CS Education Gets Congressional Attention

Last week was a huge one for computer science education in the Nation’s Capital. Congressmen from both parties introduced two pieces of legislation – The Computer Science Education Act and the Computer Science Education Week Resolution – intended to help strengthen computer science education. I’ve written before that the road to education reform is long, and progress will come in fits and starts. Both pieces of legislation represent another step along this road and the beginning of a much broader engagement to bring attention to computer science education issues in the United States.
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Computing and the Common Core

K-12 computer science education might get a boost from a recently released document called the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI). This initiative is historic for the United States. For the first time forty-eight governors have come together to propose a common set of English arts and mathematics standards — which are key drivers of the curriculum students are exposed to — for their states. Until the common core standards initiative, state standards were generally disconnected from each other.

The exciting news is that computer science is listed as a potential fourth course in their model pathway, which is described below. Or, put another way, the Common Core State Standards Initiative is proposing that computer science be part of the students’ core curriculum. States are not bound by these standards or this model, and this doesn’t mean that once the draft is made final computer science will count as a mathematics credit in high schools across the nation. But political momentum for the initiative is building and being a part of it gives computer science a much needed boost.

To better understand how computer science fits into the Common Core State Standards Initiative we need to dive deeper into policy landscape and context.
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Beginning to Rethink CS Education at NSF

The President released his $3.8 trillion budget on Monday setting off a flurry of activity in the Nation’s Capital. The budget sets the Administration’s priorities for the big stuff — like how much he wants to spend on education and defense — down the minutia — like how much money the Department of Agriculture wants to spend on slug research. (Ok, I made that program up.) Budget season also gives agencies the opportunity to unveil changes to existing programs or the creation of new ones.

One such change — that quickly made its way around the computing community — was a rethinking about how the Computer & Information Science & Engineering Directorate (CISE) at the National Science Foundation approaches education and workforce programs. More specifically, CISE staff announced that it was combining the Pathways to Revitalized Undergraduate Computing Education (CPATH) and the Broadening Participation in Computing (BPC) programs into a broader computing education program. CPATH tended to focus on higher education, while BPC issued grants for the entire pipeline, largely focused on improving diversity in computing. These two programs have funded numerous education proposals including the current work to reform the Advanced Placement Computer Science course, the Exploring Computer Science course developed in LA, and national alliances focused on diversity.
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Bono Still Hasn’t Found What He’s Looking For

I don’t get to blog much about technology policy issues anymore, but every once in a while something juicy comes along that is worth spending a few minutes responding to. In Sunday’s New York Times Bono (U2’s lead singer) wrote a piece advocating 10 ideas for the next decade. Among them was a call for widespread filtering and deep packet inspection of the Internet to stop sharing of copyrighted content:

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Bono Still Hasn't Found What He's Looking For

I don’t get to blog much about technology policy issues anymore, but every once in a while something juicy comes along that is worth spending a few minutes responding to. In Sunday’s New York Times Bono (U2’s lead singer) wrote a piece advocating 10 ideas for the next decade. Among them was a call for widespread filtering and deep packet inspection of the Internet to stop sharing of copyrighted content:

Continue reading “Bono Still Hasn't Found What He's Looking For”

A Week For Computer Science Education

Computer science education reform is going to come in fits and starts working on issues from the top down (national media, federal policy, etc.) and the bottom up (in schools, districts, states, etc.). This week the “top down” piece got a nice boost from Congress by passing a resolution designating the week of December 7 (in honor of Grace Hopper’s birthday) as Computer Science Education Week. This gives the community a wonderful platform to highlight the importance of computing to society and why we need to strengthen CS education — particularly at the K-12 level.
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Update on Recovery.Gov

Recovery.gov is one of the first deliverables of the massive funding package better known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Mandated by ARRA, the site’s mission is to track all the funding distributed under the recovery legislation in order to promote transparency. USACM has argued that one of the most important things the government could do to promote transparency is to allow for users to download complete copies of publicly available data. This would promote the reuse of information and allow for much greater citizen participation and collaboration.

