Entering the Forbidden Forest of Teacher Certification

So many issues affect computer science education these days that sometime it is hard to know how best to apply our resources (people, time, and funding). In addition, some issues should come with a big sign that says “Go back” or “Abandon hope all who enter here” or “Don’t even think about it.” Teacher certification is one such issue.
Two years ago we surveyed 5000 high school computer science teachers as part of our on-going commitment to begin tracking pre-college computer science education in the U.S. One of the questions we asked was “Does your state offer certification for high school computer science teachers?” We tabulated the results nationally and determined that 46% of the respondents answered “Yes” and 54% answered “No.” This appeared to be a reasonable response all things considered. And then we looked at the answers by state, and we discovered that the pattern was the same, with approximately half of the teachers saying their state does offer certification for high school computer science teachers, and half saying it does not.
Our Research Committee decided that we had made a mistake and set out to correct it. One year later we surveyed 15,000 high school computer science teachers, and this time we were much more careful about how we posed the question. We divided it into two parts: asking “Does your state consider computer science a certified teachable?” and “Are you required to hold this certification to teach computer science in your state?” Once again, the answers within individual states came back with approximately half of the participants responding “Yes” and half responding “No.”
After much gnashing of teeth, the CSTA Research Committee decided that either teachers are extremely confused about the teacher certification requirements for their states or that policy awareness and enforcement varies so much from district to district that no conclusive answer is possible. If we could not even get a consistent research-supported picture of what is happening with teacher certification for computer science, how were we ever going to begin working on finding ways to make it more consistent nationally?
Recently, Ben Felller of the Associated Press wrote a terrific article on high school computer science education that included mention of CSTA. And so I began to get questions via email. And what were most of the questions about? That is right, teacher certification! More specifically, folks were finding it incredibility difficult to get useful information about the teaching requirements in their states.
Over the last few months, our Standards and Certification Committee has been consistently contacting State Departments of Education and collecting information about their high school computer science teacher certification requirements. So far, about half of the states have replied, and the committee continues to work on the rest who have not yet responded. Once the committee has all of the information in place (or at least as much as it is ever going to get), the plan is to find a consistent way of categorizing the information provided by each state and to collect it all together in a searchable database that will be available to all CSTA members. As you can imagine, this is going to take a considerable amount of work, and we are still looking for good volunteers to assist with the project, but we are hoping to have the database ready within six months.
This is just one of the many current CSTA projects. Teacher certification, like most issues, is complex and full of potential sources of conflict. But it is important, and in the end, we hope these efforts will provide valuable information for our members.

25 thoughts on “Entering the Forbidden Forest of Teacher Certification

  1. Regarding teacher certification, I think that there should be more facilities, like online certification tests & courses. Teacher’s life is very busy and only in summer is when there’s some time to take courses full time, so school districts should encourage online certification. Another issue is that requirements are diffrent from state to state, so there would be an external organization (like ACM or CSTA)that normalizes certification process among different states. Keep up pointing itchy issues! :)

  2. New York State has a form (our district refers to them as the BEDS form) used to survey the teachers in the state, what classes they are teaching, and how that meets their training. There is a question on the form “Are you highly qualified to teach this subject” that could go to your question of certification.
    Just something you might want to look into.

  3. Chris – if you haven’t been able to reach Wisconsin, the contact there would be Jim Marty He’s a new hire, but I’ve known him for years as a mathematics teacher and supervisor in Waukesha, WI. If you want me to get in touch with him, please let me know.

  4. In California, Computer Science is under the business credential. I don’t feel that a person who holds a business credential is qualified to teach AP Computer Science. An example is one of my colleagues who has been teaching mathematics with a business credential. My district has decided that he can no longer teach math and must teach business courses. At one time the thought was to assign him the two computer science classes I was teaching because I have a math and business credential and a masters in computer science but I could teach all math. My colleague told me the last computer class he completed was Fortran. That hardly prepares him to teach Visual Basic or Java. The administration decided that I will keep the AP Computer Science class this next year, but the other teacher will be teaching our intro class of Visual Basic one semester and Jave the other.
    I don’t feel that a person with a business credential is qualified to teach Computer Science, but the State of California thinks differently.

  5. Navigating State Departments of Education and getting messages to the right people can be a challenge in itself. In Utah, “software design” is taught by two groups of teachers – Computer Science teachers (who are primarily math teachers with CS minors) and Computer Programming teachers through Career and Technical Education (who are primarily professionals from industry with CS degrees or Math/Business teachers who have met CTE licensing requirements). Many of the traditional CS teachers have also obtained license endorsements in CTE to access the benefits of CTE programs. In other words, the majority of the “software design” teachers in Utah have both CS and CP license endorsements.
    Both groups target the CS AP exams and teach very similar curriculums. The difference is that the CP – CTE standards and objectives are defined and the CS standards are not. Other differences include a State Skills Certification exam administered to CTE students with a hands-on performance evaluation and an on-site program evaluation every six years.
    The reason I bring this up is that I am in a State Department, and I have not been contacted regarding certification requirements. You may want to include each State’s CTE Director in your contact group since CS may be taught there as well.

