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What The Heck Just Happened in Texas?

Mark Stehlik kindly agreed to let us repost his message to the AP Listserv regarding Texas' recent decision not to include computer science as a math or science credit under their plan to increase the number of mandatory courses for high school students.

The state of Texas has recently approved a requirement called 4x4, to graduate in its recommended or distinguished track, it will require 4 years of Math, Science, English (Language Arts), and Social Studies.

Prompted by this, a week ago Thursday, I and an intrepid band of Texas secondary and college computer science educators ventured to testify before the Texas State Board of Education with the hope of persuading the board members to approve a petition formulated by Karen North to allow Computer Science (specifically, AP CS, not a course like Web Mastering) to count as a Math or Science in the newly approved 4x4 curriculum.

We arrived at 9:00 a.m. to find that we were item 8 on a 13-item agenda. And that 33 people were slated to testify to item 7 (discussion concerning the implementation of the 4x4 curriculum). As we sat and listened to discussions concerning the proper labeling of consumables (among the minutiae that occupy a state board of ed), we were heartened by positive references to Computer Science made in the testimony for item 7.

Unfortunately, those wan hopes were positively crushed by the board. First, since so many people testified on item 7, we didn't begin testifying until shortly before 6:00pm (needless to say, my 5:55 flight back to Pittsburgh left without me). Second, perhaps because of the late hour, approximately 6 board members (of 15 total) decided not to be present for our testimony. Their chairs were empty! It was positively disconcerting after watching all the favor paid to certain item 7 witnesses to see such an abject display of disinterest in our cause.

Further, unlike for item 7, there were virtually no questions subsequent to individual testimony (only 1 question, asked of 2 witnesses, was, "So, if you had to pick one, is Computer Science a math or a science?"). Of the 13 people testifying on this item, 2 were against (and 1 practically called us all liars for attempting to characterize Computer Science as science as we do not observe the natural world and thus are not a true science). (As an aside, I agree that Computer Science is not a Natural Science, but that doesn't make it not a science, or relevant to the future education of these students, but I digress).

At the end of the testimony, a board member asked to accept the Superintendent's recommendation to deny the petition (which was based on the fact that CS didn't require Algebra II as a prerequisite, which the board decided to no longer require as part of its discussion of item 7!). The motion was seconded and passed N-2 to 2. I say N-2 because it was unclear how many members were actually present to vote (the chair asserted that there was a quorum, though).

Very depressing.
Mark Stehlik

Comments

This is not a huge issue. I've taught AP Computer Science in Texas for 14 years, and every one of my AP students had absolutely no trouble getting in 4 maths and 4 sciences in addition to the Computer Science.

However, I wish I had been invited, I'm usually pretty good at getting people to see the light on these things.

It may not matter, in terms of individual students receiving credit for CS courses towards "recommended" or "distinguished" recognition, but it can't help but color students' and parents' attitudes towards CS to see that it "doesn't count." I have the same problem with the NCAA's refusal to consider CS as fulfilling their math or science requirement, unless it also fulfills a graduation requirement in their school/district.

Does it matter ... YES! What happened? We in computer science have been so certain of the correctness of our cause; we have not been paying attention to what else has been happening in the forest. NCLB's failure to classify Computer Science as an essential subject is almost as catastrophic as our continued concentration on the minutiae of our own individual curricular "trees".

It is time to go back to the drawing board.
1. Starting with our political leaders (top to bottom), get out the word, campaign, and VOTE!
2. To paraphrase Mark Stehlik after the meeting, we must come to an agreement regarding the definition of computer science. Our tendency toward inclusion has very definitely been used against us.
3. To paraphrase another educational leader from the state of Texas, neither the state legislature nor the state board of education is interested in listening to educators (whether they are from secondary school teachers or representatives from higher education) unless we can garner several thousand to come to Austin. They will listen to business and this is where we must focus our appeals for help.

Without such assistance, computer science will become the discipline of the rich and the predominantly white and male of the private school system and the business, industry, and technology sector of the United States will have no choice but to look abroad for its trained workers.

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