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Who is Teaching Computer Science in US High Schools?

How do you fit in amongst the roughly 800 teachers who shared what they teach, how they are supported by their schools, their background and what's important to them? A new survey that answers these questions has just been released. Administered by the University of Chicago's Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education and Urban Education Institute, the survey is part of a larger study of high school computer science in America called "Building an Operating System for Computer Science Education".

Along with the results of the survey are several dozen reactions to the results from other teachers, administrators, CS professors, education researchers and leaders. These reactions help interpret the analysis of the results and also, more importantly, highlight some implications of these results for the CS field and for the teaching and learning of computer science in general.

Two things stood out to me when I looked at survey results. First, computer science teachers, despite still reporting that they are the only CS teacher (or one of a few) in their community, reported feeling supported by their schools and administration. This was completely surprising to me. (Perhaps, it is the self-selecting nature of survey respondents, who are more likely to feel happy, satisfied and proud of the fact that they teach CS.) But, maybe this is evidence that the advocacy work of CSTA has been working and the shifting public view of computer science education has led to more schools supporting the teaching of computer science.

Second, we have a real problem with misconceptions about computer science, still, in 2013. And as the survey results show, as a community, we are still not on the same page about what computer science education is either. At the moment, the word "code" is gaining attention as the stuff students should learn with computers, and whatever stigma used to be attached to programming seems to be dissipating - which is good. But we have a long way to go in clarifying what a high-quality, rigorous computer science education is and that that includes more that just programming.

Still it turns out that even "code" is a new concept to the uninitiated. Last year, a high-level administrator at my school, a person I spent four years convincing to include computer science as a graduation requirement (successfully, a requirement that has been in place for 5 years now!), and a school at which I have been teaching AP Computer Science for almost 10 years, approached me in the wake of the Code.org video to ask: "Baker, do you know how to code?", as if to emphasize something paranormal in our presence. "Is that something you could teach our kids?"

Boy, we have a long way to go! The University of Chicago study is a good start to understanding why, and what paths we might take to truly expand the teaching and learning of computer science in this country. Check it out!

Baker Franke
CSTA Leadership Cohort Member
University of Chicago Laboratory High School (Chicago, IL)

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