Education Policy Hill Briefing Highlights Computer Science Education

By David Bruggeman
May 27, 2009

A Hill briefing co-sponsored by the ACM Education Policy Committee, with the support of the House STEM Education Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus covered the challenges and successes of computer science education at the K-12 level. The well-attended event (approximately 70 people) showcased a pilot program in the Los Angeles Unified School District that will soon be expanded into 20 additional schools. Education Policy Committee members Robert Schnabel, Chris Stephenson, and Joanna Goode spoke at the event, and Representative Vernon Ehlers also gave remarks to the assembled Congressional and agency staff.

Briefing Speakers with Rep. Ehlers

Schnabel set the stage for the event, describing how computer science education often falls through the cracks of the other STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Chris Stephenson discussed the problems computer science has had in establishing itself at the K-12 level. Standards for certifying computer science teachers vary widely from state to state, as does the classification of computer science courses (whether or not they count toward graduation requirements, and in what field). What can happen is that a computer science teacher may need to earn certification as a business teacher in one state, but a math or science teacher in another state. Where courses are concerned, computer science could be counted as a math course, a science course, or a course in some other subject matter. This makes it harder for students to plan their high school coursework. Additionally, if a student is seeking a college prep courseload, they aren’t likely to take a computer science course that is counted as an elective or otherwise won’t be credited as one of the math or science courses they need for graduation.

Joanna Goode ended the formal part of the briefing by describing the work of the Computer Science Equity Alliance, which has worked hard with specific schools in Los Angeles to increase the engagement of students with computer science and computer science courses. The Los Angeles Times recently ran an article describing those efforts. With the support of UCLA and the National Science Foundation, the Alliance worked with six L.A. area schools and their students to improve school computer science curriculum and show students how they already engage computer science through their use of technology. Over five years the Alliance managed to double the number of African American students taking the Computer Science AP test, and tripled the number of Latinos and females taking the exam.

After the presentation the audience sparked a spirited question and answer session about computer science in STEM education. Besides the Education Policy Committee members who spoke, we want to extend our thanks to Congressman Ehlers for his presence and his remarks; the House STEM Education Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus for their support; and ACM’s co-sponsors in the event: the Computing Research Association, the National Center for Women in Information Technology, the National Society of Women Engineers, IEEE USA, and Microsoft.