Governors Agree to Expand Computer Science Education. How Should States Lead?

While every state has had different approaches on how to handle the evolving COVID-19 pandemic, it would be hard for anyone to argue with our shared increase of reliance on technology since March 2020. And while a lack of consensus on many pandemic recovery issues extends into education, I am encouraged by recent news that business and state leaders agree on the importance of computer science as a critical component of STEM education. With all 50 governors committing to expanding opportunities for students to gain computer skills and knowledge, my questions are: what does quality computer science curriculum look like, how is it embedded across disciplines, and which states are leading on this front? 

I am excited to share one state’s perspective on these topics from a recent Q&A session with Audra Block, Director of STE(A)M and Computer Science for the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE). 

TDOE has made significant progress expanding STEM education opportunities over the past several years. Which state initiatives have been the most successful so far? 

Audra: The TDOE, in collaboration with the Tennessee STEM Innovation Network (TSIN), is proud of the suite of supports provided to districts, schools, and teachers to increase STEM and Computer Science implementation throughout the state. Key programs like the STEM/STEAM School Designation, Rural STEM Collaborative, Innovative Leaders Institute, STREAM Mini Camps, the statewide design challenge, and professional development through our strategically located STEM Hubs, provide a framework for quality STEM and Computer Science education. 

Each year, the state’s STEM efforts are celebrated at the TSIN Innovation Summit, a conference focused on providing teachers, administrators, and district leaders with high quality professional development. The conference also highlights STEM movers and shakers throughout the state. Schools who have successfully completed a rigorous application process are awarded a STEM or STEAM School Designation that comes with a monetary award. 

This year, we are excited to launch the Computer Science Momentum Expedition (CSME), an innovation tradeshow for all Tennessee educators aimed at recognizing, expanding, and celebrating computer science in our state. CSME will feature industry leaders discussing, displaying, or demonstrating how computer science fields further their industry, propel their success, and act as a springboard for classroom and community connections. Educators will have the opportunity to hear from special speakers, interact with exhibitors and teacher leaders, go on field trips, and so much more.  

How is TDOE working to ensure STEM curriculum and educator training are high quality across Tennessee? 

Audra: Professional development is an essential component in changing the STEM and Computer Science landscape in Tennessee. The state has developed a STEM and Computer Science strategic plan that outlines professional development and other attributes necessary for successful programming.

Seven STEM Hubs are strategically located throughout the state at various colleges and universities to provide high quality STEM professional development.  These hubs meet periodically to discuss relevant industry strategies and ways that educators can prepare students for the technology-driven careers of the future. Teachers also have additional learning opportunities at the Innovation Summit and the annual CTE conference. 

What is TDOE’s vision for computer science education, and how does this align with your broader vision for STEM education across the state? 

Audra: The Computer Science plan outlines the TDOE’s efforts aligned to Governor Lee’s Future Workforce initiative and Chapter 979 of the Public Acts of 2022 (Computer Science Legislation) key priorities to provide access to a strong comprehensive education program which incorporates logical reasoning, problem-solving skills, and an increase in students’ creativity and collaboration skills. This new law ensures that all public elementary, middle, and high school students have access to Computer Science coursework and resources, provides teachers with a no-cost route to earn a Computer Science endorsement, and offers teachers and schools incentives to participate in high quality professional development. 

How do Tennessee’s computer science standards align to other state academic standards, such as math and science? 

Audra: Computer Science integrated within grade-level content areas helps cultivate empowered learners throughout their academic career. Although not every Tennessee student will enter a Computer Science or STEM field, all students will benefit from learning related concepts and practices that allow them to better understand the world around them. The Computer Science standards can be utilized in any subject area. Students in elementary school will have the standards embedded into everyday instruction. Middle and high school students will be required to take a standalone Computer Science course with corresponding standards. These standards were created with direct alignment to the core academic standards – Math, Science, English, and Social Studies – and are intended to complement instruction by giving students foundational Computer Science skills that are necessary in all industries and career fields. 

My thanks to Audra and the team at the TDOE for their contributions and for their leadership in this area. For insights on other state actions around computer science, check out this recent piece on “The pandemic’s surprising impact on K-12 computer science education”.  

And one final thought – while it’s great to see consensus on advancing this aspect of STEM instruction, let’s hope all state leaders give foundational K12 science education its due attention, as well.  

Jocelyn Pickford is an education policy and communications specialist focusing on understanding and promoting practitioner-informed public policy across the private, public and non-profit sectors as a Senior Affiliate with HCM Strategists. She began her career in education as a high school English teacher in a regular and special education inclusion classroom and is now a public school parent and recent member of her local district school board. Previously, Jocelyn led the design, launch and implementation of the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship at the U.S. Department of Education to integrate teachers into the national education policy dialogue. Jocelyn’s passion for her work was seeded during her own public school education and took root during her classroom teaching experience in Fairfax County, Virginia, where she led action research and presented instructional materials to a variety of audiences. Jocelyn earned her bachelor’s degree from Trinity College (CT), working as a professional writer and editor prior to becoming a teacher, and obtained her master’s in secondary education from the George Washington University. Jocelyn lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and two children.