Let the Feds Know Your Thoughts on K-12 Computer Science Education

The federal government asks for advice about education fairly regularly. But it isn’t often that it asks specifically what is needed to advance K-12 computer science education. So I was pleasantly surprised when one federal program asked some key questions about K-12 CS education. Members of our community have the opportunity to speak up about what they think is needed for a stronger K-12 CS education. (Comments are due by January 31.)

Prompted by a report from the President’s top science advisors, The Networking and Information and Technology Research and Development Program (NITRD) asked three sets of big and open-ended questions:

“The Presidents Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) report calls for fundamental changes in K-12 STEM education in the United States, including the incorporation of computer science (CS) as an essential component.

  • What CS concepts are important to effective elementary, secondary, and post-secondary curricula? Among these concepts, which are commonly found in curricula today? Which are missing?
  • What do teachers need (including preparation and training, tools, and resources) to be able to deliver CS education effectively?
  • What factors are important in promoting student interest in CS?;

PCAST is the President’s high-level body of science and technology advisors, and the report to which these questions refer was issued in mid-December about recommendations for improving the NITRD program. So, what is NITRD? I blogged about it long ago; in short PCAST notes it is, “… the primary mechanism by which the Federal government coordinates its unclassified networking and information technology (NIT) research and development (R&D) investments.” A smallish part of this portfolio deals with investments and workforces issues and their obvious connection to the R&D enterprise.”

ACM’s Education Policy Committee has been pushing NITRD and PCAST on the numerous policy issues that K-12 CS Education faces. In response, PCAST recommended in an earlier K-12 STEM education report that computer science should called out by policy makers as a critical part of the STEM agenda. This new report reaches the same conclusion and prods NITRD to take steps to ensure CS is an “essential component” in K-12. These questions represent the program’s first steps to meet this goal.

This is a great opportunity for educators from the computing community that work on K-12 CS education issues, curriculum, instruction or generally anything in the subject. It isn’t often that the community gets asked for advice on these issues. We should take advantage by filing comments on their questions.

Hill Tech Happenings, Week of January 10

January 13

Meeting:

The Technical Guidelines Development Committee of the Elections Assistance Commission will meet (continues January 14)
8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., 100 Bureau Drive, Gaithersburg, MD (also webcast)

January 14

Meeting:

The Technical Guidelines Development Committee of the Elections Assistance Commission continues its meeting.
8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 100 Bureau Drive, Gaithersburg, MD (also webcast)

President Signs COMPETES Reauthorization

On Tuesday President Obama signed into law the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act. The bill continues (among other things) the increasing funding trend for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Science Foundation, and the Office of Science at the Department of Energy started with the American Competitiveness Initiative introduced by President Bush. USACM and ACM’s Education Policy Committee co-authored a letter in support of the bill back in May of 2010, specifically focusing on the parts of the legislation that support science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education.

Besides extended support for STEM education and increased federal funding for physical science research, the COMPETES reauthorization applies to the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, and gives federal agencies and departments the authority to conduct prize competitions, part of President Obama’s Strategy for American Innovation.

It’s important to note here that this reauthorization bill does not appropriate funds, but establishes the authority to spend up to certain amounts. At the moment, the federal government is operating under a continuing resolution where programs are funded at the levels established for the previous fiscal year. As one party has expressed interest in cutting the federal budget by as much as $100 billion for non-defense and non-security spending, it is possible that federal research may not be funded at the levels authorized by this bill.

ACM Washington Update Vol. 14.5 (January 2011)

CONTENTS

[1] Newsletter Highlights
[2] FCC Draws Line in the Net Neutrality Sand
[3] Computer Science Education Week Extends its Reach
[4] USACM Vice Chair Felten Appointed as First FTC Chief Technologist
[5] Web Accessibility Bill Becomes Law
[6] USACM Expresses Concern Over Intellectual Property Piracy Bill
[7] ACM and CSTA Release Report Outlining Challenges in K-12 Computer Science Education
[8] About USACM

[An archive of all previous editions of Washington Update is available at
http://www.acm.org/usacm/update/]


[1] NEWSLETTER HIGHLIGHTS

There are more details on each item below, as well as on our weblog at http://www.acm.org/usacm/weblog:

