Once a national leader in computer science education, Arkansas has stepped back. What now?
Senate Bill 470 makes changes to the state’s graduation requirement.
In 2015, Code.org identified Arkansas as a “lighthouse” state. This term was used to describe states that seemed poised to jump out in front and lead a then-burgeoning national-level movement that would be led by states. Code.org recognized Arkansas as the first state to meet all seven policy recommendations. In fact, it was partly because of the quality and impact of the work taking place in Arkansas that Code.org decided to expand those seven recommendations to the current nine. (Then Arkansas was also the first state to meet all nine recommendations!)
Arkansas lived up to its “lighthouse” status for the better part of Code.org’s ten-year history. However, with the recent signing into law of Senate Bill 470 (SB470), changes are being made to Arkansas’ computer science graduation requirement. What does it mean for computer science education in Arkansas and nationally?
What does SB470 actually do?
Until the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) creates and moves rules through the approval process, what the actual implementation of some of SB470 will look like is unknown. However, based on the language of the legislation, here is what it does and what it will change:
Specifically regarding computer science (CS), where CS used to be a mandatory high school graduation requirement, now a “computer science or computer science-related career and technical education” course requirement meets the requirement.
In addition to its changes to the state’s CS graduation requirement, SB470 makes changes to how the state’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) program is implemented. These changes surround how the state selects and awards weighted credit for CTE courses and what assessments meet other CTE readiness assessment requirements.
SB470 also establishes that the Division of Career and Technical Education (DCTE) will work with the Arkansas Computer Science Initiative to set the “minimum criteria by which a career and technical education course may be approved as a computer science-related career and technical education course.” After DCTE and the CS Initiative work up a plan for the process, it should, at minimum, go through a public feedback period, gain State Board of Education approval, have a Governor’s office review, and go to the rules committee in the legislature for approval.
Ultimately, every student will still be required to take a computer science course in Arkansas; Code.org did not support the bill because it will, however, result in less computer science being taught than if the original legislation was left intact.
How do we continue to forward the Arkansas Computer Science Initiative?
First, we have to agree that, even if it might be seen as a setback, this is not the end of Arkansas’s success. The CS graduation requirement was not even in place yet, and the state has been doing, and will continue to do, great things in CS education.
There is still a requirement that every high school must offer at least one CS course. It is our job now to make sure this is happening and working to make sure every student has access to that class. The initiative will continue to be strong as long as we — CS teachers and advocates — do not give up!
Second, we have to rally around the students in our CS courses, the CSforAR team at the Arkansas Department of Education, our CS teachers in the field, and our administrators who have been doing great things in CS.
Third, we have to keep learning! Arkansas CS teachers and teachers interested in CS have to continue getting training. Existing teachers should continue to expand their knowledge and interested teachers should get certified.
Lastly, we have to keep fighting! There’s a lot to be determined on how SB470 will actually affect the Arkansas CS initiative. It will be up to ALL of us who care about it to ensure that all Arkansas students have the opportunities of others in this critical field. Code.org and many other national partners remain committed to helping Arkansas, its schools, its teachers, and its students, because CS education is important for everyone!
SB470 is not all bad, and actually could end up doing a lot of good for Arkansas in the realm of CTE. Regarding computer science education, it remains to be seen what will happen. In the short term, nothing will change; however, we at Code.org will continue to evaluate and share with the national and international community what this change in legislation and subsequent changes in implementation mean to not only Arkansas students but all of our efforts nationally.
Arkansas has long been a leader in computer science education, and though SB470 will most assuredly result in less computer science education being taught in that state, it does not mean that our resolve — to ensure every student in Arkansas and elsewhere has real access to and receives a high-quality computer science education — will diminish in any degree.