Students will acquire skills such as – higher order thinking, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving -.
The Westmoreland Central School District is in the mist of phasing in a computer science and coding program that reaches every grade.
The district started by adding a kindergarten through second-grade coding program several years ago, said Superintendent Rocco Migliori. Each year, the district expanded the program to include two more grades until this year when the high school started its computer science program with a dual credit class through Mohawk Valley Community College. And the high school will continue to offer more courses in the coming years.
The district has encountered challenges along the way — time in students’ schedules, certification and training for the staff, curriculum development, finances and equipment — but made it happen by prioritizing the program, Migliori said.
“Some of this is about STEAM programs. Some is about creating relevancy to mathematics. Some was to meet demands of business partners who provided us with these ideas and insight. Some has been in response to kids’ interests,” Migliori said in an email.
But many districts still struggle when it comes to offering computer science. Nationally, only 45 percent of high schools teach computer science, according to the recently released report, 2019 State of Computer Science Education. The report was produced by Code.org, the Computer Science Teachers Association and the Expanding Computing Education Pathways Alliance.
In New York, 44 percent of high schools offered at least one computer science course during the 2017-18 school year, an improvement from 38 percent the previous year, according to the report.
But local educators say computer science education matters.
“We live in a technological society and any advantage we can give to our students is important, including exposure to the computer sciences as a viable career path,” said Steven Falchi, administrative director of curriculum and instruction K-12 in the Utica City School District.
But computer science isn’t just about learning to use technology.
“The soft skills students gain when working in these areas — higher order thinking, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, problem solving — are the skills that employers are looking for in our graduates,” said Laura Rouse, director of curriculum in the Vernon-Verona-Sherrill Central School District.
The report assesses how each state is doing on nine policies that, the report claims, data show increases the number of computer science classes offered as well as participation in those classes by girls.
Here’s how New York is doing on those nine policies, according to the report:
• New York does not have a plan for computer science from kindergarten through 12th grade.
• New York is in the process of develop rigorous standards for computer science at all grade levels.
• New York does provide funding for computer science; the Legislature allocated $6 million for fiscal year 2020 toward the Smart Start program to expand computer science education.
• New York has certification pathways for computer science teachers.
• New York has not created programs at colleges where teachers-to-be can study computer science.
• The state does not have a state computer science supervisor.
• High Schools in New York are not required to offer computer science.
• Districts in New York have the option of allowing a computer science class to meet a core graduation requirement.
• Computer science does not satisfy an admission requirement at state colleges.
And some of the policies New York has implemented have helped, local district officials said.
Officials at VVS credited teacher certification in computer science, a program the state created in March 2018, with helping to create a pipeline of teachers. They also said that the state offers grants and opportunities to create programs.
There are barriers that can make it hard to offer as much computer science instruction as districts would like, some area superintendents acknowledged.
The Waterville Central School District offers three high school computer science classes: Principles of computer programming, design and drawing for production, and tech design & robotics. Superintendent Charles Chafee acknowledged the importance of teaching computer science, but also acknowledged the difficulties.
“Our district has made a concerted effort to provide opportunities to our students which will help them determine what it is they would like to do ‘when they grow up,’” he said in an email. “Lack of instructional time and lack of financial resources are two big obstacles.”
And the lack of financial resources, he added, lies at least partially in the state school funding formula, which fails to fund districts equitably.
The Frankfort-Schuyler Central School District does teach computer science and even offers a computer science club. But Business Administrator Kacey Sheppard-Thibault said she shares Chaffee’s concerns about funding, adding that the tax cap also limits revenues to pay for the staff, professional development and supplies required for new programs.
But Sheppard-Thibault also pointed out that a district technology teacher has applied for and received grants to pay for four 3D printers.
Lack of time, resources or state policies aren’t the only reasons schools might not offer computer science classes. The Herkimer Central School District doesn’t have one, acknowledged Emily Popek, public information specialist. “But we do integrate technology education into the curriculum at all grade levels,” she said in an email.
“It’s an interest on our part,” she added, “in integrating it across disciplines rather than segmenting it into a single ‘computer science’ class.