On Our Way with CS Education Today

For various reasons I shall not discuss, this Advocate Blog post has been a very long time coming. And, of course, I have changed the topic of the post since my first thoughts of it. It is all good, however.

It would be pretty much impossible for one to miss all the press (mostly good and positive) surrounding computer science, specifically computer science education. Perhaps the interest in that press was sparked during CS Education week, the Hour of Code, the CS Day at the White House, or President Obama urging students, “Don’t just play games on your phone; program it!” Or perhaps it was the relentless diligence and hard work of many of our CSTA members advocating to “Make CS Count” in their own states. In any case, the press is bringing a great deal of attention to CS education and then naturally to CSTA. And this is a good thing.

In my role as CSTA Board Chair, I have been contacted by several reporters recently for a phone interview for an article they are writing about CS education. It is pure delight to talk with the reporters and help enlighten them about CS education. One of my favorite reporter questions was about the one thing that would really help to promote K-12 CS education in the United States. Really? Just ONE thing? Would that it were so simple! With the help of CSTA and our wonderful sponsors, supporters, and partners, we would have the K-12 CS education dilemma all resolved immediately! We need teachers, who need CS licensure/certification, oh and CS pedagogy courses to help them learn how to teach CS. We need standards-based rigorous curriculum for our K-12 students. We need for CS to Count—preferably as a math or science credit towards high school graduation. We need administrators, school boards, legislators, and parents who understand the critical need to teach computer science in the K-12 space. We need time in the school day/schedule for another course offering (that rigorous CS course). We need computer equipment and other technology resources for the classrooms. And I have probably omitted some critical need, but you get the gist of the needs we have for K-12 computer science education.

The very good news is that we are making progress. We are not there yet, but we know where we are going, and we are on our way. We know that the CS community has to work together to solve this seemingly insurmountable task. And we are doing just that. Our good friends and supporters (far too many to mention—but you know who they are) are working to provide standards-based curriculum for teachers. Several states are working with CSTA members and other CS advocates to create a path to licensure/certification if one does not already exist. Some of those same CSTA members and CS advocates are working state by state to make CS count in each state. CSTA members advocate on an almost daily basis to enlighten administrators, school boards, legislators, and parents about the crucial need for computer science education in the K-12 classroom. And administrators are collaborating with teachers to find room in the school day/schedule to offer CS courses or integrate CS into existing courses. We are not there yet, but we are on our way.

I am so heartened to read news stories about how students are using computer science in the K-12 classroom—and what awesome projects they have developed, or what pressing problems they have solved. I am thrilled to read about all the support that business and industry friends are affording our K-12 CS educators. And, I was particularly encouraged by the caliber of applicants we had for the three open CSTA board positions. We had an incredibly talented and highly qualified pool of applicants—so many that selecting the top two candidates was a definite challenge for the CSTA Elections Committee. What a good challenge to have!

We are not there yet, but we are well on our way, and we are keeping up our momentum! It is all good.

Deborah Seehorn, CSTA Board of Directors Chair

PRESS RELEASE: Access to and Understanding of Computer Science Education are Issues in US High Schools

Access to and Understanding of Computer Science Education are Issues in US High Schools

Administrators Say Opportunities for Learning Computer Science Vary Widely

New York, NY – January 6, 2015 – A new survey released today by the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), in collaboration with Oracle Academy, finds that while interest in computer science is on the rise, there are still issues with access to and understanding of computer science (CS) education in high schools.

CSTA-Oracle Academy 2014 U.S. High School CS Survey: The State of Computer Science in U.S. High Schools: an Administrator’s Perspective surveyed more than 500 high school principals and vice principals from May-September 2014.* The survey sought to identify CS education opportunities being provided in high schools, determine how broadly CS is being offered in the US, and determine the different ways CS is being defined. Schools in 47 states participated with the most administrators’ responses coming from California, Pennsylvania and New York.The online survey, conducted by the Computer Science Teachers Association and Oracle Academy, asked administrators about computer science opportunities being offered at their schools.

The survey results showed that administrators are not completely aware of the content covered in computer science classes versus other courses. CSTA and Oracle Academy perceive the results as problematic for many reasons, including that CS often gets grouped with unrelated courses and classes. Participants applied the term “computer science” to a vast array of topics and courses. This broad use of “computer science” to encompass curriculum and courses that would not be considered “computer science” at a college/university or professional level indicates a need for educational community consensus on a common definition of computer science in K-12 education.

Additionally, the survey found that the academic departments chiefly responsible for teaching computer science are Career & Technology and Business. As for how the course fits into a student’s transcript, schools count a CS class as a requirement in math, science, or technology.

The survey found that of the 73% of respondents whose school offers computer science, an overwhelming majority count these credits toward those required for graduation. However, only 39% reported that they count a CS class towards a requirement in math, science, or technology. More often, schools are counting CS courses as electives. This becomes problematic because electives are often culturally and academically regarded as filler classes in a student’s schedule. A CS course that “counts” drives demand from students and builds the case for these courses to be required.

The top content areas covered in computer science courses were listed as:

  • Problem solving 65%
  • Ethical 57%
  • Social issues 57%
  • Graphics 57%
  • Web development 51%
  • Algorithms 35%
  • Testing 35%
  • Debugging 35%

Each of these content areas are core to computer science and, in particular, programming.

One of the most important findings from the study suggests that better-funded schools are offering CS to their students at a far higher rate than low-income schools. Of the 27% of schools where the majority of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, 63% offer computer science courses. Of the 44% of schools where the majority of students do not qualify for free lunch, 84% offer computer science courses. This means that in lower income schools, 37% percent offer no computer science whatsoever, versus only 16% percent in higher income schools.

“Access to good computer science education is a defining 21st century issue,” said Oracle Academy Vice President Alison Derbenwick Miller. “We must come together as a community to bring better understanding and access to all students to help them develop the knowledge and expertise required for in-demand careers today and into the future. We are pleased to have worked with CSTA on this very important survey.”

“We are grateful to Oracle Academy for supporting this survey as the findings create a much clearer picture of CS education in US high schools than we’ve had to date,” said Lissa Clayborn, Acting Executive Director, CSTA. “At the local community, state, and national levels, this data can help inform continued and more thoughtful discussions about curriculum pathways, course design, funding for CS courses, come to a shared definition and help to solve the puzzle of teacher certification and other education policy issues.”

*[UPDATE: More than 20,000 people received the survey, for a response rate of 2.5 percent. Respondents came from 47 states.]

To review the complete results from this survey, as well as previous CSTA High School surveys, please visit http://csta.acm.org/Research/sub/HighSchoolSurveys.html.

Media Contact: Stacey Finkel