CSforALL empowers schools, states to chart their own paths in computer science education

On the first episode of EdScoop’s Cutting Edge Podcast, CSforALL’s Ruthe Farmer explains how schools and states can put computer science education tools in the hands of students everywhere.

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As schools, districts and states determine the fastest and most effective way to make computer science a part of everyday curriculum, organizations like CSforALL are paving the way — helping school and community leaders make decisions for themselves.

Before districts can set up computer science classes, says Ruthe Farmer, chief evangelist for CSforALL, they have to establish a plan — “a common understanding of what computer science is, and a common definition, and how to best implement that.”

Farmer’s organization leads a nationwide initiative to provide all K-12 students in the country with a computer science education. Funded by a National Science Foundation grant, Farmer and her team don’t do the work of implementing curriculum on a statewide or local level, but rather they empower administrators and teachers to do implement it themselves.

“Just like your personal trainer can’t work out for you, we can’t and shouldn’t dictate how a district should implement CS,” Farmer says. “Instead, we give them the tools to chart their own custom path. We believe this process will ensure that CS gets onto the master schedule and is adequately supported and staffed in the long term — districts are best positioned to create these rigorous pathways that build from year to year and don’t keep teaching the same introductory concepts year after year.”

CSforALL uses a SCRIPT program — strategic CSforALL resource & implementation planning tool — to engage a multidisciplinary team of district and school leaders, teachers and other staff. The group collaborates on a vision for computer science, self-assesses across a wide range of categories like leadership, teacher development, curriculum partnership, and sets goals as part of a holistic strategy, rather than through individual pushes from teachers.

The process helps districts understand that computer science is everybody’s responsibility. Farmer understood this when she worked on national computer science policy in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy under President Barack Obama in 2016, where she started with about 50 organizations making commitments to the president’s computer science for all initiative, and rounded out her nine-month term with 548 organization partnerships.

CSforALL has since continued that work, with more than 90 school districts using the SCRIPT process and more than 400 member organizations from government, industry and associations participating nationwide.

The key to the effort, she says, is local ownership and implementation — something businesses and community can assist districts with, and that higher education should be considering.

“Every new teacher coming through the teacher education pipeline should be graduating with a foundational understanding of computing regardless of the subject or grade level they’re going to teach. Just like all teachers are expected to have a basic understanding of reading, writing and arithmetic.”

Next week, CSforALL will convene a national community of computer science education stakeholders at the CSforALL Summit in Detroit. The event will be livestreamed — join here.

On the podcast:

  • Ruthe Farmer, chief evangelist, CSforALL
  • Emily Tate, former education reporter, EdScoop

Things to listen for:

  • Especially in rural states, there’s sometimes a lack of resources that can discourage holistic and strategic CS curriculum, pushing individual efforts instead, Farmer says.
  • The best thing for a student learning computer science is a well-supported teacher, bar none, Farmer says.
  • Creating working groups that involve multiple levels of stakeholders — the administration, the leaders, the guidance counselors, teachers, parents and the school board — is when a real path can be discerned, Farmer says.
  • Higher education should train future teachers in computer science, no matter the subject they plan to teach, Farmer says.
  • Companies and communities can donate additively to computer science campaigns. A tech company can offer support for existing programs with funding or employee volunteers, or hiring CS teachers as part-time development staff.

This is the first episode of EdScoop's "Cutting Edge" podcast, which highlights the people who are leading conversations about the future of edtech and education IT.

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