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What To Do About CS Teacher Certification

Anyone who takes the time to follow this blog knows that one of the most challenging issues we face is the current lack of standardized teacher certification requirements for high school computer science teachers.

The saga of CSTA's involvement in this issue is long and complex. Suffice to say that all of our early research told us that computer science teacher certification in the U.S. is a complete mess and all of the members who have written to us about this issue (via email, articles in the CSTA Voice, and comments here on the blog) agree with this assessment.

Here is how the current mess breaks down:
* some states have requirements for teaching computer science
* some states have NO requirements for teaching computer science
* half of the teachers in any given state know whether or not there are requirements, the rest do not
* some states with requirements demand that teachers have taken or taught courses that do not exist
* some states classify computer science under business, some under math, some under science, and some under vocational technology
* some people responsible for computer science teaching requirements at the state level do not know what computer science is
* many just don't care

Before CSTA can make any recommendations on how to improve the situation, we have to have more solid, research-based data. So, for the last months we have been collecting the computer science teacher certification requirements for each state. The biggest challenge has been to find someone who actually admits to being responsible in each state. The second biggest challenge has been trying to explain to whoever is in charge that we are not talking about K-12 technology use standards. We now have data from all but 14 states and we are working hard to get them to respond. Even once we have all the data, though, I wonder what it is we can do to fix this mess.

So here are my questions for you.

1. Do you think we should have a national high school computer science certification requirement that would apply in every state?
2. Would your state actually opt in to such a program?
3. Should computer science be classified as a science, math, technology, or business specialization?
4. Should there be a single national praxis test that could be used to ensure sufficient subject content and teaching mastery to support certification?

I would love to know what you think.

Chris Stephenson
Executive Director


1) Definitely wouldnt hurt to have conformity.

3) Computer science should NOT be classified as math. Probably not as business specialization.

I'm willing to argue science vs technology but would lean strongly toward the technology answer.

4) If there /is/ a national certification requirement, then it should be supported by a single praxis test otherwise we're right back at not having any conformity.

My penny.

I'd like to see a nationally recognized model certification that states could elect to adopt. I'm not so big on Federal mandates.
I think New Hampshire might go along with such a model.
Question three is the hard one. Part of me argues for science and part for math. It's sort of like physics that way isn't it? Business and technology are not good options in my opinion. The reason for that is those departments tend to be vocationally oriented and not college oriented. Now I believe that vocations are important, valuable and under appreciated so I'm not saying anything against them. But both vocational and college prep students take math and science. College prep students tend to stay away from vocational courses.
As for number four, I'm not a big fan of tests. I think the certification standard should specify options that include specific course work, reasonable in-service training, professional history (let's let some of the SW professionals get into the class room) and may be (but only maybe) a national exam.

Hello, Chris, and Others,

Many may be familiar with my position, but of course, many will not. So?

1. Should we have a national standard for CS? Absolutely. But, given the incredible hodge-podge of diversity that already exists between states in all areas of certification, not just in CS, I cannot see that happening any time soon.

2. Would your state actually opt for such a program? I?d like to think so. The State of Michigan has asked me several times to assist them in making new standards, test, etc. for CS.

3. Should computer science be math, sciences, business? Computer Science should be computer science, but that?s difficult to fly, especially in a pre-college environment. If I had to choose, I pick math first, science second, business third. Post-secondary environments cannot agree on a standard; high schools should not be expected to do any better.

4. Should there be a single national praxis test?? Yes. Again, as in the first question, it is a formidable task to create such.

We are fighting an uphill battle, with CS in an embryonic stage (electronic computers are themselves only 75 years or so old), with the NCAA believing that CS courses are not ?academic?, with many districts and states having few if any requirements for students or even faculty.

On the other hand, with the Internet and computers now a common commodity, we can hopefully make some changes and standardizations.


Richard Lamb
Computer Dept. Chair
Cranbrook Kingswood School
Bloomfield Hills, MI


Question 1: Yes!
Question 2: Not sure... is this something we can control?
Question 3: I think it should be its own category. We're in the current mess because CS defies any attempt to be classified into one of these categories.
Question 4: Yes, but we need to be sensitive to the fact that some teachers just want to teach "intro" classes, and others want to teach APCS AB.

