Computer-related technology is increasingly driving the U.S. economy, yet computer science education is scant in most American elementary and secondary school classrooms and the number of introductory and Advanced Placement courses in computer science has actually declined in the last five years, according to a report released this fall.
“Some states and some schools are offering some really excellent courses,” said Mark Stehlik, co-author of the report, “Running on Empty: The Failure to Teach K-12 Computer Science in the Digital Age,.” “But overall, the picture is pretty bleak,” added Stehlik, assistant dean for undergraduate education at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Computer Science.
The report by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) found that most schools focus on teaching students how to use a computer and run available applications, rather than also teaching deeper concepts, such as computational problem-solving, that lay the foundation for innovation. Fourteen states have adopted no standards at all for upper-level computer science education.
The report’s findings are sobering as educators observe Computer Science Education Week, Dec. 5-11, which focuses on the critical role of computer science in preparing students for 21st century careers.
Recent federal initiatives such as No Child Left Behind and various programs designed to boost science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education have had the unintended consequence of undermining computer science lessons, the report noted. Those initiatives have focused lessons on traditional science and math courses that are covered by achievement tests or are core requirements for high school graduation. Only nine states count computer science credits toward graduation requirements.