Reinventing Curriculum

Michigan Adopts K-12 Computer Science Standards: What's Next?

As of May 2019, Michigan has become the 32nd state in the U.S. to adopt standards for K-12 Computer Science education. A recent report put out by Advocacy Coalition, a group of "more than 50 industry, non-profit, and advocacy organizations, whose goal is to make computer science a fundamental part of K-12 education" noted, that as of last year’s report, only six states had adopted academic standards for CS skill and concepts. As Benjamin Herald observes in his Education Week column: "States [are] Aggressively Adopting K-12 Computer Science Policies." From six states to 32 states in one year? "Aggressive" — indeed!

What is your state doing with respect to K-12 CS standards? Check out the cool — and informative — interactive map on the Coalition’s website or get more detail about all the states from the report: "Landscape of CS Action in States."

Why the rush, rush, rush, to adopt CS standards? This one’s easy: Jobs, Jobs, Jobs! A report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor observes:

  • "Employment of computer and information technology occupations is projected to grow 13 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations. These occupations are projected to add about 557,100 new jobs. Demand for these workers will stem from greater emphasis on cloud computing, the collection and storage of big data, and information security."

And, check out the remuneration for these CIT jobs:

  • "The median annual wage for computer and information technology occupations was $86,320 in May 2018, which was higher than the median annual wage for all occupations of $38,640."

Michigan’s Department of Education clearly read that Bureau of Labor Statistics report!

  • "For Michigan’s students to be competitive in the 21st Century economy, it is critical that they have access to computer science learning opportunities."

While preparing Michigan’s children today for tomorrow’s workforce is clearly a motivator, the recent adoption of CS standards fits into a bigger framework for educational change in Michigan:

  • In 2015, Michigan established a planTop 10 in 10 Strategic Plan — to be one of the top 10 states with respect to educational achievement.
  • Also in 2018, with the goal of integrating technology throughout the K-12 curriculum, Michigan adopted a well-defined set of technological competencies, called MITECS:
    • "In 2018 Michigan adopted the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE-S) "Standards for Students". Michigan named these MITECS, or the Michigan Integrated Technology Competencies for Students. The decision to identify them as competencies is to delineate a difference between standards that outline learning expectations meant to guide local curriculum development, and competencies that are explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives which include application and creation of knowledge."
  • Complementing the MITECS, in 2019, Michigan has adopted, as herein described, a well-defined set of standards for K-12 computer science:
    • "Michigan’s vision for computer science education is that all learners will develop foundational computer science skills to solve problems and be constructive citizens. In doing so, students will:
    • Learn new approaches to problem solving;
    • Harness the power of computational thinking;
    • Use computer science tools to create technology."

Yes, preparing our children for good jobs is key, but it is also key to prepare our children to be creative, collaborative, and critical thinkers! (Hmm. "Collaborative" wasn’t mentioned in the above list. Tch. Tch. An oversight. At the end of this blog posting we will return to why "collaborative" is also critically important.)

Let’s back up… what is a CS standard and where did it come from?

Here is a standard about "computing systems" — a starter one for Grades K-2 and an advanced one for Grades 9-10

    • By the end of grade 2, students will be able to:
    • Select and operate appropriate software to perform a variety of tasks, and recognize that users have different needs and preferences for the technology they use. “
    • Subconcept: Devices; Practice 1.1
    • By the end of grade 10, students will be able to:
    • Explain how abstractions hide the underlying implementation details of computing systems embedded in everyday objects.
    • Subconcept: Devices; Practice 4.1"

We are here to say: the CS standards are an impressive piece of work! Key issues in CS have been identified and most importantly, from a pedagogical perspective, the standards build upon each other in coherent and learnable progressions.

The above two standards were abstracted from a roughly 40 page, single-spaced document put out by Michigan’s Department of Education. In those 40 pages there are elaborations of the standards, progressions — relationships of the standards from grade band to grade band, and definitions of key terms.

Now, Michigan didn’t invent those standards; no reason to reinvent the wheel when the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) has been promulgating its CS standards document.  

  • "The CSTA standards outline the computer science content and practices that every student should learn over their K-12 experience."

The CSTA s a professional association whose mission is to "empower, engage and advocate for K-12 CS teachers worldwide." Their standards are well-rationalized and have been adopted or adapted by many states.

What’s next for Michigan in computer science education?

  • In some sense, specifying "what" students should know is the “easy” bit! (Ahem! The folks who spent a year moving the “CS standards” through the state bureaucracy and through public comment would probably not say that getting the standards adopted was the "easy" bit. <smilely face goes here>)
  • The hard part, of course, is the curriculum — "how" should the CS standards be implemented in the classroom? While the MITECS are broader than the CS standards, there are still some great — and free — curricular materials for teachers (inside and outside of Michigan) that do address the CS standards. For middle school, there are 21things4students curricular resources, and for grades K-5, there are the MiTechKids curricular resources.
  • Right now, finding teachers who are qualified to teach CS, as a standalone subject, is a challenge. In New York, the Board of Regents has just established a computer science certificate:
    • "Computer science has finally become an official subject for teacher education, a move that could help New York fill a gaping need for computer science instruction in public schools."
  • has an 11 page, single-spaced document (10-point type!) outlining “Recommendations for States Developing Computer Science Teacher Pathways.”
  • But teaching CS as a standalone subject is not really the end-goal. Rather CS needs to be integrated into all subjects. Or, as Cecilia Anderson, an East Lansing High School AP CS teacher, commented: "computer science should be a thread that runs through every academic subject."
  • In fact, it is "computational thinking" — not coding — that is that thread!  "Computational thinking is the thought processes involved in formulating a problem and expressing its solution(s) in such a way that a computer — human or machine — can effectively carry out." The 21st thing 4 students is a rich set of curricular resources for students to learn computational thinking.
  • And still further, check out this "subordinate statistic" from the Bureau of Labor statistics:
  • "Employment of computer and information systems managers is projected to grow 12 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations." (We added the italics!)
  • The need for CS managers is virtually as high as the need for CS staff per se! But, managers of computer and information systems not only need the hard, technical skills, but they also need the soft skills, e.g., being empathetic, being able to communicate, being able to collaborate. In other words, managers-to-be need to learn SEL — social and emotional learning. SEL needs to be integrated into the K-12 curriculum. And, as of 2018, Michigan House Bill 5605 and 5598 are trying to require that: "teacher preparation programs … include instruction on social and emotional learning." Helping the teachers to learn about SEL is a good start. Go Michigan!

Kudos — and we mean kudos big time — go to Ann-Marie Mapes, Michelle Ribant, and Joanne Hopper — these three shepherded the Michigan K-12 CS Standards through that year along adoption process. These three folks changed education in Michigan! Thank you, Ann-Marie, Michelle, and Joanne.