The Who, What, and Why of #CSforALL
by Leigh Ann DeLyser, Co-Founder and Chief Academic Officer
Recently on Twitter I read a great discussion about whether or not #CSforALL should be a priority for K-12 education that requested clarity from the organizations that are working to support policy and programmatic efforts toward reaching that goal. Let’s start with a brief history of CSforALL and then get into some of the distinctions between organizations. There are other questions that were shared in the chat, but many of those questions are best answered by individual schools and districts (e.g., how to balance CS and other subjects, priority of CS in schools, etc.).
Question 1: Are corporations driving the push for CS education?
The CS education movement started long before corporations got involved. Seymour Papert started advocating for computer science education in schools as early as the 1970s, well ahead of his time. His argument for CS education included the claim that students would learn a “way of thinking” that would be fundamental to their larger problem-solving abilities and even mathematical thinking (which has grown into computational thinking).
I started as a mathematics and computer science teacher in 1997. I taught a variety of math courses over my career, but I also taught computer programming in preparation for the Advanced Placement Computer Science A (and AB) exams, as well as other elective courses in robotics, software design, etc. Like many other teachers, I saw the benefit of computer science for students, not only in terms of engagement — I often had to kick kids out of my classroom at the end of the day, which is a common (happy) phenomenon in CS — but also the expanded opportunities for these students after high school.
The first CS Education Celebration in 2006 was actually a day proposed by a teacher from Florida, which then grew into CSEdWeek in 2009. The first K-12 CS education-focused organization to advocate for increased access to CS education was the Computer Science Teachers’ Association (CSTA), beginning in 2005. I was a member of the CSTA board of directors for a while.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, many of us who were teaching CS tried to get corporations and universities involved. There was little funding to support expanded teacher professional development, and the only offerings to bring CS to scale were College Board workshops for high school teachers. Early engagement of corporations was to help teachers continue their learning, or to provide existing teachers with useful tools for teaching CS in their classrooms.
So the push for CS education started with educators and only later involved corporate support.
Over the past five years, we’ve seen an explosion of support for CSforALL including expanded funding from the National Science Foundation, the pilot and launch of the Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles exam, growing social media campaigns around CS Education Week, and greater public awareness of CS education. Corporations have found ways to engage with the K-12 community ranging from creating curriculum (often free) to encouraging employees to volunteer or mentor, hosting teacher meetup events, and offering internships to students. All of these efforts are important for the K-12 computer science education ecosystem.
Question 2: When did the CS education movement shift its focus to CS for ALL students? Aren’t the AP exam takers enough?
This question represents a fundamental shift in the community’s thinking about CS education over the last eight years. One way to answer the question is by examining the story of New York City, where CSNYC’s initial work to build a foundation for a local CS for All initiative informs our work as the national CSforALL Consortium.
In 2011, a diverse group of NYC stakeholders from education, industry, and government came together with the idea of starting a new high school in Manhattan focused on computer science. The school was launched specifically to focus on career development and pathways for students into the tech industry, and in a district with 1.1 million students and over 1,700 schools, there was plenty of space for a high school specifically focused on CS. However, looking at data, it quickly became clear that only students at specialized or well-resourced schools had access to even the most basic exposure to computing. After launching a second high school in the Bronx, two programs at the district level, and providing seed funding for professional development to build capacity in more schools, CSNYC began to advocate for ALL students in NYC to have rigorous experiences in computing — not only for career development, but also for basic literacy in a technological world.
CSNYC’s early work focused on building a proof of concept that ALL students, regardless of background, could learn computer science. Additionally, our seed funding approach demonstrated that investing in the professional development of current teachers was a viable mechanism for increasing computer science offerings in schools that previously did not offer the subject.
In 2015, we entered a partnership with the city to support a new 10-year initiative to offer CS to every student in every public school. Although companies are helping to fund the effort in NYC, the work is enabled by a joint investment with the city and Department of Education and is not driven by any individual technology or courses. A 10-year runway allows the city go slowly instead of rushing, identify best practices along the way, and conduct rigorous measurement with support from an outside evaluator, so we can really understand what is working and attempt to fix what is not.
The story in NYC evolved from an effort to create more software engineers, to a social imperative. This imperative has been echoed recently in data examining the distribution of opportunity for invention to people across the country. CSforALL recognizes that there must be opportunities and introductory experiences for all students to achieve equity of access, and just as students need to understand cells and biology, so too should they have a basic understanding of computing, including privacy, security, algorithms, and the internet to be literate in our society today and in the future.
