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What's the State of (CS Ed in) Your State?

The March issue of the CSTA Voice (see p. 4-5) includes a look at some state-by-state results from the 2011 National Secondary Computer Science Survey . As you might expect, if you compare the responses for any state to the national results (or compare one state to another), you'll find some interesting variations.

For example, students in introductory CS courses earn a wide variety of types of credit:
"Technology (38%) and Computing (36%) are the most common types of credit given for introductory CS courses, followed by Business (25%), but 69% of Georgia schools allow Business credit, 52% of Virginia schools give Math credit, and 58% of Colorado schools give Elective credit for introductory CS courses."

This variation is not surprising, since states also vary widely in the certification requirements for teachers who teach CS courses.

  • In Georgia's state-approved curriculum, CS courses fall into the Business and Computer Science department, but each course has its own list of certifications to which it's aligned. The first of three introductory-level courses earns credit in Career and Technical Education, and it may be taught by someone with certification in any of eight specialty fields (including CS, electronics, business, and IT), but other introductory courses have shorter lists of aligned certifications. (For details, see Georgia's Certification/Curriculum Assignment Policies System). Georgia's survey respondents also included Computing (38%) and Technology (31%) as possible areas of credit for intro-level courses.
  • Virginia's requirements (revised in 2011) for a CS endorsement (see p. 42) include coursework in Mathematics, Statistics, and four CS-specific areas, reflecting the same recognition of the connection between mathematics and CS as the schools' credit policies.
  • Colorado apparently has no CS endorsement, and decisions about teacher requirements for CS-related courses are apparently made at the local level. The only references to "computer science" or "computer programming" that I could find in any course or teacher standards on the Department of Education's website were in a list of 21st century skills for sixth and seventh grade Drama and Theatre Arts!.
  • The reasons for some other state-by-state variations are not so obvious (to me, at least). For example:
    I wonder what factors contributed to the wide range of rates (among schools that offer any CS course) of schools that offer AP CS: from 77% in Maryland to 9% in Kansas.

    Why is Scratch the most commonly-taught programming language in introductory CS courses in Colorado (the only state for which that is true)?

    Another puzzle: Most states' teachers reported that the greatest challenges in teaching CS were two of these three:

  • Lack of support / interest by school staff
  • Lack of student interest / enrollment
  • Rapidly-changing technology
  • So why is "Lack of hardware/software resources" considered to be one of the greatest challenges in Alabama, Kansas, Michigan, and Oklahoma, while "Lack of curriculum resources" was critical for teachers in Indiana and Washington? And why is Texas the only state whose teachers reported that "Difficult subject matter" was one of the greatest challenges?

    The results that were highlighted in the Voice article are only a few of the variations present in the state-by-state results; you may find detailed survey results for each of the 29 states with 15 or more respondents.

    We invite your own comments and insights on the survey results for your state; perhaps you can enlighten the rest of us about special factors that have shaped CS education in your state.

    Debbie Carter
    CSTA Research Committee


    Hmm, not at least 15 respondents in our state? That puzzles me as the invitation went out to our CSTA chapter and, when compared to many other states, we have fairly strong extra-curricular groups organized around computational themes. New Mexico Supercomputing Challenge and Project GUTS, (http://challenge.nm.org and http://projectguts.org).

    However, we do not have a strong certification model for CS in any grade level. Nor do the state's pathways for graduation have any room for CS courses, even as electives.

    Not remembering what I put on the survey, but I think the biggest factor influencing the direction of CS in our state is teacher apathy which leads to lack of direction in pushing for improvements in teacher certification and curriculum development.

    Re: Colorado Just a thought, could it be that Scratch is fun and easier to master that prods its use as an introductory CS language?

    Carl, we had only 10 respondents from NM (that is, 10 who self-identified as being from NM).

    It's been ten years since I have retired from the CS profession and began teaching CS in a Maryland Public school system. During this time, I have seen my department shrink from 4 full-time faculty to myself working part-time. I have not sat idly by watching this happen, by the way. But, in the interest of brevity let me make a few quick observations that might demystify:

    1) CS has no exchange value. Because CS is not part of the required curriculum, it has no exchange value for students. It's time thrown away, or, better, a course that is taken to escape the horrors of what is happening in required courses.
    2) CS has no street value. Odd, given the statistics, but CS is still perceived by my PARENTS as an outsourced career.
    3) CS has never been clearly defined within the canon. I think of CS as applied mathematics. Of course, school mathematics has no points of contact with Mathematics. So, my teaching mathematics in a CS course is unwelcome by Mathematics teachers, who are concerned about their jobs status, by students who now have to do something uncomfortable--think critically, and by Administrators, who wish that people like me would go away.
    4) CS has no social currency. Owing to the lack of a CS teaching presence, you are alone ... very alone in a big institution that has no place for loners.
    5) CS has no political or cultural capital. Every week, sometimes more often, I receive email from the NEA and other political organizations---you know, the people who get things done. Anyway, these messages invariably offer automated response/letter generators that target the decision makers, making it easy to annoy them into voting our way. CS has no such organizational support. CS, therefore, has no voice.
    6) CS has a cultural image problem: white, effete, male and anti-social. In the current political and cultural setting, these are winning traits ...for sure!
    7) CS has no presence in the emerging Core standards. I tried, by the way, to talk with members of the Governor's Association during the initial authoring stages of that document. I was even assured that people understood some of the issues. The result: the Mathematics standards that were delivered speak for themselves.

    I will stop at 7 because that's probably the largest prime number that most people can remember, or so I'm told by research. Doubtless, you can think of more reasons for yourself.

    Now, what are my proposed solutions? Well, that's another post; but, let me begin by asserting that nothing will change in the contemporary setting for a variety of reasons---not the least of which being the narrow, right-wing agenda that I see dominating American politics.

    Of course, your results may vary.

    Tom R

    Interesting. So, is it the case in Colorado that teachers can effect changes in certification and curriculum? I might see some teacher writing some curriculum over a summer workshop, assuming that the state had money in the budget for that kind of thing, but I cannot imagine teachers having any say so in matter of Certification; generally, this is done by the State Department of Education, I should think, in conjunction with politicians.

    I would be curious to know if Colorado had a stand-alone CS certification or if their CS certification was an endorsement added to a Mathematics or some other kind of well-known and accepted Certification.

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