Once a month a small group of teachers is invited to have tea with US Secretary of Education John King. June was the month for computer science teachers and I was honored to be one of 14 teachers from around the country to be invited to meet with the Secretary at the Department of Education in Washington DC.
In his welcoming remarks Secretary King spoke about how important he and President Obama felt computer science education is for students. While he mentioned jobs I was pleased that he sees CS as more than vocational training but as an important liberal art that helps all students better understand the world around them. That is all too often left out of the conversations.
Of course there is only so much the Department of Education or the President can do about supporting CS education without help from Congress. There is currently a request for $250 million dollars to be included in next year’s budget to support computer science education. This action seems to have bi-partisan support and the Computer Science Education Coalition (who hosted lunch for he teachers earlier in the day) has been bringing industry and NGOs together to back the request.
Equity was a big topic. Access to all is a big deal as too many students never have a chance to learn CS.Teachers talked about how important it is that all school offer CS at least as an option. It is better as a requirement though as we can’t count on everyone to self select into CS. We talked about making CS relevant and interesting. While it is intrinsically interesting to many of us in the field students need to be shown its power, it’s options for creativity, and how it can make a big difference in the world.
We were asked about the importance of starting CS early. Was HS soon enough? Teachers pretty much all agreed that it was important to start CS earlier. Middle school at the latest. Students are making too many decisions about their academic paths too early to wait until HS to expose them to CS for the first time.
Teacher training is a big deal as well. One teacher pointed out that it takes less training to allow an elementary or middle school teacher to teach some basic CS than it does to prepare a HS teacher for a full blown CS course such as the Advanced Placement course. On the other hand getting students all excited about CS at a young age but not having more advanced options in HS can be a problem. So we really do need it throughout the system. We need a lot more professional development at all levels though.
I left feeling listened to and that the Department of Education, the Secretary, and the President really do want to support computer science education. Now if we can get Congress onboard we can see some real progress in bringing CS for All.
More pictures from the Computer Science Tea With Teachers can be found at the Department of Education Flickr page.