  6. Chris, you said “there should be more facilities, like online certification tests & courses.” To test what? With the exception of the AP curriculum (which some find tests too much syntax and not enough concept), there is no standard regarding what should be tested or what should be computer science. Since the St. Louis meeting where this was discussed, I have heard even more opinions. While I would love to see some standards in place, I would want to see my version of standards (a typical opinion, no doubt, of those who care about this).
    Part of the problem is that there are many different paradigms, approaches, and goals. While I emphasize mathematics as the core of my teaching, others emphasize graphical interfaces or text streams. While I currently teach functional and object oriented programming, structured programming and macro/mark-up/script programming are alive and well. One could argue that it has become impossible to understand all of the current paradigms. While I teach students to prepare them for college, others teach as job preparation or to prepare students for technical schools. All of the above are valid, though of varying and controversial merit.
    I have read through the ACM K-12 Model Curriculum several times now. When it reaches the high school level, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. It looks like it was drafted a full decade ago (a very long time in this field).
    Yes, there should be standards. We need to find some norms. But do not expect that any standard will have us all climbing happily on board. Further, when we do create some standards, they must be subject to frequent review and revision as the field continues to grow and change.

  7. Duke makes an excellent point. The lack of current consistency from state to state makes it very difficult to even figure out where to start asking about certification requirements. Dr. Khoury, who is the person responsible for teacher certification for the state of Michigan is in charge of our certification project. She is not always able to identify who the right person should be to contact eventhough she has access to the national lists of people who are supposed to be the right people. Thanks for the heads up, Duke, I will pass your information along to her immediately!

  8. As Lon notes, the current lack of agreement about what constitutes computer science makes the issue of what you need to know to be a computer science teacher seem hoplelessly complex. We believe that the ACM Model Curriculum for K-12 Computer Science does a pretty good job of providing a workable framework for computer science education, but it is a big step from a framework to a test that actually measues, not just knowledge of the underlying concepts and skills, but the ability to teach them to others.

  9. I am thinking about Lon’s comments and comparing math to computer science. We must be careful of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. If we spend too much time trying to agree on a single set of standards that meet everyone’s needs, the process will be so divisive we’ll never succeed. Whereas if we can get something that is good enough and inclusive enough, we can all support each other (graphics people, DB people, OOP, functional programmers…) and convince the rest of the world that they should listen to us. Think about math: there are different types, different approaches, different methods, but they all fit under the umbrella of “math”. The introductory stuff – arithmetic and other elementary maths – are a general introduction to a subject that is differentiated later.

  10. It’s good to hear that theres already existing blog of CSTA. Here in our place ASIA number of computer science teachers is also decreasing, IT teachers even graduates are increasing. WHy? what is the reason, maybe its because more difficult than the other one which is IT. And if we are going to observe on it theres a big difference between the two countries, and also outher countries offering CS courses is diferent from other locations like in our place. This is a good thing that we have this message so that we can share where are we teachers? are we updated? or becoming absolete.?

  11. I am 42 years old and I have a BS in Computer Science with a minor in Mathematics. After college, I worked as a Programmer and then as a System Analyst for more than 12 years.
    Currently I am taking my Masters in Secondary Education through the University of Phoenix.
    I wish to leave the corporate world and teach Computer Science in High School. However, it has been so difficult to find a way, or information about getting properly certified in CS, that I am beginning to look into getting a Mathematics certificate. This is not right though because not only do I have extensive educational and trade experience in CS, I also have a love for the subject.
    Can you please help me figure out a way to become properly certified, in any state? I am willing to travel anywhere and do pretty much whatever it takes to accomplish it.
    Thank you.

  12. CSTA is now in the process of compiling a comprehensive database of teacher certification requirements for each U.S. state and we expect it to be ready for use by CSTA members in the Spring. In the meantime, though, if you want to email me a list of a few states in which you are interested, I would be happy to send you the contact information for the person in the State Department of Education responsible for teacher certification.

  13. This is the information I received from the Ohio Department of Education for an alternative licensure in computer science:
    1. Must take 30 hours of computer science courses
    2. Must take a Methods and Educational Psych class
    3. 1 and 2 are enough to get into the classroom intially. They will grant you a 2-year non-renewable license.
    4. This is ONLY for grades 7-12 Computer Science
    5. Only way to continue to be certified is to show proof of education courses being taken.
    This is way more information than I have seen on the internet. Keep in mind, this is really aimed at people who are already Computer Engineers, Electrical Engineers, or any computer field. The reason I was looking into it is because I’m going to graduate with certification in Math 7-12 and wanted to know what my Computer Science Engineering minor would give me towards certification…and I was happy to see that I am very near the 30 hours needed.

