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CS Education Gets Congressional Attention

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Director Cameron Wilson of ACM's Policy Office Washington
Last week was a huge one for computer science education in the Nation's Capital. Congressmen from both parties introduced two pieces of legislation -- The Computer Science Education Act and the Computer Science Education Week Resolution -- intended to help strengthen computer science education. I've written before that the road to education reform is long, and progress will come in fits and starts. Both pieces of legislation represent another step along this road and the beginning of a much broader engagement to bring attention to computer science education issues in the United States.
The Computer Science Education Act is a new effort by Representative Jared Polis (Colorado) intended to catalyze state and local reforms, and expand teaching of K-12 computer science education. The legislation has five major provisions to meet this goal:
  • Clearly defines computer science education and its concepts to help end the confusion of terms around K-12 computer science education
  • Establishes planning grants for states to work with stakeholders to assess their computer science offerings in K-12 and develop concrete steps to make them stronger
  • Builds on the planning grants by establishing five-year implementation grants for states in partnership with local school districts and institutions of higher education for developing state computer science standards, curriculum, and assessments; improving access to underserved populations; developing professional development and teacher certification programs; developing on-line courses; and, ensuring computer science offerings are an integral part of the curriculum
  • Creates a blue-ribbon commission to review the national state of computer science education and bring states together to address the computer science teacher certification crisis
  • Establishes K-12 computer science teacher preparation programs at institutions of higher education
This is the first time that any Member of Congress has introduced major legislation to address the numerous policy issues with K-12 computer science education. It will serve as "marker" representing the critical reforms the computing community thinks Congress should adopt as part of broader reforms to the overall K-12 education system, which are tentatively on the agenda for the fall.
It will take support and activism from the community to educate the public on the issues and push Congress to support its goals. The good news is that we have the beginnings of a great coalition of non-profits and the computing industry already behind the bill. Last week ACM, Google, Microsoft, Intel, SAS, the Computer Science Teachers Association, the Computing Research Association, the National Center for Women & Information Technology, and the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology sent Congressman Polis a joint letter announcing their support for the legislation. As we continue down the long road of reform, this coalition will be working with Congress and the larger computing community to ensure this legislation is part of the education policy landscape. 
The second piece of legislation -- the Computer Science Education Week Resolution -- introduced by Representative Vernon Ehlers (Michigan) is similar to last year's resolution of the same name. The resolution would honor noted computer scientist Grace Murray Hopper by supporting the designation of the first week of December as Computer Science Education Week. Like last year, the community will be working together to raise awareness of computing and its role in society.
Taken together, these two bills are a watershed for many fledging efforts to ensure that K-12 computer science education is part of a student's core education. Now is the time for the community to stand up and let federal, state and local policy makers know that K-12 computer science education is critical national need and should be part of the core knowledge students are exposed to in K-12 education.


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