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.
Earlier this year, Congressman Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) approached ACM with the idea of Congressional endorsement of computer science education week. His interest came from a computer scientist from his district, armed with some good facts, briefing him on both the tremendous benefit computing has and the difficult issues computer science education faces at the K-12 level. Congressman Ehlers and his cosponsor Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) wanted to call attention to these issues to help build the case that more students should be exposed to computer science education. When ACM first discussed the idea we weren’t sure that the various Congressionally endorsed weeks — Chemistry, Engineering, Asparagus, whatever — had a practical impact. Turns out that it does.
The first benefit is that it brings high-level attention and informs policy makers about the issues. Watch the debate, which really does highlight the field and our issues, during Congress’ consideration of the resolution (runs from 66:57 to 85:30 in the video). Second, it gives the computing community a useful messaging platform to inform others about computer science education’s benefits and issues. This is really the key takeaway. Because Congress voted on this week doesn’t mean much if the community doesn’t do something to make the week tangible. ACM plans on partnering with key computing organizations — Microsoft, Google, Intel, the Computer Science Teachers Association, the National Center for Women and Information Technology, the Computing Research Association as a start — to develop a website and outreach materials. Third, these resources can be plugged into the schools and to a variety of audiences including policy makers, school administrators, teachers, parents and the community itself to be used in a variety of ways.
There are two lessons from all of this. First, Computer Science Education Week will be what we, the computing community, make out of it. Second, bringing issues to the attention of policy makers and making a local connection in a respectful and thoughtful way can make a difference. We’ll be working hard for the next six or so weeks to develop materials and leverage existing ones for outreach around this event, so stay tuned.