* The Federal Communications Commission opened the next phase in the arguments over net neutrality by issuing rules to ‘preserve the Internet as an open network.’
* The second annual Computer Science Education Week was a resounding success, building on the good work of the previous year’s event.
* USACM Vice-Chair Edward Felten has been appointed as the first Chief Technologist of the Federal Trade Commission. He starts his new position on January 4.
* In October legislation to expand accessibility of Internet Protocol-based communications and video services was signed into law.
* USACM expressed concern in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee about the implementation of a proposed bill to fight online infringement and counterfeiting of intellectual property.
* ACM and the Computer Science Teachers Association combined forces to produce Running on Empty, a report assessing the challenges facing K-12 computer science education across the country.


[2] FCC DRAWS LINE IN THE NET NEUTRALITY SAND

In what is arguably the end of the beginning of the fights over net neutrality, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 3-2 on December 21 to establish rules intended to “preserve the Internet as an open network enabling consumer choice, freedom of expression, user control, competition and the freedom to innovate.” Since both court and legislative challenges were anticipated well in advance of this vote, and each of the five Commissioners has a different take on the order (their statements are available at the FCC website, http://www.fcc.gov), the vote is the start of something, rather than the end. Preliminary reactions from the public suggest a division of opinion comparable (but perhaps not identical) to that of the Commission.

The order is explained as part of OpenInternet.gov, and the full text is available at:

http://www.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2010/db1223/FCC-10-201A1.pdf

There are three basic rules:

Transparency: Providers of broadband Internet service must publicly disclose information about their network management practices and terms of services to allow consumers to make informed choices and for application/service/content/device providers to develop their products and services for operation on those networks.

No Blocking: Providers of fixed broadband Internet services (this includes cable modems, DSL, and fixed wireless – though there is some confusion in press reports on this last point) cannot block lawful services, applications, content or non-harmful devices, unless subject to reasonable network management. The same is true for applications that might compete with providers’ telephony services (for example, this should ensure that Voice Over Internet Protocol or Skype services can be used on a Comcast or Verizon network).

No Unreasonable Discrimination: Providers of fixed broadband services cannot unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic to consumers. Reasonable network management does not constitute unreasonable discrimination.

The FCC is pointedly exempting mobile networks (primarily cellular telephones) from the last two rules, under the presumption that the infrastructure and/or competitors in this space are not sufficiently mature to allow for completely open network management. This will likely be a point of contention in some circles, but will not likely attract as much attention as the fights over whether the FCC is within its authority to establish these rules, or whether the need for such rules exists. Those fights should last for years.


[3] COMPUTER SCIENCE EDUCATION WEEK EXTENDS ITS REACH

The 2nd annual Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek) wrapped up December 11, and it was a smashing success. With a new website (http://www.csedweek.org) providing targeted resources and more than 270 CSEdWeek-related events and activities we were able to engage students, parents, teachers and the computing community around the world.

What started out last year has grown into a full fledged community effort supported by the United States Congress. This year’s effort was a collaborative effort of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), National Science Foundation (NSF), Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), National Center for Women & IT (NCWIT), WGBH, Computing Research Association (CRA), Anita Borg Institute for Women in Technology (ABI), Microsoft, Google, SAS, Intel, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). CSEdWeek is also a major awareness building activity of a new coalition called Computing in the Core (http://www.computinginthecore.org/), a non-partisan advocacy coalition of associations, corporations, scientific societies, and other non-profits that strive to elevate computer science education to a core academic subject in K-12 education.

This year we asked the computing community and our partners to get out and spread the word about the impact of computing and the dire need for better computer science education. We had a diversity of pledges from around the world to hold events and carry out activities. The Canadian universities were particularly active, with more than 25 campuses hosting CSEdWeek events ranging from computing camps to public videos and various student competitions to CSUnplugged sessions.

CSEdWeek received almost 1700 pledges of support from 45 states in the US (in addition to DC, Guam and Puerto Rico) and 34 other countries. 45% of the pledges came from Massachusetts and California, while the highest pledging cities included Marlborough and Shrewsbury, Massachusetts and Irvine, California. Over 33% of the support pledges came from K-12 students, 17% from college students, and 15% from K-12 teachers. These statistics indicate that we achieved our goal of engaging students and teachers as well as the computing community around the world.

