s Algebra II requirement, which raised some concerns over students applying to colleges that require Algebra II for admission.
In Kentucky, a new computer science education partnership will focus on developing state-based computer science standards, student industry certifications, and teacher professional development. The Kentucky Department of Education will count a computer science credit as either a standalone requirement or as a substitute for a science credit for high school graduation.