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Computer Science Teaching Certification in Disarray

Would you hire a French teacher who had certification, say, only in Spanish; or who had merely taken some undergraduate classes in French culture; or who once visited France but couldn’t speak the language; or who was a native French speaker with no preparation for teaching?

Of course you wouldn’t.

But weak certification requirements in computer science teaching are apparently allowing teachers with comparable gaps to teach computer science in U.S. high schools, according to a new report by the Computer Science Teachers Association.

The report, by CSTA’s Certification Task Force, finds that, in most states, preparation and certification for individuals who are becoming, or continuing as, computer science teachers are largely irrelevant and unconnected to the demands of the field.

It suggests that one contributing factor is ignorance among decisionmakers about what computer science is really all about.

“The current systems of pre-service education and teacher certification, if they exist at all, are profoundly disconnected from the discipline of computer science and the needs of teachers and students,” writes Chris Stephenson, the executive director of the CSTA and report co-author, in a statement accompanying the release of the report.

The report says that neglect of certification systems in this field is helping shrink the supply of computer science teachers and causing students to turn away from studying the subject.

As a result, many of the 1.5 million potential jobs in computing, communications, and information science and engineering that the U.S. economy could create by 2012 might go begging because there will not be enough highly skilled individuals to fill them.

Fortunately, the report by the Computer Science Teachers Association goes beyond handwringing. In addition to providing a comprehensive description of the issues relating to certification, it describes some current models for teacher certification from Georgia and Pennsylvania and Israel and Scotland.

The report culminates with the task force’s recommendation for a multi-level model of computer science teacher certification.

The recommended model addresses the different certification needs of new teachers; veteran teachers with certification in another area who have never taught computer science; veterans with certification in another area who have experience teaching computer science; and career-switchers with a computer science background but no teaching experience.

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