State Progress on K-12 Computer Science Ed Policies: 'We Have a Long Way to Go'

If understanding of computer science is essential to being an informed citizen, then it makes sense that every child needs an education in the use of computing devices and software, digital literacy and computational processing. That's the premise of a new report developed by half a dozen organizations that undertook a state-by-state survey of the current state of K-12 CS education.

The report, titled "State of the States Landscape Report: State-Level Policies Supporting Equitable K–12 Computer Science Education," was released during a workshop led by Google, the Education Development Center (EDC), and the Massachusetts Computing Attainment Network (MassCAN) on Google's Cambridge campus.

"There are simply not enough adequately trained people to fill the current need for information security analysts, hardware engineers, software developers, computer programmers, data scientists and other STEM professionals," the report asserted. "States must both inspire and prepare a far greater number of students to pursue CS education and related careers."

To that end, the authors created a rubric to examine state action in 10 areas:

  • Development of plans for K-12 CS education. According to the report, only Arkansas and Massachusetts have completed plans; several others — California, among them — have plans in process.
  • Initiatives to promote diversity in CS education. The report pointed to eight separate alliances funded by the National Science Foundation specifically to address equity and diversity, including groups focused on drawing women, Hispanics and African Americans into the field.
  • Adoption of K-12 CS standards, which are also publicly accessible on the state's website and include CS content for elementary, middle and high school. Currently, only seven states (including, again, Arkansas and Massachusetts) have done so, with eight other states in process.
  • Dedicated funding for K-12 CS education for the 2016 or 2017 fiscal year. Nine states have met this goal. Arkansas and Idaho lead on that, with $2.5 million and $2 million of dedicated budgeting, respectively.
  • Certification of CS teachers through endorsement, certification, licensure or authorization that "explicitly" names CS and enables a teacher to teach CS courses. Right now, 27 states as well as the District of Columbia provide some form of educator CS certification, though they differ in format and grade coverage.
  • Higher-ed pre-service teacher training programs that have been state-approved that prepare candidates for licensure in CS. An important point is that the programs be listed on the website of the state department of education as well. Twelve states have met the pre-service education goal. While other states may have approved such programs, they don't yet provide a public list.
  • A dedicated state-level CS position with a job title reflecting the nature of the work and the ability to "impact state policy and programs around CS." Eight states have such positions, while a few others have "offices or individuals" that influence CS policy and programs.
  • A requirement that all high schools offer at least one CS class or that CS be integrated into mandatory state standards across disciplines in K-12. Four states have enacted such regulations, but only two of those — Arkansas and Virginia — have also supported the policy implementation with funding.
  • A stipulation that a CS class can satisfy some core high school graduation requirement. As the report noted, 23 states and the District of Columbia require that CS be allowed to fulfill a graduation requirement (typically, as a substitute for math or science credits); and four states delegate the decision to districts.
  • A policy allowing a CS class to satisfy a core college admission requirement. Fourteen states require all public four-year postsecondary schools to allow CS to satisfy a core non-elective admission requirement in a core credit required for admission. Another four states require that students have completed specified elective units for admission at all public four-year institutions, and directly allow CS courses to be used to fulfill the elective requirement.

Arkansas appears to be the only state that comes closest to meeting every goal referenced by the report. Although the state isn't highlighted as being particularly noteworthy, the report's introduction does open with a quote by Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson: "National and state leaders now recognize the importance of computer science and information technology to our state and regional economies. The knowledge and skills students learn in computer science and IT classes are essential to every industry, from manufacturing to agriculture to medicine. Computing skills are changing our students from being technology consumers to becoming creators and innovators in the global economy."

The report offers strategies that could help states bolster their CS education efforts as well as challenges that state leaders will face as they do so.

"Even with all of the state and national progress being made, we have a long way yet to go," the report's authors stated. "A failure to act boldly and urgently will maintain the status quo, in which access to CS is available to only a fraction of the nation's K-12 students. Aggressively addressing the policy priorities described in this report will more quickly and effectively provide CS opportunities to a whole generation of students."

Besides EDC and MassCAN, other organizations involved in development of the report were Code.org, the Education Commission of the States, Expanding Computing Education Pathways (ECEP) and SageFox Consulting Group. The work was funded by investment firm BNY Mellon.

The report is publicly available on multiple websites, including EDC's website here.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.