Q3: Where is the drive on the corporate side to participate in CSforALL?
We should look at the ways in which corporations are engaging in CS education before we paint them with a broad brush. We see corporations investing in CS education for many different reasons. They may see CS education as a way to expand and diversify their pipeline of future employees, but they may also want to contribute to the computing and data literacy of the general workforce. Others believe that investing in CS education is the right thing to do for the communities located near their offices. A few would like to sell a product.
In many cases, Corporate Social Responsibility divisions and corporate foundations help those of us on the ground execute the work. Most of this funding is currently being invested in teacher preparation, whether via events like CSPD Week (also led by a former teacher) or the nonprofits that train and support teachers.
Q4: What are the organizations working in CS education and who leads them?
My organization, CSforALL, is a consortium of 420 individuals and organizations focused on building opportunities for rigorous, inclusive and sustainable CSforALL students. We facilitate connections between CS curriculum and content providers including corporations like Apple and Google, startups like Sphero and Vidcode, and nonprofit and university programs like Bootstrap and Scratch; school districts across the country; and the research community of academic faculty working to identify best practices for implementing CS in many contexts. We provide community building activities like the annual CSforALL Summit, hosting regular calls to enable the community to learn from each other, and an active Slack channel to support peer-to-peer information sharing. The CSforALL Consortium is free to join, and we strive to create a level playing field for all members, whether they are a small NSF-supported research project or a large, well-funded for profit. We do not directly offer CS curriculum and therefore avoid the conflict of interest of selling our own product. We do offer what we call SCRIPT workshops focused on empowering school districts to develop K-12 CS pathways and make their own curricular choices from the landscape. We are co-led by myself (Leigh Ann DeLyser), a former high school teacher who went back to school to earn a PhD in Computer Science from a little postsecondary institution in Pittsburgh, and Michael Preston, a PhD in Cognitive Science who worked for the NYC Department of Education and Columbia University before taking the reins at CSNYC.
Code.org is a nonprofit “dedicated to expanding access to computer science and increasing participation by women and underrepresented minorities.“ They offer curriculum via courses targeting various levels, lead the annual Hour of Code effort, and advocate for policies that support CS education. Code.org is lead by Hadi Partovi with a substantial team with a deep background in CS education and advocacy.
The National Science Foundation has historically been one of the largest funders of CS education. Through grants made to mostly post secondary institutions (although nonprofits like CSNYC/CSforALL and some for profits get grants), the NSF supports research into CS education and CS education implementation. Most recently, the CSforALL: Research Practice Partnerships and STEM+C grant lines have been strong funders of CS education initiatives. At NSF, Jan Cuny has been involved in many of the efforts to support CS education and will gladly discuss ideas people may have or potential grant submissions to help researchers think about what program lines are a good fit.
Check out csforall.org/members for an extensive list of CSforALL members engaged in building the national movement. You’ll find descriptions of their work as well as links to more information.
CSforALL is a national grassroots movement. We are inspired daily by the accomplishments and diversity of the organizations participating in the work. Schools and teachers, nonprofits, governments, and corporations share our common goal of providing rigorous, inclusive, and sustainable computer science to all students. There is room in this community for everyone, and the #CSforALL hashtag connects excited practitioners and supporters every day. To stay informed about our work and the work of the larger community, you can follow us on Twitter or Facebook, or consider joining the Consortium at www.csforall.org.
Leigh Ann DeLyser is the Co-Founder and Chief Academic Officer of the CSforALL Consortium. Leigh Ann is a lifelong advocate of computer science education. At CSforALL, Leigh Ann oversees research efforts and advises and implements programs that align with the organization’s strategic goals. Leigh Ann is also a co-founder of the CSforAll Consortium, a national network of CS education content providers, school districts, education associations, and researchers devoted to the mission of CSforAll. Prior to joining CSforALL and CSNYC, Leigh Ann worked for 10 years as a HS CS teacher, served on the Board of Directors for CSTA, and earned her Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University in Computer Science and Cognitive Psychology, with a focus on CS education. Leigh Ann also co-authored the influential Running on Empty report, highlighting the lack of standards in CS education in the United States.