Recovery.gov is still in its infancy, but it is unclear whether the website will allow users to download complete copies of machine readable data published on the site. The following is from the site’s FAQ section:

Q: Is the spending data on recovery.gov available in a format (like XML) that developers can use to create mashups and gadgets?
A: Not at this time. But, as new systems are developed to capture the allocations and expenditures under the Act, we plan to make that data available in exportable form. (Back to Top)

We are glad to see this mentioned, but the answer doesn’t give useful details such as timelines and whether complete data sets will be available. To help clarify these issues USACM recently sent two letters (one to the Administration and one to Congress) with the following follow-up questions:

  1. What is the timeline for developing the systems that will capture the data required by the act?
  2. How long after these systems are deployed will the data be made available in machine-readable form?
  3. Will users be able to download all the data made available on this site, or will only part of it be available for download?
  4. What are the data elements that will be made available through Recovery.gov either through an Application Programming Interface or other mechanism?

As one USACM member put it, question number three is really the $300 billion question (which is the approximate size of the overall discretionary spending under ARRA).

We will post the Administration’s response on the weblog.

Educating NITRD

As far as obscure government acronyms go, NITRD is a pretty good one. It stands for the National Information Technology Research and Development program. This program cuts across numerous federal agencies to carry out and coordinate investments in IT R&D. In 2007, the President’s Council of Advisory on Science and Technology (PCAST … another doozy of an acronym) issued a report making recommendations for some reforms of the NITRD program. One interesting issue it touched on is the need to improve computing education and strengthen the IT workforce pipeline. With Congress now using this report as basis to look at what changes it would make to the program, ACM joined with the Computing Research Association and National Center for Women and Information Technology in a letter outlining ideas of how NITRD could be improved to address computer science education issues, particularly at the K-12 level.
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ACM Turing Award Goes to Creator of Influential Innovations in Computer Software Design

MIT’s Liskov, First U.S. Woman Ph.D. in Computer Science, Pioneered the Standard for Modern Programming Language and Software Reliability

ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery, has named Barbara Liskov of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) the winner of the 2008 ACM A.M. Turing Award. The award cites Liskov for her foundational innovations to designing and building the pervasive computer system designs that power daily life. Her achievements in programming language design have made software more reliable and easier to maintain. They are now the basis of every important programming language since 1975, including Ada, C++, Java, and C#. The Turing Award, widely considered the “Nobel Prize in Computing”, is named for the British mathematician Alan M. Turing. The award carries a US$250,000 prize, with financial support provided by Intel Corporation and Google Inc.

The first U.S. woman to be awarded a Ph.D. from a computer science department (in 1968 from Stanford University), Liskov revolutionized the programming field with groundbreaking research that underpins virtually every modern computer application for both consumers and businesses. Her contributions have led to fundamental changes in building the computer software programs that form the infrastructure of our information-based society. Her legacy has made software systems more accessible, reliable, and secure 24/7.

Professor Dame Wendy Hall, ACM’s President, said Liskov has played a distinguished role in the evolution of computer science and engineering to solve real problems. “Her elegant solutions have enriched the research community, but they have also had a practical effect as well,” said Dame Wendy. “They have led to the design and construction of real products that are more reliable than were believed practical not long ago. In addition to her design features, she focused on engineering innovations that changed the way people thought about programming languages and building complex software. These accomplishments were instrumental in moving concepts out of academia and into the real world.”

Andrew Chien, Vice President in the Corporate Technology Group and Director of Research of Intel Corporation said that “Barbara Liskov’s work consistently reflects an extraordinary combination of rigorous problem formulation and sound mathematics; a potent combination she used to create lasting solutions that are the foundations of modern software systems.” He added, “It was my pleasure to learn from Professor Liskov as an MIT graduate student, and it is a continuing pleasure to admire her growing impact.”

“Google is delighted to help recognize Professor Liskov for her research contributions in the areas of data abstraction, modular architectures, and distributed computing fundamentals,” said Alfred Spector, Vice President of Research and Special Initiatives at Google Inc. “We are proud to be a sponsor of the ACM Turing Award to recognize and encourage the research that is essential not only to computer science, but to all the fields that depend on its continued advancement.”

Advances in Software Design

Liskov’s most significant impact stems from her influential contributions to the use of data abstraction, a valuable method for organizing complex programs. She was a leader in demonstrating how data abstraction could be used to make software easier to construct, modify, and maintain. Many of these ideas were derived from her experience at MIT in building the VENUS operating system, a small timesharing system that dramatically lowers the cost of providing computing and makes it more interactive.

