A glimpse into state-level CS education policy implementation

This past Tuesday I had the privilege of attending the Washington State Computer Science Leadership Team, a group of leaders in the state of Washington responsible for devising and implementing K-12 CS education policy. From a computing education research perspective, it was an exciting chance to both observe a state try to systematically implement significant changes to public education, but also a unique opportunity to help shape policy by disseminating computing education research findings.

The meeting was held in Facebook Seattle’s current offices in Westlake, which is interesting in its own right. The Facebook leaders who sponsored the space have a clear interest strong local computing education, but they represented one piece of a much larger effort public/private partnership in state education policy. The room had STEM education representatives from nearly more than a dozen of our state’s school district offices, some directly representing districts, and other representing public educational services that serve multiple districts. There were also educational non-profits such as the Washington STEM, Code.org, Pacific Northwest National Labs, the Pacific Science Center, the University of Washington (Stuart Reges and myself), Seattle Pacific University, and for-profit organizations like Facebook.

The meeting itself was a mix of updates and planning. The updates were both exciting and intimidating. There are districts like Bellevue Schools doing very impressive things to incorporate CS teacher training and CS courses with small amounts of resources. And then there were the scary numbers that only about 10% of Washington state schools offer some form of computing education and less┬áthan 1% of Washington state students are engaging in them. That’s pretty far from universal access and even further from universal engagement. So far, the vast majority of teachers were unfamiliar with the CSTA or CSTA curriculum frameworks. The scale of the dissemination effort required for all of these is astounding, even at the scale of a relatively small state like Washington, with only about 1 million students.

Because I had to leave for afternoon meetings, I missed the afternoon planning, but I had plenty of chance in the morning for conversations with several attendees, laying the foundation for research dissemination with several folks. The interesting challenge from a research perspective is finding ways to pitch research in light of all of the other existing challenges in this massive change, such as money for teacher training and salaries, curriculum, and other resources. Discoveries have to be incredibly clear, concise, and adoptable to have any chance of being adopted amongst all of this other change. All that said, researchers should be involved at every level: in policy planning, policy implementation, teacher training, curriculum framework development, and technology design. These efforts can be a great way of disseminating research, but also discovering new research opportunities.

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