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Political Action in Kansas

If you've read a recent piece I co-wrote in Communications of the ACM (membership required), you know that the States largely drive education decisions in the US. Because of this, our community has to play "wack-a-mole" when we hear about issues that pop up in the fifty states affecting computer science education. Luckily, the Computer Science Teachers Association Leadership Cohort is building much of this network, so when Kansas the Board of Regents decided to eliminate computing courses from the core student requirements, we could weigh in with the State. ACM and CSTA sent the board a letter recommending that they put computer science back in the core.

To unpack this issue we need to review how Kansas' education system works. The Kansas State Board of Regents External Link is a nine-member, politically-appointed body that "governs six state universities, and supervises and coordinates 19 community colleges, five technical colleges, six technical schools and a municipal university." State law allows students automatic acceptance into one of Kansas' public universities if they meet certain requirements. These requirements are called the "Qualified Admission Regulations," which are set by the Board.

To meet these requirements, students are required to take four years of English, three years of mathematics, three years of natural science, three years of social science and one year of computer technology. The Board then has a set of standards of content that must be included in these courses. Because of the Qualified Admission's requirements influence over student admissions, it has become the defacto college prep curriculum in Kansas.

Recently the Board convened a task force to review the Qualified Admissions Regulations, which concluded that the technology requirement is outdated and that the content is being taught in other courses. Based on this conclusion, the Board is proposing to cut the computing technology requirement.

It turns out that while the technology requirement was intended to be a basic computing literacy course, it allowed many high schools to develop courses with computer science content. ACM and CSTA's concern is that if the Board eliminates the computing technology requirement students will focus only on the core requirements and computer science courses in Kansas will disappear.

To ensure that Kansas' students are being exposed to rigorous computer science courses and not basic computing literacy, we recommend that:

* the Board update the Qualified Admissions Regulations to reflect core computer science concepts. Further, that the state establish a task force to review Kansas' current science standards (some of which can be found in "standard 5" of the Kansas Curricular Standards for Science for 8th to 12th grade) and how they could be updated to mirror changes to the Qualified Admissions standards.

* "computer science" be added as one of the approved units in either the mathematics or natural sciences Qualified Admissions requirements.

By strengthening computer science education in Kansas, the Board can ensure students are gaining the critical knowledge and skills they will need in the 21st Century.

(Special thanks to Tabitha Hogan, a high school computing teacher in Kansas, for flagging this issue for us.)

Cameron Wilson
ACM Director of Public Policy

Comments

We, the CS community, should have been doing this kind of thing ten years ago, when the "technology lobby" was quietly establishing the relationships that it needed in order to displace all others. In Maryland, for instance, nearly ten years ago, a very similar discussion occurred, but no one was informed. Consequently, we have all but lost the possibility of getting and keeping CS in the public schools. Instead, we have "technology" courses, which are, as you can imagine, not the same thing.

Naturally, I have to ask: What happened? What was the result of your efforts? Were you able to effect a change here?

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