1. Should every state have national computer science certification requirement? No, state level certification is seems fine to me.
Some states may need to have higher or lower standands for certification (and in some cases possibly no certification at all).

2. Would my state opt for a national certification? I have no idea. Because this issue seems to be of very little concern except to computer teachers and other people concerned about providing technology education to students I doubt there will be any push for a nation teacher certification. That is unless the NCLB provisions for having highly qualified teacher in the class room in some way force this issue.

3. How should computer science by classified. Hmm, not sure if this is an important issue. What is being taught is much more important issue. Because many, if not most computer classes, are not programming classes but computer application classes I tend to lean toward technology if I were to classify computer science at the K-12 level.

4. Should some testing agency develop a national test for computer teachers? Sure, if state education boards promise to use the results for hiring. The more people qualified to teach computer science by passing such a test, then, hopefully, the more computer science classes will be taught by qualified people. This is making the assumption that a test can help identify well qualified teachers.

I teach CS in Montgomery County Public Schools, in Maryland. I came to teaching as a second career; I have an advanced degree in Computer Science and had spent twenty years in various aspects of the "industry" before making this move.

Naturally, I love teaching this content, but I fear that I will not be teaching it very much longer for a variety of reasons. But, your original topic was certification, so let me tell you my experiences.

I found no objective criteria or references to Computer Science in the various documents provided by any department of education office. I was told repeatedly that I needed to be "certified" in order to teach, but no one, and I mean no one, knew how to obtain such a certification. Somone performed a Transcript Analysis and said that they were satisfied that I had the content but still needed the teaching credits. No problem, or so I thought. As I investigated programs I quickly discovered that very few schools were ready, willing or able to provide any guidelines for a certification in CS. Eventually, I went through GW University's Teacher's 2000 Program (another topic for another day).

Now came the problem of getting a job. I was fortunate in this respect. Originally, I had been offered an open contract at my current school--as a Math Teacher! Unfortunately, the Teacher's 2000 contract doesn't allow students to accept contracts to work in any school for 2 years or so. Well, things worked out only because I was liked by students and administration...

Fast forward three years .... The MSDE, in their wisdom, has pulled the "tech credits" from all Computer Science courses because these courses are not "technology courses." Now, I have a growing enrollment in my AP classes and was hopeful that we might really get something done here. What do you think will happen in the next three years?

I'm studying for the NSL praxis because I have undergraduate degrees in Political Science and Philosophy, and I love teaching more than any particular content area.

Actually, I'd taught Philosophy for a few years at this very school as part of its Signature Program. Seems that the State needed to verify certifications for No Child Left Alive and came across my name. Wondering how they could justify my existence to the enlightened powers that be, they certified me to teach Political Science. So, I'm certified to teach Political Science, but I teach only Computer Science and Media.

For what it's worth, I think that your mission is honorable and much needed. I would love to have a "real certification." Unless or until we, as a nation, are able to stem the reactionary red-tide of No Child Left Alive, however, we're likely to see more of the same and worse. Truly, the imposition of corporation ethos on a democratic, public institution has had the desired effect. Our schools are alien and irrelevant to a majority of our students. Our "leaders" --for a variety of reasons-- have sold our most precious commodity, our future, to the corporate and political interests of a narrow and self-serving minority of testing organizations and bureaucrats.

I stay in this business because I still think that I can make a difference --largely because I can teach. Now the challenge is finding a time and place to do tha

Here in Georgia AP Computer Science moved from the math department to the business department for the 2005-06 school year. Those of us teaching the course in my county were told that we needed to take the Business Praxis in order to keep teaching the course. I took the test reluctantly and managed to pass it thanks to my undergraduate business electives years ago. There was not a single question on that test that pertains to the curriculum I am teaching. Quite frustrating if you ask me. I'm all for a Praxis relating to computer science and would hope that my state would follow the recommendation.

I have heard the arguments against classifying computer science as a math course, but unless it is classified as a technology course, I don't think it fits anywhere else. And especially not business department!!!

