ACM Urges Obama To Include Computer Science As A Core Component Of Science And Math Education

Yesterday President-Elect Obama announced his intention to nominate Arne Duncan for the Secretary of Education. Mr. Duncan is currently CEO of Chicago’s school system. On the heels of this announcement, ACM’s Education Policy Committee released a new policy brief to the incoming President making several recommendations to strengthen the state of the computer science education at the K-12 level. Here are some excerpts from the document:

The outlook for computer science-related jobs remains strong despite the extraordinary economic challenges we face. Computer science underpins the technology sector, which has made tremendous contributions to the domestic economy, as well as numerous other sectors that depend on innovative, highly skilled computer science graduates. The ubiquitous nature of computing has spread its reach into everyone’s daily lives. Securing our cyber-infrastructure, protecting national security, and making our energy infrastructure more efficient are among numerous issues all depending on computing. However, with the percentage of undergraduates majoring in computer science and interest at the K-12 level falling, the pipeline supplying the necessary workforce is shrinking.

The Administration can play an important role in clarifying that computer science should be a central part of any STEM education initiative and recognizing the importance of a rigorous computer science education. We wish to work with the Administration on initiatives to address key issues that computer science education faces and make the following initial recommendations:

  • Consider computer science as one of the core courses students need to develop critical 21st Century skills as part of any STEM education initiative.
  • Because research indicates that middle school curriculum is very influential in determining childrens’ future interests, any efforts to strengthen middle school education should include provisions to introduce these students to computer science. Several new approaches in computer science education show promise in attracting and holding the attention of middle school children.
  • Expand efforts to increase the number of females and underrepresented minorities in this field.
  • Clarify and expand the professional development opportunities for high school computer science teachers. This will improve classroom instruction and student achievement, particularly in block grant programs given to states.
  • Focus research funding on K-12 computer science education to address many gaps in understanding how students engage this critical field.
  • Review how states can better coordinate, clarify and improve existing teacher certification requirements, particularly for computer science teachers.

Here is some trade press talking about the nomination, and here is ACM’s press release on the position paper.

President-elect Will Make Broadband Part of Economic Recovery

In his most recent weekly address, President-elect Barack Obama outlined portions of his economic recovery plan. The address covered a few areas in which President-elect Obama intends to invest significant funds in order to stimulate the economy. Most of these investments are in infrastructure, which includes broadband. Deploring the typically poor standing the United States has in global measurements of broadband use and deployment, the President-elect indicated that he wanted to connect schools, libraries and hospitals to the internet, The inclusion of hospitals implies that health information technology will need to be addressed should this economic plan be approved by Congress. Reaction to the inclusion of broadband in the economic recovery plan was well received by stakeholders in this area. Of course, these short weekly addresses don’t get into great detail, but the mention of broadband is encouraging. You can read and/or watch the address from the link embedding above.

New Math and Science Study Shows Rising Elementary Math Scores, Significant Challenges

Yesterday the National Center for Education Statistics released the 2007 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). This study assesses math and science at the 4th and 8th grade levels. (Computer science concepts are not tested.) Because the data is presented by NCES (and funded by the U.S. Federal Government) the report is very US-centric. There is a lot of data to sift through, but some of the key takeaways are:


  • 4th grade students showed a statistically significant improvement in math scores between 2007 and 2003 (the last TIMSS testing period)
  • 4th grade students in the U.S. remained measurably behind eight other countries (all in Europe and Asia) in average scores
  • 8th grade students in the U.S. showed no significant changes from 2003, further average scores fell relative to 4th grade performance
  • The U.S. was behind only five other (all asian) countries on 8th grade performance
  • The U.S. had a significantly higher percentage of top performers at the 8th grade, with six percent scoring in the “advanced” category vs. the international median of two percent
  • At both the 4th and 8th grade levels the “achievement gap” between different sub-populations of students changed with everyone doing generally better than 2003. The difference in the average scores between white and black students was smaller, but it grew between asian (who score better) and white students. Black and hispanic students scored lower than TIMSS scale average.
  • Science

  • At both the 4th and 8th grade levels, U.S. students showed no statistically significant improvement or decline in scores relative to 2003.
  • The U.S. remained behind four and eight other countries, respectively, in average science scores at the 4th and 8th grade levels.

TIMSS has been a highly influential study in US education policy debates. Faced with data showing U.S. students were lagging behind some other industrialized countries in science and math, Congress and the Administration created the very controversial No Child Left Behind Act and the less so America COMPETEs Act. Now that there is some measurable improvement in some math scores, proponents NCLB are likely to claim that the act worked. Those opposed to the legislation will likely point to the data that shows there are still significant “achievement gaps” between segments of U.S. population. In the end, much of this debate may be meaningless as the chances of overhauling NCLB next year are fairly slim. Some of the data may help bolster arguments that have been circling around Washington D.C., including by President-Elect Obama, that a new policy focus on middle schools is needed.

House Homeland Security Committee Looks to 2009

The majority staff of the House Homeland Security Committee hosted a workshop December 3 on “Constitutional Protections in Homeland Security.” A copy of the agenda is currently available on the Committee’s schedule page. The speakers covered a wide variety of homeland security related topics, including communications during natural disasters, data mining, information sharing, transportation, border crossing and cybersecurity. If the committee will address each of the issues that came up during the workshop, its members will have a very busy Congress.

If there is a common theme to extract from the various issues raised at the event, it is that the transition to a new Secretary of Homeland Security (Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano has been nominated for the position) provides an excellent opportunity to take a step back and assess the progress DHS has made in the five years since it was formed. Many of the criticisms of homeland security programs (the no fly list and related travel programs, REAL ID, the utility of predictive data mining) came about in part because the Department has been primarily reactive, trying to institute programs quickly. As a result, privacy and security provisions of many of these programs were either ignored or added after the fact. Similarly, many different programs operate in relative isolation – not everyone knows what the Department is doing. Many of the speakers expressed a hope that increased oversight of the Department could allow for some of these problems to be corrected and improve the ability of the Department to protect the nation.

ACM Washington Update, Vol. 12.11 (December 4, 2008)


[1] Newsletter Highlights
[2] George Mason University E-Mail System Compromised
[3] Electronic Voting Machines Produce Some Problems, But No Meltdown
[4] Computers, Freedom and Privacy Conference Wants Your Proposals
[5] USACM Chair Concerned About Information Security Curricula
[6] Final E-Verify Rule Issued for Federal Contractors
[7] About USACM

[An archive of all previous editions of Washington Update is available at]
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