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Math Teachers Group Questions Allowing Computer Science to Count as Math Credit

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has released a statement cautioning states and districts that allowing computer science courses to substitute for a high school math course could "undermine students' mathematics preparation."

There's growing consensus that computer science has become an essential skill for college and the workforce. The president has voiced his support for the subject recently and state and local leaders have committed to bringing computer science to their K-12 schools.

As of now, about 28 states allow computer science to count as a math or science credit toward high school graduation. The number of states with such policies has increased quickly over the last several years, in part because groups like Code.org have advocated for computer science to be recognized as a core academic subject. 

But Diane Briars, the president of NCTM, says this can be a bad move in states that only require students to take two mathematics courses to graduate. "If you have a four-course requirement that started with Algebra I or its equivalent, then having a computer science count as a fourth-year requirement would make lot of sense," she said in an interview. "When you only have a two-course requirement, that's a minimum mathematics requirement. In that case, allowing computer science to substitute for a mathematics course would really undermine students' mathematics preparation very seriously."

California Should Be Wary

Just four states have two-course math requirements for high school graduation, according to the Education Commission of the States—they are Alaska, California, Maine, and Montana. Of those, only California allows students to use a computer science course for a math or science requirement. 

But as Jennifer Dounay Zinth, the director of high school for ECS, notes, state graduation requirements are a floor, and districts can set additional requirements beyond them. "So it's not clear how many districts in these four states actually require only two units of math for graduation," she said. 

Some states have considered allowing computer science to count as a foreign language requirement instead, saying coding is a language. However, those proposals have received pushback from both the foreign language and computer science communities

Perhaps the best course of action, said Briars, is to add computer science as its own requirement—a move many say has scheduling barriers. "In thinking through these issues, while we're very supportive of including computer science in curriculum, we want to make sure it's done in a way that doesn't have unintended consequences for students," she said.

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