Gov. Jerry Brown’s signing last week of the 2017-18 state budget included funding for two significant and complementary initiatives intended to expand K-12 student access to computer science coursework and instruction.
Over the past few years a consensus has been building that today’s students need coursework that will enable them to understand how the digital world they live in was made, how it works, and the new issues it raises, in the same way students study science to understand how the natural world works and learn social studies to better understand the social, political, and cultural issues in their lives. Computer science coursework also teaches computational thinking and problem solving, mindsets aligned with those in other California academic standards and an asset in today’s more complex workplace.
In addition to its value as a foundational subject for all students, it is anticipated that diversifying K-12 student access to computer science will have the effect of allowing more students to determine if they have an interest in exploring that subject further in college and as a career. For low-income students in particular, access to computing jobs provides a powerful social mobility opportunity.
However, computer science for K-12 students is a new and young discipline. Until just a few years ago, only 10 percent of California’s high schools even offered computer science. Instructional units or courses in middle and elementary school were almost unheard of. While there is almost ubiquitous consensus now of its value, and there is a new national consensus on the kinds of computer science concepts and practices students would benefit from learning, there is no one proven right and best way to begin to implement computer science in districts and charters.
California’s computer science educators, experts, and stakeholders will consider these issues and others as they deliberate and make recommendations to state policy leaders on the best next steps for expanding computer science in K-12.
The first step: At its meeting in Sacramento next week, the State Board of Education will consider approving twenty-one individuals recommended for appointment by the Instructional Quality Commission to serve on the California Computer Science Standards Advisory Committee (CCSAC). This new committee will be off to a fast start with meetings beginning this fall.
This group will discuss a vision for – and definition of – computer science that distinguishes it from computer literacy, educational technology, digital citizenship, and information technology. The study of computer science as a new academic discipline to K-12 is more about understanding the digital world and learning how to create technology and software than about how to use technology or repair it.
The standards committee will need to develop and agree on a body of substantive but flexible guidance that will encourage and support school districts and charter schools to bring computer science into their curricula in ways that fit best with their local capacity, context, and interests of local stakeholders. It is also important that the state’s new computer science standards and guidance not undermine computer science implementation efforts already underway in over 40 districts and in charter schools across California. A strong focus of the State Board is to ensure access to quality computer science for students of color as well as students from low-income families, foster youth, English learners, and girls.
The public will have an opportunity to weigh in on the proposed state computer science standards during two 60-day review periods in the spring of 2018.
The second major initiative kicked off by Gov. Brown’s June 27 signing of AB 99 is the creation of a California computer science strategic implementation advisory panel to begin work on or before March 1, 2018. The advisory panel will undertake the development of recommendations critical to the effective and equitable implementation of computer science in K-12, including how best to broaden the pool of educators to teach computer science and what additional resources might be needed.
The membership of the panel will be broad, with many positions appointed by Gov. Brown and others appointed by State Superintendent of Instruction Tom Torlakson or the Senate Rules Committee and the Assembly Speaker‘s office. The new legislation stipulates that the panel submit recommendations for a computer science strategic implementation plan to the superintendent, the State Board of Education, and the Legislature on or before January 15, 2019.
In only the past two years, eight other states have begun to create or adopt computer science academic or course standards but only one other state has adopted a computer science implementation plan. Some states are considering other approaches, such as making computer science a mandatory graduation requirement. Eight states have put some dedicated funding behind their K-12 computer science efforts. Each of these states is starting differently, based on their own students, teachers, funding capacity, political leadership, existing policy reforms, and state size.
In a state as large and complex as California, it is critical that we take the time to implement sustainable education policy that encourages and supports districts and schools as they begin to expand their computer science instruction. Many of California’s largest districts and charter management organizations have already begun to bring computer science instruction to their students at one grade level or another, each in their own way.
With the signing by Gov. Brown of the 2017-18 state budget, California has now launched a thoughtful and thorough two-pronged state policy approach intended to encourage and support all districts and charter schools as they make decisions about how best to bring this important new K-12 discipline to their students.
Trish Williams is a member of the State Board of Education, and is the board’s liaison to Computer Science.
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