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Why It is Time To Get Political

In the last year, CSTA has put s great deal of effort into developing a strong advocacy arm for CSTA and there are times when I wonder if this is a good use of our precious and limited resources when there is so much that needs to be done for computer science teachers. A blog comment by our member Tom Reinhardt (which I am including in its entirety below) however, helped me see once again why advocacy is not just important, but critical to our survival as a disciple.

With the launching of the CSTA Leadership Cohort we are now building an advocacy network in every state. And through our work on the ACM Education Policy Committee, we are getting our message to the key policy makers. In fact, several of our powerful CSTA members are on the Hill right now, lobbying for K-12 computer science education.

And these efforts are starting to show signs of success. More states are considering allowing computer science courses to count as math or science credits for mandatory graduation requirements. The National Science Foundation has opened up the Math and Science Partnership grants to include funding for computer science. And we are hearing rumors of a potential large-scale professional development plan for computer science teachers.

In the last year CSTA has also supported two germinal publications. The first is a CSTA publication called Ensuring Exemplary teaching in an Essential Discipline: Addressing the Crisis in Computer Science Teacher Certification. This publication has now been sent to over 500 educational policy makers.

The second book is by Jane Margolis. It is called Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race and Computing and we are doing everything we can to convince policy makers that they must read this book.

In his comments below, Tom talks about the seemingly overwhelming challenges that teachers are facing and the critical importance of changing the minds of the policy makers. His comments have convinced me that these advocacy efforts are, after all, something our members both want and need.

Chris Stephenson
CSTA Executive Director

Here is Tom's Comment

What's missing is "relevance." Unless or until someone who is in a position of authority deems Computer Science "relevant" we shall be relegated elective status. Pure and simple. That no one from ACM or any other organization was able to get CS into the "core" curriculum when they crafted that terrible piece of legislation called No Child Left Alive, sealed our fate---pure and simple.

Sure, we can argue the point, but, trust me (at least from what I've seen over the last six plus years) no one is listening. Unless your content impacts your Principal's career, you're irrelevant. In the best case, you're tolerated. In the worst case, you're marginalized to the point of collapse.

It gives me no pleasure to say this, but I'm growing weary of hand-wringing and the polly-annish attitude that if we could only make our case known, things would be different. Policy makers only convene meetings to hear opinions that confirm their decisions. Unless they have already decided that you are important, you are a not on the agenda.

This is the view from the trenches, at least in Montgomery County, Maryland. I live from enrollment period to enrollment period. I teach 5 preps, 5 courses, run a department (whithering yearly) and participate in more meetings that I'd care to recount at this moment. I have more education and more experience than 90% of my co-workers. I teach a content area that our Science department treats as "what's the name of that course?" and our mathematics department sees as not-calculus: No one teaches properties and structures any more; we have calculators, we don't need abstract mathematics.

All the while, I have excellent relationships with my students who take my courses when they can free up the elective credits. And this is the only reason that I soldier on. Their parents make it a point to visit me on Back to School night; they really don't have to do that. (Their students could fail my course tomorrow and the Administration would likely expunge it from their records.)

If we really wanted to do something to promote CS, we'd be figuring out how to change the minds of policy makers, not educators because they are cows. We'd be actively engaged in political action, not intellectual hand-wringing. We'd be writing articles and books, exposing the shameful state of a youth abused and deprived of a truly relevant and world-class education.

Peace out.

Tom Reinhardt

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