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July 25, 2005

Getting Out the Message

Since CSTA first came into being last September, we have been aware that one of our biggest challenges would be getting out the messages.

First we worked on defining who we are, which problems we are trying to address, and why we believe that CSTA is the organization to address these issues.

Here is how we currently define the challenges we face.
* The number of computer science teachers is decreasing overall, particularly within the high school and middle school grades. This means that fewer college students will be enrolling in computer science courses, and fewer graduates with computer science degrees are going on to earn their Ph.Ds.
* Minority students are dramatically underrepresented in K-12 computer science coursework. For example, less than 3% of AP Computer Science students in 2004 were African American.
* Women are underrepresented in computer science.
* Computer science is at a crossroads. A renewed focus on educational standards and accountability, particularly in English and math, has forced many schools to take resources away from computer science and other non-core courses.

And here is why we think CSTA is the right organization to address them.
* CSTA offers members access to curriculum standards, professional development, and other cutting-edge computer science resources that have not previously been available.
* CSTA provides a voice for K-12 computer science educators, representing their interests at all levels of the educational system and with the state and federal authorities whose policies impact educational content, practice, and funding.
* CSTA helps makes the case for computer science by pointing out its vital place in the world.
* CSTA works with teachers to build a community of educators who will offer each other the support, guidance, and resources they have sorely needed. Many computer science teachers are alone in their schools with no other staff in their line of work.
* CSTA provides a bridge between high school educators, university educators, and the high tech industry. This bridge enables these groups to share information about what students need to learn in their K-12 years to be ready to go into computer science majors in higher education and into computer science careers.
* The key resources provided by CSTA for teachers are the Java Engagement for Teacher Training (JETT) program and the Model Curriculum for K-12 Computer Science. With these and other materials to be developed, CSTA will be the source for information for computer science teachers and others interested in the field.

Next, we had to begin getting the message out. We have tried a number of ways to let teachers know that we exist and that we need them to help us build this community. Sometimes we have done this in fairly traditional ways. For example we have sent out information by email and direct mail, made conference presentations, and spoken to teachers at the many professional development events we sponsor (the JETT workshops and the Computer Science and Information Technology Symposia). Sometimes we take a more lighthearted approach, as exemplified in our tension-releasing squishy CS Rocks rocks.

We have also begun reaching out to key organizations that share our interests and concerns. To date we have held productive meetings with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Software Business Association, the Business Roundtable, and the folks working on the Teacher Quality Bill. We have also done interviews with key people in the media who are both knowledgeable about and interested in our issues and this has resulted in some excellent articles about computer science education.

Outreach and advocacy are just a part of what CSTA does, but it is a key element and we need to keep doing it.

We also need you to help us get these messages out to the people who count in your world: parents, principals, administrators, school district superintendents and others.

I would love to know what you have been doing to promote K-12 computer science. Let me know by posting a comment about the most ingenious method you have used to get out the message about computer science education. I'll even send the person who posts the best on their own CS Rocks rock.


Posted by cstephenson at 11:22 AM | Comments (7)

July 15, 2005

Entering the Forbidden Forest of Teacher Certification

So many issues affect computer science education these days that sometime it is hard to know how best to apply our resources (people, time, and funding). In addition, some issues should come with a big sign that says "Go back" or "Abandon hope all who enter here" or "Don't even think about it." Teacher certification is one such issue.

Two years ago we surveyed 5000 high school computer science teachers as part of our on-going commitment to begin tracking pre-college computer science education in the U.S. One of the questions we asked was "Does your state offer certification for high school computer science teachers?" We tabulated the results nationally and determined that 46% of the respondents answered "Yes" and 54% answered "No." This appeared to be a reasonable response all things considered. And then we looked at the answers by state, and we discovered that the pattern was the same, with approximately half of the teachers saying their state does offer certification for high school computer science teachers, and half saying it does not.

Our Research Committee decided that we had made a mistake and set out to correct it. One year later we surveyed 15,000 high school computer science teachers, and this time we were much more careful about how we posed the question. We divided it into two parts: asking "Does your state consider computer science a certified teachable?" and "Are you required to hold this certification to teach computer science in your state?" Once again, the answers within individual states came back with approximately half of the participants responding "Yes" and half responding "No."

After much gnashing of teeth, the CSTA Research Committee decided that either teachers are extremely confused about the teacher certification requirements for their states or that policy awareness and enforcement varies so much from district to district that no conclusive answer is possible. If we could not even get a consistent research-supported picture of what is happening with teacher certification for computer science, how were we ever going to begin working on finding ways to make it more consistent nationally?

Recently, Ben Felller of the Associated Press wrote a terrific article on high school computer science education that included mention of CSTA. And so I began to get questions via email. And what were most of the questions about? That is right, teacher certification! More specifically, folks were finding it incredibility difficult to get useful information about the teaching requirements in their states.

Over the last few months, our Standards and Certification Committee has been consistently contacting State Departments of Education and collecting information about their high school computer science teacher certification requirements. So far, about half of the states have replied, and the committee continues to work on the rest who have not yet responded. Once the committee has all of the information in place (or at least as much as it is ever going to get), the plan is to find a consistent way of categorizing the information provided by each state and to collect it all together in a searchable database that will be available to all CSTA members. As you can imagine, this is going to take a considerable amount of work, and we are still looking for good volunteers to assist with the project, but we are hoping to have the database ready within six months.

This is just one of the many current CSTA projects. Teacher certification, like most issues, is complex and full of potential sources of conflict. But it is important, and in the end, we hope these efforts will provide valuable information for our members.


Posted by cstephenson at 10:41 AM | Comments (25)

July 07, 2005

Welcome to the CSTA Advocate!

In any professional organization there is always a need to find a balance between communicating effectively with members to ensure that that they have access to relevant and timely information, and bombarding them with unwanted messages. In April, we launched the CSTA Voice, a quarterly newsletter dedicated to informing members about important issues affecting computer science education and the activities of the organization. We think that the newsletter is a great way to communicate more formally with our members.

At the same time, however, we wanted a way to reach out on a more informal basis, provide up-to-the-minute information, and foment discussion, without filling up your email in-boxes. Our solution was to build this blog. Now you can check in any time to see what is new, where CSTA is going, and what folks are thinking. So welcome to the CSTA Advocate!

Posted by cstephenson at 09:01 AM