Computing Profession

Who’s Teaching the Computer Science Teachers?

A computer science teacher in action.
U.S. public (K-12) schools increasingly will need trained computer science teachers, but most public school educators must seek out CS training on their own.

Despite the need to teach computer science (CS) in public schools to fill the burgeoning demand for skilled CS professionals, few U.S. public school educators have been trained to teach CS at the K-12 level.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that by 2020, there will be 9.2 million new jobs in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) sectors; 50%, or 4.6 million of those jobs, will be computing and IT-related positions. According to the BLS Spring 2014 Occupational Outlook Quarterly Report, that agency anticipates a shortfall of 51,000 qualified computer science professionals through 2015, and more in subsequent years.

That translates into an urgent and immediate need to train today’s students in computer science and to ensure there are properly trained teachers — particularly in K-12 schools — to instruct them in coding, CS theory, and application development.

A 2013 study conducted jointly by ACM and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) found that as of 2011, there were approximately 2,100 CS teachers instructing students in Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science at the 42,000 high schools nationwide. AP courses offer high school students the opportunity to earn college credit for college-level courses. AP Computer Science courses delve into complex programming and coding issues, and so require trained, competent CS teachers.

There is no official estimate of how many CS teachers will be needed as the number of CS courses in public schools grows, but unofficial estimates from the BLS and CSTA are in the tens of thousands by 2020.

Consider the following:

  • In the U.S., only Arizona, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia require teachers of computer science courses in public schools to be certified in that discipline, according to the 2013 CSTA/ACM study.
  • Only seven states (Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, and Utah) require teachers be certified to teach AP Computer Science, according to the CSTA/ACM study.
  • In 12 states (Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming) and the District of Columbia, teachers may receive computer science certifications or supplemental endorsements, but schools in these states do not require teachers to have these qualifications in order to teach computer science.
Haves and Have-Nots

Chrystal A.S. Smith, STEM education researcher at the University of South Florida, says states with large populations see a lot of activity around certifying CS teachers, while other states lag behind. "I haven’t seen a big push here in Florida, or in states with small school districts like Alaska, to get teachers certified," Smith says.

There are few formal initiatives regarding CS teacher certification, in the absence of a national consensus on whether CS should be taught at the K-12 level, or whether CS teachers need to be formally trained or certified to teach that material. CS certification is available through universities, although most certification courses are voluntary and most teachers must pay their own tuitions. Certifications are available in Introductory Computer Science; Basic Code Writing; Introduction to Programming; IT Project Management; Computer Security, and Software Engineering and Database Design, to name a few.

Lissa Clayborn, acting executive director of the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), says it is her perception that the overwhelming majority of teachers that teach CS in K-12 are capable of doing so mainly due to their own initiative in seeking out training.

Some states will accept teacher certifications in STEM-related fields like math, educational technology, and business for their CS teachers, while in other states educators who have only basic exposure to CS but are certified to teach business topics may teach computer science.

New York and several other states require teachers to be certified to teach courses on hardware and software products like Photoshop, digital smart boards, tablets, or applications like Microsoft Office 365 or SharePoint. However, there are no specific mandates for certifications in code writing or legislative requirements for minimum teacher/instructor competency anywhere in the U.S.

Signs of Progress

Today, 10 states are readying legislation that would provide strong guidelines for certification and standards for CS courses in K-12, as well as for developmental instruction for teachers.

Until that happens, however, in the absence of a structured CS certification/licensure path, grassroots CS advocacy groups are offering teachers professional development opportunities. These organizations include, EdTech Teacher, the Computing in the Core (CinC) coalition, and the MOUSE Squad.

Since December 2013, some 20,000 K-12 teachers have taken coding classes and introduced coding lessons into their classrooms, according to, which offers free courses supported by funding from firms like Microsoft and Facebook. Similarly, the non-profit advocacy group Ed Tech Teacher in Dorchester, MA, holds year-long, summer, and custom workshops and seminars to train teachers in CS.

In 2011, the National Science Foundation (NSF) established an ambitious "CS10K" goal to get 10,000 high school teachers trained to teach computer science at the AP level in 10,000 schools by 2016. Said Jan Cuny, NSF Program Manager for Computer Education and Broadening Participation, "We are not yet at 10,000 but the effort is picking up steam and I expect that the numbers will increase rapidly, and we will pass 10,000 teachers (who have completed the AP Computer Science A Audit class) in 2017 or shortly thereafter."

Clayborn says the next two years are crucial. "States must to pass legislation making computer science a required subject; that paves the way for more teachers to get CS certification," she said, adding, "in order for the legislative and grass roots/advocacy initiatives to succeed, we have to invite teachers to the table to provide their input."

Laura DiDio is principal at ITIC, a Boston-area IT consultancy.

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