Computing Applications Viewpoint

Creating a National K–12 Computer Science Community

ACM launches a new organization to help teachers, and ultimately students, to better appreciate the educational and professional opportunities inspired by the computing sciences.
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The latest chapter in ACM’s lifelong commitment to computer science education was unveiled last September with the launching of the Computer Science Teachers Association. The CSTA was created as an international organization dedicated to supporting teachers and pursuing excellence in computing education for students age 5–18 (K–12).

It has become increasingly apparent that the computing sciences in high schools are in crisis. Some of the major issues include weak administrative support, reduced funding, the absence of curriculum standards, little understanding of the discipline and its place in the curriculum, and a lack of opportunities for teachers to develop their technical and teaching skills resulting in reduced course offerings.

In addition, relentless media reports of dot-com failures along with layoff concerns due to the increased outsourcing of computing jobs are creating a perception among students and parents that computing is no longer a rich source of career opportunities. This has led to decreased CS enrollments in the high school courses that frequently serve as the first and best opportunity for students to test their computing interests and abilities. Because many students receive their first exposure to many scientific disciplines in high school, the lack of support and implementation of appropriate CS opportunities for students at this level critically impacts long-term national economic viability, not just in the high-tech industries, but all industries that rely upon any aspect of computing.

It is therefore disturbingly clear that pipeline problems now occurring at the post-secondary level may be a precursor to a steeper drop in student interest and participation in CS studies if bold steps are not taken immediately.

In addition to these market problems, the computing sciences also suffer from an absence of direct advocacy exacerbated by a profound lack of understanding about the nature and importance of the field as part of the necessary body of knowledge of any educated person. Unlike many other academic subjects, CS (and the broad computing disciplines with which it is associated) has never had discipline-based K–12 representation at the national level, let alone on an international scale. While U.S. organizations such as the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) experienced remarkable success in areas such as advocacy for their discipline, curriculum development, and resource provision, the absence of a similar organization for CS has seriously limited the ability of educators to lobby for inclusion of their discipline within the increasingly overcrowded high school curriculum.

CSTA evolved from ACM’s K–12 Task Force, a five-year-old effort that has spirited the development of model curricula and supporting resources, and has provided opportunities for professional development through events such as its annual Computer Science and Information Technology Symposia.

As a semiautonomous organization operating under the ACM umbrella, CSTA is uniquely positioned to provide a wide range of expertise and resources to alleviate the current problems in K–12 CS education. It is designed to provide a bridge between high school and university educators, as well as the high-tech industry that depends upon a constant provision of highly qualified computer scientists. CSTA will serve as a global voice for high school CS educators, representing their interests at all levels of the educational system. It will also work with state and federal authorities whose policies impact educational content, practice, and funding. Through its commitment to research, CSTA will not only determine the scope of the problems, but propose realistic, classroom-based, learning-focused solutions.

As a membership organization, CSTA will support and promote CS teaching by providing opportunities for K–12 teachers and students to better understand the computing disciplines and to more successfully prepare them to teach and to learn. Its goals include:

  • Helping to build a strong community of CS educators who share their knowledge;
  • Providing teachers with opportunities for high-quality professional development;
  • Advocating a comprehensive CS curricula at all levels;
  • Supporting projects that communicate the excitement of CS and related computing disciplines to students and improve their understanding of the opportunities it provides;
  • Collecting and disseminating research about CS education;
  • Providing policy recommendations to support CS and related computing disciplines in the high school curriculum; and
  • Raising awareness that CS educators are highly qualified professionals with skills that enrich the educational experience of their students.

ACM launched CSTA by providing funding for several interested and accomplished educators to meet to discuss the possibility of establishing an organizational body. Many of these individuals, from all educational levels, serve as members of the CSTA Steering Committee, which is now in the process of evolving into a Board of Directors in compliance with its new bylaws and operating procedures. ACM has also set aside funding to support CSTA operations, including the work of an Executive Director, while other sources of funding are actively sought.

CSTA opens its doors to interested members on January 1. Recent data indicates there are currently 26,000 teachers in grades 9–12 (public and private schools) in the U.S., who define themselves as CS teachers, CS Advance Placement teachers, programming teachers, or computer applications teachers and can therefore be considered potential members. This constituency will form the primary source of CSTA membership. Additional members will be drawn from middle school and university-level educators particularly interested in K–12 CS education. Member benefits will include access to a number of CS publications, a free email forwarding address, access to Web-based training courses, and priority registration and discounts on CSTA-sponsored events.

A growing number of volunteer educators from across North America are already working on numerous CSTA projects, including:

  • An initiative to develop teacher support materials for the new ACM Model Curriculum for K–12 Computer Science;
  • The Java Engagement for Teacher Training (JETT) workshops being offered in partnership with universities and ACM student chapters across the U.S.;
  • A new comprehensive national research study on high school CS education;
  • The upcoming Microsoft-sponsored Computer Science and Information Technology Symposia in St. Louis (February) and Philadelphia (June);
  • An online CS Forum being developed in partnership with Drexel University that will serve as a valuable resource for teachers, students, and parents; and
  • A national Web-based repository of teaching and learning materials for K–12 CS courses.

In addition, discussions are proceeding with several corporate sponsors and other educational partners about support for new initiatives such as pre-AP teacher workshops, open source workshops, the development of a comprehensive careers in computing resource, a major initiative in support of gender equity in computing, a conference presentation and white paper that will focus on insights provided by a panel of curriculum experts from countries that have successfully implemented a national CS curriculum, and the development of computing modules for elementary science teachers.

As educators, researchers, and computing professionals, ACM members represent the cutting edge of the computing disciplines. Unlike any other group, we both comprehend and represent the potential of this discipline to impact the technical, economic, and social well-being of our societies. ACM members acknowledge the future of this field depends upon the spark of interest and excitement generated by the first experience of computing. In supporting CSTA, ACM has made a noteworthy contribution in keeping that spark alive for future generations by ensuring they have the opportunity to learn and be inspired by educators who have the tools they need to communicate the excitement and the breadth of computing to their students.

For more information about CSTA, please visit csta.acm.org or contact CSTA’s Executive Director Chris Stephenson, cstephenson@acm.org or 1-800-401-1799.

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