High School Computer Science in Arkansas

This post was originally published on the Computer Science Teachers Association Advocate blog on March 31, 2015.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson made good on his campaign promise to “offer coding in every high school” by signing Arkansas House Bill 1183 into law.  It’s an exciting time for the growing community of CS educators in the state as we scramble to help make the governor’s vision a reality.  The Arkansas chapter of CSTA has been an integral part of the achievements thus far, but we have much more to do in the coming months.

The law requires the over 270 public and charter high schools in the state to offer a high-quality Computer Science course which meets standards established by the Arkansas Department of Education.  The law also charges the state’s online high school, Virtual Arkansas, with offering CS courses to all districts in the state at no charge.  Finally, it establishes a 15-member task force to research, review, and recommend curriculum standards and to make recommendations to meet anticipated CS and technology workforce needs.  The CSTA Arkansas president holds one of those seats.

Governor Hutchinson’s ambitious goal is to have students across the state learning Computer Science in all schools by August, 2015.  To make this vision a reality, several efforts are already underway.  Curriculum Frameworks for Computer Science and Mathematics, an introductory computer programming course designed to count as a fourth-year mathematics credit, were developed in late 2014.  Frameworks for Essentials of Computer Programming were completed in early 2015.  Both courses draw heavily from the CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards, and members of CSTA Arkansas were on the respective committees.  Virtual Arkansas is in the process of implementing both of these courses as well as AP Computer Science A in their online learning environment.

There are also professional development initiatives planned to meet the demand for CS teachers.  First, CSTA Arkansas is working with colleges and universities around the state to offer summer workshops for teachers licensed in other content areas who are interested in learning to teach CS.  The chapter also submitted a CS4HS grant application to request funding from Google to help build our community of practice.  The state’s second Computer Science Education Summit, to be held in October, will feature a track of sessions to support novice CS teachers.  Other ongoing initiatives are also building out the community, including the roll-out of a three-year program of study in Mobile Application Development beginning with tools like App Inventor and GameSalad but transitioning to XCode, Eclipse, and Android Studio.  Training for this program will also happen this summer for 8-10 new teachers.

Arkansas has no teacher licensure system in place for Computer Science educators.  Early efforts proposed by the Arkansas Department of Education would have required Computer Science teachers be No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Highly-Qualified Teachers (HQT) in Mathematics.  As it stands, any licensed educator may teach CS courses, but fourth-year math credit will only being granted to those students taught by NCLB HQT in math.  Arkansas is partnering with Education Testing Service (ETS), which is currently developing a multi-state Praxis exam for Computer Science.  We believe this exam will be required for CS licensure in the future.

It’s an exciting time to be a Computer Science educator in Arkansas, but we have a long road ahead of us.  The role of CSTA Arkansas will be to inform the standards as they are developed and revised, identify and prepare new CS teachers, support existing teachers and CS programs, and inform the new CS Education Task Force.

Daniel Moix has taught Computer Science since 2003 at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences & Arts; College of the Ouachitas; and Bryant High School. He is CSTA Arkansas Vice-President, a member of the CSTA Computer Science Advocacy Leadership Team (CSALT), a member of the Councils of Chief State School Officers’ Computer Science Advisory Group, and beginning in June 2015, Daniel will begin work as Arkansas’s first K-12 Computer Science Education Specialist.

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