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Computer Science Teacher Certification 'Deeply Flawed,' Report Says

A detailed examination of state systems for certifying computer science teachers concludes that there are fundamental problems with the approaches taken around the nation, and argues that the situation is a major hurdle to ensuring high-quality educators in the subject and preparing students for a promising field.

The report from the Computer Science Teachers Association describes the certification landscape as "confused, disparate, and sometimes absurd."

"Computer science teacher certification across the nation is typified by confounding processes and illogical procedures—bugs in the system that keep it from functioning as intended," says the report, which was conducted with financial support from Google.

The report also makes the case that the situation is contributing to a missed opportunity to prepare students for a field that promises solid careers.

"The information technology and computing industry cannot find the talent it needs to fill lucrative positions across the country," it says. The study estimates that by 2020 there will be 4.6 million jobs in those fields. "These companies want more young people to discover computer science and study it, and the country's economic fortunes depend on it."

The report finds that only two states, Arizona and Wisconsin, require teachers to specifically be certified or licensed in computer science to teach any computer science course. In another seven states, it is required to teach AP computer science. In many states, computer science teachers must or can be certified/licensed in a department or area other than computer science, such as math, science, business, or career-technical education.

Meanwhile, 12 states and the District of Columbia offer but do not require a computer science certificate or endorsement.

This situation, the report says, means that in many states, "teachers with little or no computer science knowledge can teach it."

The report points to Florida as one example of a state where the requirements are problematic. It notes that would-be computer science teachers are required to take a K-8 computer science methods course that is not offered in any of the state's teacher preparation programs.

In addition, the research says that prospective computer science teachers often encounter difficulty in even determining what the certification/licensure requirements are in their own state "because no one seems to know." As one illustratration, the report points to the responses to its online survey in New Hampshire. Two computer science teachers and a state official provided contradictory answers to the following, basic questions: Is there a required middle school computing course? Does your state require a computing course for graduation? Does your state offer any additional or optional certificates, endorsements, or licenses related to computing? In each case, the study says, "one respondent answered 'yes,' one respondent answered 'no,' and one answered 'I don't know'." And again, when asked what specific teaching certificate is required for an educator to teach high school computing courses, the answers were all different.

"Similar contradictions existed in nearly every state in which there was more than one survey respondent," the report says.

It also notes that the certification "conundrum becomes even more complicated for individuals who wish to transition from careers in the high tech industry to teaching."

So, what to do? The report outlines a series of policy recommendations. Among them:

  • Establish a system of certification/licensure that ensures that all computer science teachers have appropriate knowledge of and are prepared to teach the discipline's content;

  • Establish a system of certification/licensure that accounts for teachers coming to the discipline from multiple pathways with appropriate requirements geared to those pathways;

  • Require teacher-preparation institutions and organizations (especially those purporting to support STEM education) to include programs to prepare computer science teachers;

  • Establish a Computer Science Praxis exam that assesses teacher knowledge of computer science concepts and pedagogy; and

  • Incentivize school-level administrators to offer rigorous computer science courses offered by qualified computer science teachers.

The report says that it's critical to change federal, state, and local policies that create barriers to computer science education and continue to "marginalize" it at the K-12 level. "It is imperative that these barriers be removed now so that students can be put on an educational path to high-demand, high-skill, high-pay computing jobs across all sectors of the economy."

Earlier this week, meanwhile, I blogged about an effort in Idaho to move computer science and engineering beyond "elective" status, so that students can earn a high school math or science credit for successful completion of such courses. Also, for a closer look at computer science and efforts to enhance its standing in schools, check out this Education Week story.

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