Advocating for Equity and Inclusion in Computer Science Education

VP K12 Computer Science Products, EMC School

I recently attended the Infosys Crossroads Conference in beautiful Scotts Valley, Calif. For the fourth year in a row, Infosys Foundation USA handpicked thought leaders to explore ideas around increasing access to high quality education in computer science, coding and making. 

Infosys challenged attendees to brainstorm around the best use of effective computer science education as a driver for greater diversity, faster economic growth, and better preparation for 21st century careers. The conference roster is always diverse, including practicing computer science teachers and administrators from K12 and higher education, policymakers, industry professionals, “makers,” creative technologists, and (of course) computer scientists.

As you can imagine, these people are incredibly passionate and opinionated about computer science education. We don’t all agree on the details, but there is one thing we do all agree on. All kids should be exposed to computer science, and in fact CS should be a core subject taught in schools, alongside the “three R’s”—Reading, wRiting, and aRithmetic.

Current State of CS Education in the U.S.

The CS “wave” is picking up strength in the U.S., but we have a long way to go. Only 12 states have adopted a policy to give all high school students access to computer science courses (and of those, only five states give all K-12 students access). There are 557,903 open computing jobs nationwide, yet only 49,291 computer science students graduated into the workforce last year.

Government policies and funding drive what actually gets taught in our public schools. At national, state and local levels, important policy issues include standardized testing, curriculum standards, and teacher certification, just to name a few. There are always a few innovative districts who are ahead of the curve when it comes to keeping up and preparing students for a fast-changing job market. But until public school policy gets current, the majority of students will not reap the benefits provided by the leading districts. This leads to unequal and limited access to high-quality computer science education for both students and teachers.

Together We Can Make a Difference

Anthony Owens and Dawn Morrison presenting at Infosys Crossroads 2018
Anthony Owens and Dawn Morrison presenting at Infosys Crossroads 2018

So how can you help promote equal and fair access to computer science education for all students and adequate preparation for teachers? The presenters in the “Policy Track” at the conference shared a ton of great information that everyone who cares about computer science education can use in their own advocacy efforts.

One of the most informative sessions I attended was presented by Anthony Owen from the Arkansas Department of Education, and Dawn Morrison from the Alabama Department of Education. The CrossRoads 2018 Education Policy Track Committee created a template that you can copy and use as a collaboration tool. It includes important CS statistics, a State Computer Science Planning ToolkitArkansas’s CS Strategic Plan, and much more.

Connect with Me

Especially through my work as a STEM ambassador, I passionately advocate for CS education as well as computer science professional learning for teachers in my home state of Pennsylvania. I’d love your feedback and comments on the CS Advocacy one-pager that I’m using to communicate my message(s) to anyone who will listen! In particular, I am targeting Pennsylvania state legislators. Getting changes to education policy enacted “takes a village” and I’d love to hear your successes (and failures). Together we can make a difference.

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Image courtesy of Heather Lageman.

5 thoughts on “Advocating for Equity and Inclusion in Computer Science Education

  1. The combined efforts for CS advocacy are nice, but I do wish people would quit pitting us against one another. My state, where I’m the CS supervisor for state-wide efforts, is one of those which isn’t “doing anything” according to some advocates, including (guessing based on the numbers in this article) this author. No, we ARE doing something, but we’re not leaping onto the grand legislative bandwagon and doing what these advocates and lobbyists want. There’s no evidence that requiring kids to take a CS course prior to high school graduation leads to the outcomes that we desire, specifically a larger number of kids going into CS-related employment. It’s the same as any other discipline: Arkansas starts with a requirement for kids to take four years of math, now giving one year away for computer science and thus taking themselves down to the same graduation requirements we have. But there’s no evidence that their four years of math makes kids any more likely to pursue mathematical career fields than our three years of math. Nor do their kids perform any better than ours on the NAEP math assessment, in spite of the additional graduation requirement. In fact, they perform worse. And that’s just one example. You also have some very real evidence that if you’re looking to push kids toward CS, graduation requirements are the wrong end of the timeframe to put your effort. Please stop with the feel-good policy pushing, and let’s instead work together to truly get every kid the chance to learn some computer science.

    1. Good point that we need to work together, not competitively. I’m sure it doesn’t feel good to be on the “doing nothing” list, especially when you ARE taking such a thoughtful approach to your state’s CS plan. The stats that Anthony, Dawn, and I shared were from code.org. I cited the lack of high school CS opportunities not to advocate for providing CS only at the high school level. In fact, I believe that CS education should start much earlier than high school, as early as kindergarten. Thanks for sharing your perspective, and please join in the conversation. The CSTA national conference is coming up soon, and a lot of these policy people will be attending. (https://www.csteachers.org/page/2018conference)

    2. Good post Stephen, though I do want to respond with a couple of thoughts. I don’t think the issue is pitting states against each other (as this is done in every other facet of education; including in your statements about math); however, there eventually does have to be some action that comes out of talks. I think Hal Speed hit the nail on the head when he read the following during his session. “We recommend that State and local high school graduation requirements be strengthened and that, at a minimum, all students seeking a diploma be required to lay the foundations in the Five New Basics by taking the following curriculum during their 4 years of high school: (a) 4 years of English; (b) 3 years of mathematics; (c) 3 years of science; (d) 3 years of social studies; and (e) one-half year of computer science. For the college-bound, 2 years of foreign language in high school are strongly recommended in addition to those taken earlier.” – A Nation at Risk (1983) … There have been talks about the need for CS for decades now, when are the talks going to be associated with action? I completely agree with you about math, which is why Arkansas now has the flex credit and are actually considering the expansion of its applicability to meet student needs. Arkansas has a lot of room to grow in math education in our state, but the focus of my office/position has been CS. I also agree with your statement about graduation requirements; in Arkansas CS is not a graduation requirement, it is an option that can be used to meet other requirements (math, science, and/or career focus). And to Nikki’s point above, Arkansas also has adopted and mandated K-8 CS standards for all students across Arkansas beginning this past school year. Nikki’s statement that, “Only 12 states have adopted a policy to give all high school students access to computer science courses (and of those, only five states give all K-12 students access)” is not alluding to states’ requiring CS for graduation (which is not a policy suggestion of Code.org or Arkansas), it is speaking to the states that have passed legislation requiring high-schools to make CS available to its students, which is directly related to accessibility. Regarding the nine Code.org policy suggestions, those suggestions do not have to all be implemented for a state to have a successful initiative. In fact in many states, implementing all nine is near impossible. Pat Yongpradit has said many times to the CS community at large that this is a race, and we are all still at the beginning; some of us just got ahead early on. Perhaps instead of using the word “race” we should use “marathon.” While it is still a type of race, most marathon runners are not really competing against each other; they are competing against themselves and the clock. They are working to make themselves better each marathon, even if they don’t finish first. Their goal is to just finish and/or finish a little faster than last time. They also know they have a time limit in which they must finish for it to count. Arkansas, and my office, is approaching CS with this mindset. We are trying to do better each day. Challenging ourselves and our system to not fall into complacency that so often is associated with education. We also know that the clock is running (metaphorically) out for our kids that do not have these skills. When I personally point out where other states are, it is not me making fun of them, it is me trying to run my own race but yelling at those behind me, “don’t stop,” “let’s go,” and “just keep putting one foot in front of the other.” None of us can see the finish line yet; we can just envision it. Two of the guaranteed ways to not finish a marathon is to never start or stop mid-way through; I want more runners (states) beside me (Arkansas), but believe me when I say I am going to do my best to keep Arkansas out front.

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