More Thoughts on Computer Science Teacher Certification

There don’t seem to be any comments on teacher certification at the CSTA blog. This amazes me as I know this is an issue of wide-spread interest and concern. I can only assume that people just don’t know that Chris is asking the questions. Well I could assume that people don’t care or that they don’t have opinions but that seems unlikely. Teachers tend to be very opinionated about certification. So I left some comments there and I sent an email to the AP CS teacher mailing list. But I thought I would also expand a bit on the comments I left on the CSTA blog.


1. Do you think we should have a national high school computer science certification requirement that would apply in every state?

I'd like to see a nationally recognized model certification that states could elect to adopt. I'm not so big on Federal mandates. I think that there has to be some room for states to fit a computer science teacher certification into their own normal scheme of things. I think that where a national model can help is to specify what computer science is and what sort of things (training, experience, etc) qualifies one to teach it.

2. Would your state actually opt in to such a program?

Honestly I don’t know about my state but I’d like to think New Hampshire would go along with such a model. New Hampshire long ago adopted a computer literacy requirement for graduation. While that standard could use some updating I think that it exists at all is a step in the right direction.

3. Should computer science be classified as a science, math, technology, or business specialization?

I struggle with this one. Part of me argues for science and part for math. It's sort of like physics that way isn't it? There is a lot of both science and math in CS and in physics. Computer Science as a separate category is never going to fly. I could live with it in either math or science. Is there a way to have it both ways? I’m not sure but I’d love to see a discussion on the matter.

Business and technology are not good options in my opinion. The reason for that is those departments tend to be vocationally oriented and not college oriented. Now I believe that vocations are important, valuable and under appreciated so I'm not saying anything against them. But both vocational and college prep students take math and science. College prep students tend to stay away from vocational courses. I think we need to include computer science into an area that allows for the inclusion of the most people. I do believe that everyone, or pretty close to everyone, should have a real computer science course before college.

4. Should there be a single national praxis test that could be used to ensure sufficient subject content and teaching mastery to support certification?

I'm not a big fan of tests. I think the certification standard should specify options that include specific course work, reasonable in-service training, professional history (let's let some of the SW professionals get into the class room) and maybe (but only maybe) a national exam. The big question in my mind is who writes the exam? How do we make sure that the questions are both necessary and sufficient? If there is an exam than it has to be done right.

Comments (1)

  1. James Bancroft says:

    Wow… what a post!  I just have to respond to this one!  Let’s see… where to begin?

    I don’t think that I could possibly agree with you any more than I already do on #1.  Computer Science is definitely one of the fastest growing disciplines that are being taught in high schools and middle schools.  On top of this, the industry is at the forefront of the globalization movement.  Thus, as our world of programmers grows bigger, it’s becoming increasingly important that we maintain a certain universal minimum level of knowledge among these new students — and that has to start with the teachers.  Other subjects of study require certifications for their teachers, and if CS doesn’t do the same it’s going to start to hinder just how far those students can advance when they get to the college level.

    That having been said, individual states must still be allowed their freedom to iron out the details of how these certifications will actually get implemented.  Of course, somebody needs to be held accountable in each state, and within each state teachers need to be certified to the same standard across the board.  Still, it’s relatively evident to me that these certifications will need to keep up with the pace of kids that are getting into programming at younger and younger ages, meaning that a rigid national system may be too bulky and slow to make the right tweaks from year to year.

    As far as question #2 goes, NH is definitely headed in that direction, but the real question is how quickly will we get there and how much resistance to such a program would there be?  Of course that’s not a very fair question since first we would have to define the details of the program, but I daresay that you’d here some grumbling from some parts of the state where people may have to drive over an hour to get to a test center (or vice-versa where officials doing the certification have to travel to meet the teachers).

    In response to #3, I see Computer Science as a form of intellectual engineering (i.e. useful).  Unfortunately that doesn’t help much because engineering is at the college level and uses a combination of math and science.  I guess if I was forced to choose, I’d have to go with math.  In some of my recent college courses I’ve learned a lot of the theory behind computation and languages in general.  All of this is heavily math-based.  I think that what confuses people sometimes is that compared to math, computer science has a ton of practical applications.  These practical applications would seem to bring it closer to science or even business/technology.  Despite that, I still believe that the roots of computer science are purely mathematical.

    A universal praxis exam would not work in my mind.  My reasons for this are pretty much the same as my answer to question #1.  An exam like this would start to tread on the implementation details which I believe should remain in the states’ domain.

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