In another exceptional contribution, Liskov designed the CLU programming language, an object-oriented language incorporating “clusters” to provide coherent, systematic handling of abstract data types, which are comprised of a set of data and the set of operations that can be performed on the data. She and her colleagues at MIT subsequently developed efficient CLU compiler implementations on several different machines, an important step in demonstrating the practicality of her ideas. Data abstraction is now a generally accepted fundamental method of software engineering that focuses on data rather than processes, often identified as “modular” or “object-oriented” programming.

Building on CLU concepts, Liskov followed with Argus, a distributed programming language. Its novel features led to further developments in distributed system design that could scale to systems connected by a network. This achievement laid the groundwork for modern search engines, which are used by thousands of programmers and hundreds of millions of users every day, and face the challenges of concurrent operation, failure, and continually growing scale.

Her most recent research focuses on techniques that enable a system to continue operating properly in the event of the failure of some of its components. Her work on practical Byzantine fault tolerance demonstrated that there were more efficient ways of dealing with arbitrary (Byzantine) failures than had been previously known. Her insights have helped build robust, fault-tolerant distributed systems that are resistant to errors and hacking. This research is likely to change the way distributed system designers think about providing reliable service on today’s modern, vulnerable Internet.


Barbara Liskov heads the Programming Methodology Group in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT, where she has conducted research and has been a professor since 1972. In 2008, she was named an Institute Professor, the highest honor awarded to an MIT faculty member.

A member of the National Academy of Engineering, she is a Fellow of ACM and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She received the Society of Women Engineers Achievement Award in 1996, and in 2002, she was named by Discover magazine as one of the 50 most important women in science. She received the IEEE John von Neumann medal in 2004. In 2005, she was awarded the title of ETH Honorary Doctor by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH). In 2008, she received the ACM SIGPLAN Programming Languages Achievement Award.

The author of numerous publications, she wrote three books, including “Abstraction and Specification in Program Development” with John Guttag, which has educated generations of students in how to write good software. Liskov served as an associate editor for ACM Transactions on Programming Languages and Systems (TOPLAS) and is a member of the ACM Special Interest Groups on Programming Languages (SIGPLAN), Operating Systems (SIGOPS), and Management of Databases (SIGMOD).

Liskov has also served on the Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) Advisory Committee of the National Science Foundation as well as the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB) of the National Research Council. Before joining MIT, she was a Member of Technical Staff at The Mitre Corporation. A graduate of the University of California Berkeley with a BA in mathematics, Liskov earned a Ph.D. at Stanford University, where she was a graduate research assistant in Artificial Intelligence.

ACM will present the Turing Award at its ACM Awards Banquet on June 27, in San Diego, CA.

About the ACM A.M. Turing Award

The A.M. Turing Award was named for Alan M. Turing, the British mathematician who articulated the mathematical foundation and limits of computing, and who was a key contributor to the Allied cryptanalysis of the German Enigma cipher during World War II. Since its inception in 1966, the Turing Award has honored the computer scientists and engineers who created the systems and underlying theoretical foundations that have propelled the information technology industry. For additional information, click on http://www.acm.org/awards/taward.html

USACM Applauds Increased Investment in Research

Today President Barack Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This legislation provides billions in funding intended to spur economic growth. A significant portion of the funding is dedicated to research and education investments. Below is USACM’s statement on these provisions:

USACM Says Innovations in Computing Drive Economic Growth and Competitiveness

NEW YORK, — As Congress voted to approve the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, ACM’s Public Policy Committee (USACM) hailed the measure’s renewed commitment to science and technology innovation as a key driver of economic growth in the United States. USACM commended Congress’ intent to transform the economy with expanded investments in basic research and development for several key federal agencies and departments, and pointed to computer science as uniquely positioned to spur economic recovery.

“The computing field has a long history of creating revolutionary technologies that have helped drive U.S. leadership in the world economy,” said Eugene H. Spafford, USACM Chair and Director of the Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance at Purdue University. “The computing community can cite concrete examples of how advances in information technology lead to breakthroughs that enable productivity growth and even create whole new industries. This dynamic can lead to an economy running at full capacity, enabling more efficient allocation of goods and services, which, in turn, produces higher quality goods and services.”

Spafford noted that innovation is the key to long-term economic security and renewed technology leadership as well. “Wise investments in science and engineering research as well as in math and science education will create a stronger, more resilient economy and a more highly skilled workforce. And by investing in scientific research facilities, we will be able to create new jobs in a variety of trades and manufacturing while also expanding the horizons of a whole generation of young scientists and engineers,” he added.

USACM pointed to increased investment for the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science, the Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as recipients of funding that will directly support innovation.