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An Open Dialogue Concerning the State

of Education Policy in Computer Science


Robert Schnabel (moderator) Duncan Buell Joanna Goode
School of Informatics Dept. of Computer Science Dept. of Teacher Education
Indiana University & Engineering University of Oregon
Bloomington, IN 47401 University of South Carolina Eugene, OR 97403
schnabel@indiana.edu Columbia, SC 29208 goodej@uoregon.edu
buell@engr.sc.edu

J. Strother Moore Chris Stephenson


Department of Computer Sciences 1303 Hammock Street
The University of Texas at Austin Eugene, OR 97401
Austin, TX 78712 cstephenson@csta.acm.org
moore@cs.utexas.edu

SUMMARY education have also yet to recognize a nationally based


The ACM Education Policy Committee is a newly formed curriculum for K-12 computer science education and have failed
committee of ACM charged with focusing on public policy issues to establish teacher certification requirements that would ensure
in science and math education relevant to computing and that teachers are adequately prepared to teach computer science
computer science. The purpose of the Committee is to develop courses. Despite CSTA’s efforts to reach out to policy makers at
policy positions and educate policy makers – with the goal of state and national levels with documents such as the ACM Model
improving the opportunities for quality education in computing Curriculum for K-12 Computer Science and The New Educational
and computer science. The Education Policy Committee is a Imperative report [1, 2], educational decision makers are still
committee of the ACM Executive Committee and is empowered woefully unprepared to establish and enforce adequate and
to speak on behalf of ACM on education policy. effective policies relating to computer science education.

From its charter, the Education Policy Committee will: This panel seeks to both inform the SIGCSE community of the
goals and workings of the ACM Education Policy Committee and
• review issues impacting science and math education systems to build a stronger advocacy presence for computer science
focusing on those issues that are relevant to computing education. We also seek to solicit feedback from this community
and computer science on ways to more effectively impact education policy at the federal
and state level as it relates to computer science education and how
• review current polices to determine whether they adequately we can bring computer science to the policy table.
serve the computing field, and make recommendations on
how they could be improved
Categories and Subject Descriptors
• review and comment on proposals before national K.3.2 [Computers and Education]: Computer and Information
governments that impact these issues Science Education
• provide expert testimony and perspective to policymakers on
the key issues General Terms
Design, Standardization, Legal Aspects
• integrate positions as part of ACM’s overall agenda
With the legislative focus on STEM at the federal level, the Keywords
absence of computer science from the acronym is echoed in the Education policy, Teacher certification, STEM, K-12 curriculum
omission of the computing discipline from proposals funded.
Thus, one focus of this Committee is to determine how to put the
C in STEM at the federal level. State departments of Robert Schnabel
I am the Chair of the Education Policy Committee and my role is
to introduce the panelists and moderate the discussion.

Copyright is held by the author/owner(s).


SIGCSEí08, March 12ñ15, 2008, Portland, Oregon, USA.
ACM 978-1-59593-947-0/08/0003.

