Texas Computer Education Association
Technology Application/Computer Science Special Interest Group (TA/CS sig) Susan Boone; President Mathematics and Web Mastering Teacher, Westside High School, H.I.S.D. with H.S. Biology Certification July 6, 2006
I am here to address the Board this morning to express my support for the addition of Computer Science as one of the math or science choices to satisfy the fourth year requirement mandated by the legislature in the spring of 2006. Research by computer science educators demonstrates that learning computer science provides direct benefits to students. (Computer Science Teachers Association, 2006). Computer science instruction as taught in Texas High Schools focuses on problem solving and algorithmic thinking. Computer science is helping to push the boundaries of what we know and what we can do in areas such as nanotechnology and bioinformatics. As a result, the U.S. economy is expected to add 1.5 million computer-and information-related jobs by 2012. (International Technology Association of America 2002; (Sargent, 2004). This increased need is occurring at the same time as average enrollment in high school computer science classes in Texas is declining. (PEIMS data, 2004)
One of the challenges we have when discussing computer science education is that the field of computer science has evolved so quickly that it is difficult even for computer scientists to clearly define its contents and delimit its boundaries. Computer science spans a wide range of computing endeavors, from theoretical foundations to robotics, computer vision, intelligent systems, and bioinformatics. As Professor Ray Shackleford at Ball State University noted, the work of computer scientists is concentrated in three areas: designing and implementing software, developing effective ways to solve computing problems, and devising new ways to use computers. All of these, especially the high end problem solving skills associated with computer science are an integral part of the math, science and computer science curriculum as outlined in the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge Skills; http://www.tea.state.tx.us/teks/#chapters, chapters 111, 112, and 126). Computer science would provide
another math offering for students that have successfully completed Algebra I in 8 th grade, thus giving students an additional option to fulfill a fourth year of rigorous study to better prepare them for success in college. (Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce Task Force on Math/Science, 2006). The National Research Council (1999) concluded that a basic understanding of topics covered in the computer science curriculum is an essential ingredient to preparing high school graduates for life in the 21 st century.
Currently, there is a crisis in computer science education at the high school level. This crisis is most clearly manifested in the decreasing number of computer science courses being offered to students and the resulting drop in enrollments in computer science programs (OrrinE. Taulbee, Department of Computer Science, University of Pittsburgh, 2003), and the number of young women and minority students studying computing is at an all-time low (The College Board, 2005). The Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA, 2005a) has identified one factor that contributes to this situation as the lack of understanding on the part of students, parents, guidance counselors, and teachers about computer science in general, how it differs from other areas of technology applications and computer study, and its newly developing career opportunities. CSTA’s research is further supported by The College Board (2005), which reported that from 2002-2004, while AP exam taking in other disciplines rose overall by 19%, the number of students taking the computer science A exam dropped by 8%, and the number taking the computer science AB exam decreased by 19%. In addition, in 2004 while 56% of the AP test takers overall were female, among CS AB test takers only 11% were female, (a drop from the 1999 data of 17%), and only 6% were from under-represented minorities. Teachers noted that the greatest impediment to students taking high school computer science courses was not the perceived difficulty of the subject matter or even the perception that computer science was a “geeky” course, but rather the lack of time in the students’ schedules. As the number of mandated courses high school students are required to take and competition from acceptance to prestigious university programs increases, students have fewer and fewer opportunities to study computer science because these courses are elective rather than mandatory courses.
In general, research findings indicate that taking computer science in high school is a positive factor for readiness for the college curriculum and college success (Franklin, 1987, Ramberg, 1986; Taylor and Mounfield, 1989). Roger E. Franklin reported at the Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education (1987) that there is a highly significant correlation between success in the entry-level college courses and the completion of one or more high school computer science courses.
There is also a broader national interest at stake. U.S. government labor forecasts clearly indicate that we are not producing enough computer science graduates domestically to meet the needs of industry or to compete in an increasingly global economy (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2005). In addition, fewer college students are enrolling in computer science courses, and fewer graduates with computer science degrees are going on to earn their PhDs (Taulbee, 2003). If we do not begin to address these pipeline issues immediately and at the earliest possible educational level, our ability to compete in the global economy will diminish. Earlier this year when the Texas Legislature mandated the fourth year of math or science required to graduate from high school, they attempted to address what they correctly perceived as a problem caused by high school students not taking enough rigorous courses to adequately prepare them for college and the increasing technical demands of the work place. However, computer science also meets the definition of rigorous, high level curriculum and should be considered as an alternate course for the math or science requirement. Addressing these issues is not just a school issue, it is an issue that can only be addressed with vision, action, and commitment at all levels of the political and educational systems. (Computer Science Teachers Association, 2006). It is my hope that the vision of the State Board of Education, as policy makers for the state of Texas can have the vision to include computer science as an option to fulfill the fourth year of math or science that has recently been mandated by the Texas Legislature.