CSTA Then and Now

Chris Stephenson, executive director of CSTA.
Chris Stephenson, executive director of ACM's Computer Science Teachers Association.

CSTA exists because of the work of a great many people and the support of computer science educators the world over who understand the importance of K-12 computer science education. But most importantly, CSTA exists because of ACM and its commitment to supporting and improving computer science education in schools. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the founding of CSTA, and it will also be my last year at helm of this organization. So it seems a fitting time to look at where CSTA has been and where it might be going.

ACM launched CSTA in 2004 as a result of recommendations from the ACM K-12 Task Force. This Task Force had taken on a number of critical projects, including the launching of the annual Computer Science and Information Technology Symposium and the development of the ACM Model Curriculum for K-12 Computer Science, which was created by a committee led by ACM member Allen Tucker. The committee felt, however, that supporting and improving K–12 computer science education would require something that other key disciplines already had—a professional association for K–12 practitioners.

In November 2003, ACM Director of Membership Lillian Israel and I put together a proposal for the ACM Executive Council. With support from ACM Chief Operating Officer Patricia Ryan and Chief Executive Officer John White and from high-level ACM volunteer leaders such as Maria Klawe and Stuart Feldman, the ACM Executive Council agreed to launch CSTA in January of 2004, and I was hired as the Executive Director.

Over the years, CSTA continued to evolve organizationally. By-laws were written, working committees were established, and the original Steering Committee transitioned to an elected Board of Directors. Several key projects were also launched. These projects included the Java Engagement for Teacher Training (JETT) program (also generously funded by ACM), which worked in partnership with universities to help teachers get ready for the Advanced Placement exam shift from C++ to Java, and the Computer Science and Information Technology Symposium, which has now become the CSTA Annual Conference. In April 2005, CSTA published the inaugural issue of the Voice, CSTA’s flagship member publication. In early 2006, CSTA also launched its regional chapter program, which today encompasses more than 50 chapters in 37 states and four Canadian provinces and fulfills the critical need for localized professional learning communities for teachers.

In addition to ACM, which continues to support CSTA both financially and with vital staff resources in areas such as membership, finance, and human resources, other organizations and sponsors have stepped up to support CSTA. CSTA received three National Science Foundation grants between 2005 and 2013, thanks to NSF leaders Peter Freeman, Harriet Taylor, and Janice Cuny. Microsoft, Google, and Oracle have also been generous supporters of CSTA projects, including the CSTA Conference. And many organizations and companies are now partnering with CSTA.

In its 10 years, I cannot think of a critical computer science issue in which CSTA has not engaged. CSTA created and maintains the K-12 standards, provides deeply relevant and effective peer-driven professional development for teachers, and disseminates critical information on K-12 computer science to the entire computer science education community. CSTA has also conducted critical research on key issues such as shifting trends in computer science education, the presence of computer science content within state standards, teacher certification, and profound concerns of equity. In 2011, CSTA worked with ACM and Congressman Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) to launch the first Computer Science Education Week. More recently, CSTA has become deeply involved in state-level advocacy efforts, and many of CSTA’s members and leaders have been on the front lines of every win in every state to date.

It is fair to say that there is not a single K-12 computer science initiative in this country (and other countries as well) that has not benefited directly from CSTA, and so from ACM’s continued support of CSTA over the years. This is something in which every ACM member can take great pride.

In the last year, we have seen the payoff for much of the early work done by ACM and CSTA. Public interest in computer science education has never been so high. Coalitions of powerful education and industry allies are working together to change educational policy. Great research is underway. And teachers now have access to unprecedented opportunities for professional development. K-12 computer science education is an overnight sensation more than 10 years in the making.

So what of the next 10 years? Like any truly great organization, CSTA continues to evolve and change as the needs of educators and their students do the same. But as long as computer science is taught in schools, there must be a peer-driven professional organization that does the countless things needed to ensure that it remains relevant, supported, and strong.

I recently submitted my resignation as Executive Director of CSTA, and May 23, 2014 will be my last day. I want to convey to ACM and its members my deepest thanks for allowing me the honor of serving CSTA and ACM. I have always known that CSTA was more than the sum of its parts and very much more than one person. CSTA has the respect of the computer science education community and the confidence of its members because it has always lived its vision and celebrated teachers as the true agents of change. CSTA has also been a force for greater understanding and collaboration across all educational levels.

I know that CSTA will continue to grow and thrive because it has strong and capable leadership and the most dedicated volunteers I have ever met. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this marvelous organization and this discipline that I love so very much.

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