Note: This is a edited version of a post at Blog@CACM, the blog connected to Communications of the ACM It was written by Debra Richardson, Chair of the 2010 Computer Science Education Week, and ACM Director of Public Policy, Cameron Wilson.

Full Post available at: http://cacm.acm.org/blogs/blog-cacm/102979-computer-science-education-week-extends-its-reach/fulltext


[4] USACM VICE CHAIR FELTEN APPOINTED AS FIRST FTC CHIEF TECHNOLOGIST

Ed Felten, noted computer science researcher, Director of Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy, and one of USACM’s Vice Chairs, has been appointed Chief Technologist at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This is a new position for the Commission (the Federal Communications Commission has had one for years), and Felten will serve for a one-year term.
As Chief Technologist, Felten will advise the Commission on emerging technology and policy issues. Felten is no stranger to Washington, having testified before Congress and consulted with the Justice and Defense Departments, in addition to his previous work for the FTC. Congratulations to Ed on his appointment!


[5] WEB ACCESSIBILITY BILL BECOMES LAW

In October the President signed into law the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010. Spearheaded by Representative Edward Markey of Massachusetts, the law will apply standards of accessibility to online services. Provisions of the law include:

  • Extend general accessibility provisions for equipment that provides voice communication to include Voice over Internet Protocol, electronic messaging and video conferencing services.
  • Video programming shown with captions on televisions must also provide captions if transmitted over the Internet.
  • Emergency information shown on television or similar display devices must also provide some audio to reach those with visual impairments.
  • User interfaces for equipment that displays video information must be accessible, and any associated remote control must have a captioning button.
  • On-screen guides and text menus provided by navigation devices must also be accessible.

The full text of the law is available at http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=s111-3304


[6] USACM EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY PIRACY BILL

In late September the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) was introduced and quickly moved to a markup and vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill as written would allow the Justice Department to command changes in Internet services to restrict the ability of pirate websites to operate. While USACM supports the goal of the bill – to restrict the actions of intellectual property infringers and counterfeiters – there are sufficient legal, regulatory and technical questions on the enforcement of the bill that warrant a more careful consideration and examination of the bill. USACM sent a letter to the Chair and Ranking Member of the Committee to that effect, supporting other letter sent by public interest, library and commercial groups.

The bill made it through the Senate Judiciary Committee in November, but ultimately stalled in the waining session of the 111th Congress. Senator Coburn noted the various letters expressing concerns about the bill at the time of the letter. The Senate may revisit it during the new, 112th Congress, which convenes in early January.


[7] ACM AND CSTA RELEASE REPORT OUTLINING CHALLENGES IN K-12 COMPUTER SCIENCE EDUCATION

At a National Press Club event on October 6, ACM and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) released its report Running on Empty. According to the report, roughly two-thirds of the country have few computer science education standards for secondary school education, and most states treat high school computer science courses as simply an elective and not part of a student’s core education. Given the increasing importance of computer science and computing in everyday life, this is a serious problem. Read the full report at the link below, or download PDF versions of the full report and executive summary.

The release of the report was part of the announcement of Computing in the Core, a non-partisan advocacy coalition focused on building a strong K-12 education program in computer science. Both ACM and CSTA are members, along with other associations, corporations, scientific societies and non-profits all committed to this goal. You can read more about Computing in the Core at the website or in the press release announcing the coalition and highlighting conclusions from Running on Empty.

Report – http://www.acm.org/runningonempty/
Computing in the Core website – http://www.computinginthecore.org
Coalition Press Release – http://www.acm.org/press-room/news-releases/2010/education-paradox


[8] ABOUT USACM

USACM is the U.S. Public Policy Committee of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). ACM, the Association for Computing Machinery www.acm.org, unites computing educators, researchers and professionals to inspire dialogue, share resources and address the field’s challenges. ACM strengthens the computing profession’s collective voice through strong leadership, promotion of the highest standards, and recognition of technical excellence. ACM supports the professional growth of its members by providing opportunities for life-long learning, career development, and professional networking.

USACM acts as the focal point for ACM’s interaction with the U.S. Congress and government organizations. It seeks to educate and assist policy-makers on legislative and regulatory matters of concern to the computing community.

For more information about USACM and ACM, see:

http://www.acm.org/usacm/about.html


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