1. Yes
2. Not sure, hope they are enlightned enough to say yes!
3. Many ways to argue for this, except for a business specialization! Classified as a technology or maybe math (but not taught by a math teacher - they tend to be a little less worldly in problem selection)
4.yes, or evidence of Language proficiency via other acceptable certification

1. Yes, and I think the place to start is the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. They have research to show that teachers who receive their certification are more effective than average in the classroom. Because the certification is over and above that required by most states, the initial certification requirements suggested by CSTA could be a subset of those required for National Board certification.

2. Actually, my state (Kentucky) provides fellowships and salary incentives for people who go through the National Board process successfully, so pushing a state certificate that would be a subset of National Board certification would be a no-brainer.

3. For funding reasons, having CS be part of vocational education is attractive. But, as someone said, individual high schools may need the flexibilty to organize CS into the departments that make sense. In a school with no vocational program, CS may belong in the math or science departments (probably depending on what other courses the CS teacher teaches). There are very few places where a teacher with *just* CS certification could find full-time employment, so a two-tiered system where CS is its own certification and CS is an add-on to another certification area (math, science, technology ed) is probably not a bad idea.

4. Yes! There needs to be some standardization of what a CS teacher (as opposed to computer apps, graphic design, or CAD teacher) should know before being allowed to stand up in front of a class. In fact, working through the content of such an exam would provide a very good opportunity to express to the confused states exactly what CS is.

1. Do you think we should have a national high school computer science certification requirement that would apply in every state?

I desperately want to say yes, but for now I would say no. It is hard enough to find someone who can actually teach CS that the last thing we want to do is make it harder.

Additionally, I am very concerned about adding barriers to techies becoming part of the teaching work force. The pay is bad and the credentialing process is an enormous time sink. If someone is good enough to choose teaching over bigger money, I say make it easier, not harder, to become a teacher.

2. Would your state actually opt in to such a program?

I have no idea.

3. Should computer science be classified as a science, math, technology, or business specialization?

Why not Vocational Education? If one takes a look at the ACM's K-12 Guidelines (published 2003), it reads like Voc. Ed.

In my math department (roughly 15 people), nobody else is a CS teacher. One person was a decade ago but does not want to do it again. Another person is interested in learning CS, but he's probably 5-6 years away from retirement. If CS is really to be under the math umbrella, shouldn't more teachers be prepared to teach it?

If not, then where does CS belong? We have Flash and web development classes in Voc. Ed. Flash is a scripted, event-based language. It's programming, yet nobody has suggested it should be a math class. Anything involving JavaScript or PHP is real programming, too.

It seems to me that what we ought to be thinking about is how to put together a district-wide computing curriculum. It would be easier to do that if the roadmap included all of the computing classes which suggests putting all of said classes in a common department.

If a school cannot have a CS department, then perhaps putting CS under Vocational Education could make sense.

4. Should there be a single national praxis test that could be used to ensure sufficient subject content and teaching mastery to support certification?

Again, more barriers to getting techies to become teachers strikes me as the wrong idea. It sounds great in concept, but we need to find a way to encourage more qualified people to get involved. Less red tape, please.


Josh Paley
Teacher, Henry M. Gunn HS (Palo Alto, CA)
President, Silicon Valley CSTA

In the state of Wisconsin, a computer science teaching license falls under the math category. However, from my understanding no one in my high school is certified to teach it, and no one in the math department wants it.

As a business teacher, I can teach programming as long as it doesn't exceed 25% of the course curriculum. However, since I have been asked to teach this, I have to become certified to teach computer science courses.

In this process of trying to enroll in the necessary courses, I have found that it is absolutely impossible to enroll in these courses with my full-time teaching schedule. What's the reason? The courses aren't being offerend in the summer.

If you are asking about uniformity, how can it begin if we can't even get the necessary classes? If you say that a techy should just teach it, you are forgetting that teaching is an art--not just knowledge. Maybe there are some who could do it but not all of them.

Not everyone can teach. It would be like being 4.0 students with no common sense. As teachers, we know that it takes that special someone to reach students. Money isn't our goal; if it was ,we wouldn't be teaching!

1. Do you think we should have a national high school computer science certification requirement that would apply in every state?

It would be nice. Defining those requirements are tough though. I certainly don't think my state is doing a good job at it.

2. Would your state actually opt in to such a program?

I'm not sure, we aren't honoring any of the other national certifications (at least I have been told this, I'm not sure -- I am in Texas, so I'm willing to be corrected if I am misinformed).

