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Groups Issue Blueprint for Teaching Computer Science in All Grades

A group of computer science experts released a framework today for what K-12 students should know about the subject and what they should be able to do in the field. 

The Association for Computing Machinery, Code.org, the Computer Science Teachers Association, the Cyber Innovation Center and the National Math and Science Initiative developed the K-12 Computer Science Framework, which is a core set of concepts and practices for teaching rather than curriculum standards.

The framework includes what students should learn about the discipline from the earliest grades through high school graduation with an emphasis on core concepts such as computing systems and core practices such as developing and using abstractions.

"I think the framework represents a pivotal point in computer science education in the United States," said Leigh Ann DeLyser, who helped to write it.

She's also the director of education and research at the New York City Foundation for Computer Science Education and the co-chair of the national CSforAll Consortium.

The framework has the support of several large tech companies such as Apple, Google, and Amazon and is also backed by many education organizations including the Afterschool Alliance and the National Association of State Boards of Education.

"We live on computers," said DeLyser. "There's not a single person in the United States who doesn't interact with a computing device in some form or fashion in every single day of their lives. It's important that students, just as they understand how blood gets pumped through their veins and how rain happens, it's also important that they understand how the digital parts of their world interact with them on a daily basis."

But DeLyser stresses that the framework isn't designed to turn every student into a developer or programmer.

"What the framework does is actually provide a common language for what computer science means," said DeLyser, who points out that Google surveys have found that some school administrators consider keyboarding classes and courses on Word and Excel to be computer science.

The framework includes data from surveys that show most schools don't include computer science courses at all, while most parents want their children to have an opportunity to take these courses.

More Than Coding

In recent years, there's been an emphasis on students learning to code, particularly students from underrepresented groups in the field such as women, African-Americans, and Hispanics, but DeLyser said the framework is about going beyond that.

"What the framework does is that we've broadened that definition to not only be about whether students can produce code but whether they understand the ways that code impacts society, the way data can be used by code to determine things in the world around them, and the way that all of that then can interact with other disciplines like math, science, and history to give them a richer educational experience," said DeLyser.

So what happens now?

It will be up to states and individual districts to decide if they want to use the framework to shape their computer science curriculum.

DeLyser contends that states are ready to take this on. She said many have not updated their technology education standards since the 1980s and '90s.

"We're not asking for the addition of a brand new subject here," said DeLyser. "We're instead providing a roadmap for a modern update to technology instruction that has been in schools for years."

When asked about the future impact of the framework on students, DeLyser points to her work with the Academy for Software Engineering. She co-founded this nonselective high school in New York City that focuses on computer science. Students are admitted through a lottery. The school just graduated its first class earlier this year, and she said offering computer science to every child has had a dramatic effect on their performance in all of their classes.

"So I think what we're going to see is integrated computer science across the disciplines that will both raise student participation rates because of the engagement but also raise their performance in those classes as well," said DeLyser.

Computer Science for All

In some circles, computer science is thought of as a discipline that only the brightest students can master. But DeLyser hopes the framework will help to wipe out that notion. She noted that in many schools the only codified computer science education is at the advanced placement level.

"I think the framework is an amazing leap forward for the United States to move past this geek-gene notion or the idea that somehow computer scientists or programmers are somehow special," said DeLyser. "They are average, everyday people with special knowledge that we can give to every child." 


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