Computer science education could receive a Christmas gift this year.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 might be reauthorized by the end of December under a new name: the Every Student Succeeds Act. As its name implies, this legislation is designed to encourage equal education opportunities for every student with the help of federal grants and scholarships. This version includes a number of provisions that will give both students and teachers equal access to computer science education.
With bi-partisan support, the bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives 359-64 on Wednesday, Dec. 2, and is expected to easily pass the Senate on Tuesday, Dec. 8. Then it will go to President Barack Obama, whose administration has already expressed his desire to sign the legislation before the end of 2015.
Computer science has strong support on Capitol Hill, with five legislators in particular standing out for their efforts: Congresswoman Susan W. Brooks (R-IN), Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Congressmen Lamar Smith (R-TX). The question throughout this process hasn't been whether policymakers support computer science. Rather, it's been a question of who provides guidance on computer science education: The federal government or state and local educators.
Della Cronin, a partner at the lobbying firm Washington Partners LLC and a federal relations consultant in Washington, D.C., lobbied for computer science education provisions in the bill on behalf of Code.org.
"I was very pleased and a little bit surprised that the vote in the House was as big as it was," Cronin said.
The nonprofit's biggest priorities made it into the legislation that passed the House: including computer science in the definition of core academic subjects and allowing computer science educators to access professional development programs like other teachers could. While the new bill did away with the definition of core academic subjects, it created a new definition called well-rounded education subjects.
Computer science; physical education; music; and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are included in the new definition, along with other subjects. That's a big deal because the bill uses this definition in other sections that cover curriculum and professional development decisions. When state and local policymakers see that computer science is a component of a well-rounded education, that will help them make decisions about where to use federal dollars that go toward activities and support for well-rounded education subjects.
Another key provision calls for professional development and support for school leaders in STEM subjects, including computer science. A small STEM educator program could give money to states that support STEM teachers and set up STEM master teacher programs. One of the challenges with computer science education is training teachers so they're prepared to work in the classroom with students. Though this program is smaller than Cronin would have liked, it would help states that are dealing with this challenge.
"What that hopefully will do for computer science is put it on par with a bunch of other subjects," Cronin said.