3. Should computer science be classified as a science, math, technology, or business specialization?

I personally think it should be in the same place as engineering, and yes, engineering is being taught in high school, at least in the Dallas area. It is treated as both a math and a science around here, and I think CS should be treated the same.

It definately should be seperate from technology or business as they have more of a trade school focus, while computer science and engineering should have an university focus.

4. Should there be a single national praxis test that could be used to ensure sufficient subject content and teaching mastery to support certification?


I hear a lot of comments, both here and on the AP CS list that argues against any barriers for teaching. I however, strongly argue that we do need hurtles for people to pass before they are allowed in the classroom.

First, we need to protect the students. In a quest to get more teachers in the classroom we have been putting marginal people in the classroom.

Research shows that highly qualified teachers have higher quality students. It can be argued that it is a chicken and egg thing, but we also cannot afford to put marginal people in the classroom.

There are two arguments that I can think in favor of putting hurtles in the way to ensure our teachers are qualified -- first look at the number of teachers, both male and female that have been in the news for sexually assaulting their students. I suggest that part of the cause of that is rushing people through programs and not examing their character or motives carefully.

Second, and I have seen this first hand, a poor teacher does a lot more to damage students and a program than not offering the program in the first place does. I had to watch someone destroy what took me 12 years to build in the space of a year and a half. Who knows how many low income students were convinced that CS wasn't for them, because of the bad teacher? Over the 12 years, I have had a lot of students, who have gone some form of IT, who did not have a dream of that before they took my class. They can now support families, rather than just making a living.

The next population we have to protect is the existing teachers. In a crisis situation, it is very tempting for administration to take an experienced teacher and have them assist in enhancing an core curriculum program at the expense of an elective program. That is very frustrating for the experienced teacher who is being taken out of their comfort level and it is hard on the existing students, especially when they lose that experienced teacher and get someone who isn't as experienced.

Oddly enough, I actually believe in goals of NCLB, even though I've been a victim.

Finally placing hurtles actually protects the administration. It is very tempting to hire "someone off the street" for the elective -- my adminstration quoted here -- and place experienced teachers in core curriculum classroom. When an unqualified teacher with very little time invested in gaining that position finds themselves over their head, they are going to bail out in the middle of the school year. Honestly the main reason I didn't bail out in the middle of the school year myself was that a) I valued what I had accomplished in certification to endanger that, and b) I had the integrity to realize what quiting would do to my students. Sadly that didn't happen with the inexperienced teacher.

I don't think our current system of certification in Texas does much to solve any of the above issues. The majority of our teachers are going through alternative certification programs and after watching several go through it over the past few years, I haven't been impressed by either the selection process, OR by the actual development process. I do not confine this statement to CS by the way.

I do have the advantage of going back to school and getting a traditional certification from a recognized institute that specializes in education. I also have the advantage of an educational Master's Degree (CECS from UNT if anyone cares). I believe that my students benefit greatly from those experiences.

I also believe that my bachelor's degree in Computer Science did nothing to prepare me to teach in a classroom. Even though I spent a great deal of time tutoring other students.

I also believe that my 10 years of industry experience did nothing to prepare me for teaching either, even though I spent a great deal of those 10 years teaching others how to use the software we designed.

I even spent a couple of years taking CS courses at the Master's level, but I saw pretty quickly that while those courses were preparing me for industry they were not making me a better CS teacher.

I don't know if I am a "highly qualified" teacher, but I do know a few things. I know that I can take students who do not have technology experience and show them that they can be successful in a technology field. And this year, I learned that I can teach students who don't know how to read or speak English how to do Algebra (though word problems were a bit tough). I also learned that I can teach Algebra I well enough that many of my students passed a math final for the first time in their lives (one that I didn't write) and pass the Math TAKS for the first time.

1. Do you think we should have a national high school computer science certification requirement that would apply in every state?

This would depend on the standard. Texas is one of those states that might be characterized by the 50% rule Chris described (50% know there is a requirement, 50% do not). The good news is that the computer science teachers know that our standards have been reinstated and most are correspondingly proud.