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Duncan Buell my state, Texas, CS is largely considered a vocational track. Both
“Computer science” in the schools in South Carolina is in trouble, Science and Math in K-12 follow fairly rigid curricular chains.
and we suspect that the situation in South Carolina is probably not So we have two problems: to try to get policymakers to include
much different from that in other states as well. AP computer CS explicitly in STEM legislation and to find a natural home in
science is taught by mathematics teachers. Other “programming” the K-12 systems of schools across the country. A key part to
classes are taught by business teachers. Yet a third set of both of these struggles is to educate people as to the science in
“information technology” courses are taught, and there appear to computer science: algorithms, representation, abstraction,
be three distinct “computer literacy” courses. The state’s decomposition, symbolism, universality, complexity,
“computer science, including keyboarding” requirement (quoted undecidability, etc. I do not see this just as an advertising
here as it appears in the state law), is widely interpreted to be campaign, but as a gradual cultural shift effected largely by our
“computer literacy”, and so any course that uses a software personal portrayal of our subject to the students we teach.
package, such as Agriculture Production and Management, can
count as satisfying the computer science requirement. Chris Stephenson
Despite the growing recognition of the link between national
We maintain that it is absolutely necessary is to get “computing” long-term economic viability and a healthy computer science
or “computer science” identifiable as a definable and concrete pipeline, there is a persistent knowledge and leadership gap at the
“thing” in the schools, not just something that is connected to state level that is having a profound impact on education. In
science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and business, but departments of education across the country, decisions are being
otherwise without its own identity. Until it has its own identity, it made and policies enacted that directly impact computer science
probably will have few champions, and without champions, the education both at the K-12 and post-secondary levels.
message is likely to be misinformed and diluted. Rather than Unfortunately, these decisions are often being made by people
focus on mathematics and its computational support, or business with no understanding of computer science as an academic
and its computational support, we need to focus the attention of discipline or career path. The trend of increasing the number of
students, parents, and teachers on computing first and then on its core courses that students must take in order to graduate, for
many application areas. example, has significantly reduced students' ability to study non-
core subjects such as computer science. As a result, the pipeline
Joanna Goode of students continues to narrow and enrollment in college
The state of K-12 computer science education in urban schools is computer science programs continues to drop. Efforts to address
dismal. The difficulties in teaching computer science are such issue are complicated by the fact that the decision makers
exacerbated in urban communities - inner-city schools typically have no idea that there actually is a difference between teaching
have less qualified computer science teachers, fewer curricular keyboarding, or using simulations in social science class, and
resources, and inadequate institutional support in offering courses teaching and learning computer science.
for students. As a result, many low-income students and students
of color are not given the opportunity to learn about computer ACM's EPC provides a timely and desperately needed
science. opportunity to bring together educators from all levels to address
the knowledge and leadership gaps that are negatively impacting
In Los Angeles Unified School District, an alliance of educational our discipline. CSTA brings to this committee a wealth of
researchers, university computer scientists, and district curriculum knowledge about the classroom and political realities that impact
officials created a set of outreach efforts aimed at increasing the the pipeline at its source. We also bring a commitment to helping
quality of computer science education. The pragmatic approach address the knowledge and leadership gaps, particularly at the
adopted by this alliance involves extensive teacher professional state level. Through the development and dissemination of
development opportunities, outreach programs for students, materials to policy and decision makers, and a new commitment
district adoption of curricular materials, and informational to providing the tools and training that teachers need to advocate
meetings for school administrators to learn more about computer on behalf of their students and our discipline, we intend to help
science education. Yet, the practical approach is also political. the EPC not only put the C in STEM, but to firmly establish
For example, in order to gain the institutional support of the computer science as a 21st century skill.
district and schools, AP Computer Science was adopted as the
organizing curriculum, despite the problematic programming- REFERENCES
focus of the College Board's curricular topics. Still, the collection [1] Stephenson, C., Gal-Ezer, J., Haberman, B., and Verno, A.
of these efforts led to a dramatically significant increase of The New Educational Imperative: Improving High School
females, students of color, and total students studying computer Computer Science Education. Computer Science Teachers
science in Los Angeles. The lessons learned of this intervention Association (CSTA), New York, NY, February, 2005.
can deepen educators' and computer scientists' understandings of http://csta.acm.org/Publications/White_Paper07_06.pdf
critical issues in K-12 computer science education. [2] Tucker, Allen (editor), Deek, F., Jones, J., McCowan, D.,
Stephenson, C., and Verno, A. A Model Curriculum for K-12
J Strother Moore Computer Science: Final Report of the ACM K-12 Task
We all agree that CS is a STEM discipline: S stands for Science, Force Curriculum Committee. Association for Computing
in CS and in STEM. But we are in the minority! Many policy Machinery (ACM), New York, NY, October, 2003.
makers, educators, and parents simply do not think of CS as a http://csta.acm.org/Curriculum/sub/K-
science. Many confuse CS and IT and think that computing 12ModelCurr2ndEd.pdf
education is advanced by putting computers in class rooms. In

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