  14. I am a college undergraduate in Computer Science and Socioloy. I recognize the need for Computer Science teachers in K-12 with a Computer Science background. I also, am having a difficult time finding a way to get certified in Pennsylvania for Computer Science. If I am certified in another state, is it transferrable? Can CSTA consider adding a section about states that offer CS certifications, costs and other relevant information for NON members? Thanks!

  15. Tonya, we are currently working on exactly the kind of member resource you are suggesting and hope to have a database available to members by the summer!

  16. To add to Chris Stephenson’s information on Ohio: Ohio, similar to what Duke outlined in his message, also has established routes to provide certification for those teaching Career Technical programs in IT (Information Support and Service, Network Systems, Programming and Software Development, and Interactive Media) These routes include preservice as well as a special route developed to facilitate the entry of individuals from buiness and industry.
    To provide a full picture, a state-level survey on teacher certification should not forget to include data on career-technical teacher certification. In some states, the majority of computer science related course offerings are career tech.

  17. I am an IT professional. I have worked as a programmer/analyst for the past 18 years. However, I would like to transition to the educational field. I would like to become certifified as a computer science teacher. Unfortunately, I have not found anyone in Middletown, Ohio that can point me in a direction to accomplish this. Does anyone know what requirements must be met for such certification and how/where one can acquire this certification? Thanks for you help.

  18. Hello all,
    I’m a programmer analyst currently studying at Cal State LA to earn my secondary school teaching credential. I plan to take the CSET for English but want to know if there is a way to get certified to teach Computer Science as well. I have my undergraduate degree in Management of Information Systems and have been a programmer for the past eight years.
    Thanks for your help,

  19. Unfortunately California does not provide a direct route for certification to teach computer science. You can, however, attain certification to teach CS by passing either the Business or Industrial Technology CSET. Most teachers choose the Business CSET becausethe Industrial Technology program is focused on indusrial arts (plastics, woodworking). Unfortunately, however, the Business CSET contains only two CS questions that almost anyone with no CS background could answer.
    There is also a route to CS certification through Vocational Education. Although this route seems to apply to the most applicable courses (programming, software operations) it is very removed from the academic credentially system and includes an additional set of requirements.

  20. Hello all. I am from Ohio, and live very close to WV and PA. I am looking for information about teaching Computer Science in High School. I attended college at Ohio University, and I majored in Integrated Mathematics(teaching 7-12 Math). I have a few Math classes left but I am struggling to pass the praxis(Math: Content Knowledge). I already have my education classes out of the way, and I am VERY interested in teaching Computers at the 7-12 grade level. Ohio University only offers this as a masters, so that is out of the question. Anyone have information that could help me out? Thank you.

  21. Can anyone give me some information about how to go about meeting CTE licensing requirements? I teach computing by way of a Business credential, but I’d like to expand into CTE.

  22. I live in Indiana. I hold a math license, and I have a computer science degree. The last I knew, my state had something that was called a “computer endorsement” which I investigated while at college. In fact, I registered for one of the classes, and went to the class. It was one of the “how to teach a computer class” classes. Curiously, as a computer science major, I was not a good candidate for that class, and I was thrown out on the first day (seriously). I thought this was just a strange quirky thing, until it happened to me at another college, different course. My take on the thing was that in the field of computer science, the computer methods classes are for people who are NOT subject matter experts, and the computer methods classes are NOT for people who will be teaching computer science at the high school level. Well, at least that was the case. I’ve not looked into the matter recently (last time I went to renew I took a science class and a math class).

  23. In response to Keith in Indiana, DO NOT get the computer endorsement–it is now added to those that ask for it and qualify, but the DOE assignment code only allows this to be a school’s computer technician. It is an old yet available endorsement. However, Indiana’s new assignment code does not allow you to do anything with it anymore. In Indiana, to teach computer classes, you must have a K-12 business education endorsement. This will allow you teach all of the computer courses K-12, from elementary middle school keyboarding to computer applications to programming. Schools are desperately in need of having this in Indiana, as it is hard to get a good computer teacher at some schools, especially in the programming areas….and if you can also get a vocational business endorsement (2 more courses and a work history outside of education) you will ALWAYS be a candidate for job in Indiana.

  24. In regards to Scott’s comment that you must have a k-12 business education endorsement, is it possible the rules have recently changed?
    IU is offering a CEL-T program (link below). They assert (and I’ve yet to confirm this) that a State of Indiana teacher with a Computer Education License is now allowed to teach high school courses in the following areas:
    – Computer Applications
    – Advanced Computer Applications
    – Computer Programming
    – Computer Science A, Advanced Placement
    – Computer Science AB, Advanced Placement
    – Web Design
    They also offer up several areas this endorsement won’t allow you to teach, including k-8 and certain high school classes (keyboarding for example).
    I’m a software designer with a lapsed secondary license in English, and I’m considering a return to teaching. So, I appreciate any information that can be added to the discussion.
    IU Link: http://education.indiana.edu/Programs/Undergraduate/CELT/allow/tabid/10405/Default.aspx

  25. In regards to Scott’s comment that you must have a k-12 business education endorsement, is it possible the rules have recently changed?

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