2. Would your state actually opt in to such a program?

Again, this would depend on the standard. In Texas, we have just recently reinstated requirements that computer science teachers as a group consider appropriate. Maintaining the validity of the testing instrument is an ongoing process that Texas CS teachers consider one of their achievements. Under such circumstances, would any professional willingly agree to the adoption of a system that might not (probably would not) be as stringent.

3. Should computer science be classified as a science, math, technology, or business specialization?

This is an interesting question? ...Especially as this is exactly the issue being put before the Texas State Board of Education in the next few weeks. In a recent online survey conducted by the TCEA Tech Apps Computer Science SIG, most respondents were both Computer Science and Math certified. As teachers and parents, we are fully aware of the pressures and concerns of the average student in the typical public school. He is expected to participate in extracurricular activities (athletics, band, drill team, etc.) while taking a full course load of math, science, social studies, and English language arts in each of all four years of high school. He must also satisfy requirements for speech communication, fine arts, technology, and two to four years of foreign languages. Following the example of several colleges in the 70's/80's of the last century, I could make an argument that the skills required for programming are in the same category as learning a foreign language. In defense of counting computer science as a science, the problem solving and planning required in the design of simulations are generally accepted as demonstrations of the scientific method. Though requiring computer science for the sake of computer science may seem admirable, is it practical? As many computer science teachers who have been placed in technology or business departments may attest, the fit is not always comfortable, or appropriate - Computer Science is more likely to accommodate the requirements of the math departments. In the state of Texas, we successfully remediated math skills in the context of computer science for many years? ...It was called Computer Math.

4. Should there be a single national praxis test that could be used to ensure sufficient subject content and teaching mastery to support certification?

Such a test would be a prerequisite for a national high school computer science certification requirement that would apply in every state. Without such an examination, we are left with a qualitative judgment of comparative curricula and "life experiences". ...However, given the nature of current state computer science certifications, and the apparent inconsistency of qualifying standards, could a single test be considered reasonable?

Charmaine Bentley

I am a "Computer Science" teacher but only because I am a math teacher, and if I teach "CS" then it counts as a math credit for our students.
I would like for there to be more uniformity in what is called Computer Science that would sure make me more comfortable teaching it. But, the more time I spend as an educator I'm begging to see there is no litmus test for what makes a "highly qualified teacher." So should we make a federal standardized test for computer science when no such test exist for any other subject, absolutely not. We need groups like yours to rally at the grassroots level a set of standards that identifies the subect of Computer Sience and provides rescources, and staff development to jelp them obtain those standards. I would like to see something like the National Science Teachers Association or the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, but for Comuter Science Teachers.
All testing, for all other subjects is overseen by the states, if that needs to be changed then we need to be thinking bigger that just computer science.

Moving forward CS Certification is a political area. I believe that CSTA needs a PAC to facilitate this process. I lead the battle in Texas to keep CS Certification and a specialized Certification Test for Computer Science teachers. It took finding the right person with the power to make the decision. I am in the political arena again with the Texas State Board of Education and the CS - math and science credit initiative. But, with only a handful of teachers willing to commit time, it is a very slow process.

In order to move forward it takes K-12 CS legislation. Perhaps if we have a lobbyist to keep up with the politics of education for computer science, we might find ourselves in the same ranks as other STEM areas. Look at the dates of this discussion with the last post in 2006. Perhaps if teachers who are interested in working on political issues could have a forum to work together in a PAC, we could move forward the drive that Chris Stephenson has thankfully started.

where can i get a point about science versus technology?
i like to discuss about science and technology,if had any ideas please email to me at rafiq_jas@yahoo.com.my.

We need CS certification standards. ACM and/or CSTA should propose a set of standards.

CSTA will be releasing a major white paper on CS teacher certification this winter. It is currently out for peer review but so far the response from external readers has been very positive. It will include a comprehensive look at the issues, a review of current research, and will propose a multi-level model for CS teacher certification that takes into consideration our very diverse teacher population.


The biggest challenge has been to find someone who actually admits to being responsible in each state. The second biggest challenge has been trying to explain to whoever is in charge that we are not talking about K-12 technology use standards. We now have data from all but 14 states and we are working hard to get them to respond. Even once we have all the data, though, I wonder what it is we can do to fix this mess.

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