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Bill to Combat Comp. Science Crisis Introduced

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As my colleague Erik Robelen reported a couple weeks ago, there's been building momentum to address the discrepancy between the demand for workers in computer science fields and the supply of qualified candidates produced by the educational system.

Now, the U.S. Congress may have a chance to enact legislation on it.

Colorado Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat, introduced the Computer Science Education Act on Friday, which if passed would offer grants to evaluate K-12 computer science education across the states and implement changes, create a commission to review the field's national landscape, and even establish field-specific programs at teacher-prep institutions.

Computer industry giants Microsoft, Google, Intel and SAS have offered their endorsements, as have the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA). A press release from ACM said the legislation would combat "uneven or nonexistent" standards in K-12 computer science, a lack of professional development and clear pathways to certification for teachers, and a decrease in available courses for students.

"Computer science is driving an economic and cultural revolution across the globe at the same time that it is fading from the K-12 landscape in the U.S.," John White, the executive director and CEO of ACM, said in the release. "We simply are not doing enough to help students get exposure to engaging and rigorous computer science."

One argument I've heard as to why this is happening is that educators assume computer science is being included in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) initiatives, when it actually isn't. Another may be that many students are misinformed—and therefore disinterested—about the type of jobs a computer science background can lead to.

When I traveled to the ISTE 2010 ed-tech convention in Denver last month, I blogged about a particularly interesting session delivered by instructors at Charleston, S.C.'s private Porter-Gaud school, where they've revamped their program and made it a sexier subject for students. In the first year of a four-year program, Porter-Gaud instructors lead units on robotics, game programming and DNA mapping. In the third, they educate students about opportunities to use computer science knowledge to become entrepreneurs.

Would federal intervention help encourage similar unorthodox programs, or would it over-standardize and hinder creative teaching of what can be a dynamic and diverse subject?

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