The Expanding Role of Computer Science in K-12 Education
Missouri’s Computer Science Standards
With the expansion of technology in every aspect of our lives--personal and professional--it is no surprise that Missouri has joined a growing trend of increasing educational opportunities and requirements around computer science in schools. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employment of computer and information research scientists, whose median income is $118,370 per year, is projected to grow 16 percent from 2018 to 2028, a much faster rate than the average for other occupations.
As the number of jobs in the Computer Science field continues to rise, Missouri passed legislation in 2018 directing the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to convene workgroups to develop learning standards for computer science in grades K through 12. In May of 2019, the State Board of Education approved computer science standards. The final product resulted in grade-level standards under five core concepts: computing systems, networks and Internet, data and analysis, algorithms and programming, and impacts of computing. The standards are flexible in that they cover grade spans (i.e., K-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-10, and 11-12).
While the state does not identify specific courses in computer science, it defines a high school-level computer science course as one in which students “study computers and algorithmic processes, including their principles, hardware and software designs, implementation, and impact on society.” This is a similar approach to high school science, where Missouri standards are defined by strands that include earth and space sciences; engineering, technology, and application of science; life sciences; and physical sciences. In contrast, mathematics standards are defined by specific courses such as Algebra I, Algebra II, and Geometry.
These distinctions are important because that same state law allows a computer science course to fulfill one unit of credit toward the graduation requirement in mathematics, science, or practical arts.* Missouri is not alone in allowing computer science to count as a mathematics or science requirement for graduation. Thirty-three states plus Washington, D.C., allow computer science to count as either a mathematics credit, or a mathematics or science credit toward graduation requirements.
Missouri school districts and charter schools decide which available computer science courses can be used to meet the math, science or practical arts requirement. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics advises caution when using a computer science course to substitute for a mathematics requirement, stating: “....only if the substitution does not interfere with a student's ability to complete core readiness requirements in mathematics.” Included in Missouri’s legislation is a stipulation that a parent or guardian must sign a waiver acknowledging that choosing to replace a math course with a computer science course may jeopardize admission to some higher education institutions as they may require four units of mathematics without any substitutions. The representative who sponsored the legislation credited higher education, in particular the University of Missouri, for the addition of this provision to the original legislation.
In Missouri, students electing to take computer science as a mathematics or science credit must still take the required End-of-Course assessments in Algebra I and Biology. With this restriction in mind, DESE was directed to work with the Department of Higher Education to determine academic requirements for high school-level computer science courses to ensure appropriate content and rigor to satisfy a mathematics or science requirement.
As far as teacher qualifications are concerned, Missouri does not offer a teaching certificate in computer science education, so the legislation also directed DESE to create a process by which a certified teacher could demonstrate sufficient content knowledge in computer science and receive an endorsement in computer science education. To earn a teaching endorsement in computer science, there are several options for teachers who hold a regular teaching certificate at the appropriate grade level or hold the Visiting Scholars certificate.
The urgent need for computer science education in K-12 is not a new phenomenon; industry has continuously advocated for early introduction to computer science. To prepare students for a rapidly changing job market, numerous states, including Missouri, are including computer science in the courses that satisfy math and science requirements for graduation; however, meeting admissions requirements for four-year higher education institutions is still up to students and their families. This 2018 legislation, which took effect at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year, is an answer to many who have advocated for the importance of computer science education in K-12. Now, the rest is up to DESE and districts to cooperate and implement computer science standards at the school level so that students in Missouri can benefit from the new legislation and be prepared for a rapidly changing job market.
*Minimum requirements for graduation in Missouri include three units of credit in mathematics, three units in science, and one unit in practical arts. “Practical arts courses are those in which students learn to integrate academic knowledge and skills with career and technical knowledge and skills and apply them to authentic situations.” (from the DESE Graduation Handbook)