Outlier Research & Evaluation at the University of Chicago is carrying out a two and a half year research study for the computer science (CS) education community. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the BASICS Study (Barriers and Supports to Implementing Computer Science) will examine the status of implementation of an introductory CS course, Exploring Computer Science (ECS), and the supports for and barriers to that implementation and endurance in sites using ECS across the US.


Those already working to make K12 CS education happen know that bringing change to school systems is difficult and making change that will last is even harder. And yet, the CS education community has steadily been making progress bringing computer science to individual teachers, schools, and districts.

Understanding how ECS came to be implemented in a range of sites can have great impact on the use and endurance of ECS and other introductory CS courses today, and in the future. This study will generate findings to help grow CS education. It will shed light on the challenges to systemic efforts to increase accessibility, quality and quantity of CS education and offer recommendations for meeting those challenges.

We believe

We believe that for most education innovations and interventions, there is no single, “correct” way to implement a program. The intent of the BASICS Study is to document implementation of the ECS program and to identify the factors that affect that implementation in schools and districts, not the quality of the implementation. The BASICS Study is not an evaluation of the ECS program; rather, our research seeks to provide a deeper understanding of the supports for and barriers to ECS and other introductory CS efforts and description of the steps schools and entire sites using ECS have taken to develop those supports.


  • Inform NSF CS10K leaders and other CS educators about the supports and barriers to wide scale high school CS education and provide strategies for addressing them
  • Provide tools for measuring introductory high school CS program implementation and instruments for measuring the supports and barriers that affect implementation
  • Create products from research findings and recommendations that will be useful to the NSF CS10K community and the broader CS education field

The fundamental goal of all Outlier Research & Evaluation projects is to provide schools, districts, and policy makers with useful, timely information to continually improve education efforts. In the BASICS Study, we collaborate with NSF CS10K project leaders, CS education advisors, and school and district practitioners to produce findings and share relevant and practical information with CS education community stakeholders. We will contribute to the growing portfolio of CS education efforts through product and tool development, publications, presentations, webinars, and on-going, in-person discussions. We encourage feedback on our project throughout the research study.

Project Participants

The BASICS Study is a collaboration of CS education leaders in various sites across the US using ECS, most notably Chicago, LA, and DC; developers of ECS; and researchers at Outlier Research & Evaluation. Participating sites include:

Research Questions

The BASICS Study is a mixed-methods research study. We use a range of both qualitative and quantitative strategies to answer our primary research questions and accomplish our project goals. Our research design collects data via teacher and student questionnaires; ECS developer, school district personnel, school leader, and teacher interviews; student focus groups; informal observations; and document reviews.

This project builds on Outlier's previous NSF-funded work rigorously studying implementation of educational innovations (new practices and programs) and the factors (contexts and conditions) that affect innovation implementation and sustainability. Earlier projects yielded a suite of instruments for measuring implementation of science and mathematics programs and a conceptual framework and accompanying instruments for identifying and measuring the factors that support and inhibit implementation of school-based innovations. The BASICS Study began with these instruments and customized them for use with a CS-specific innovation (the ECS program). The project also stems from a previous CS-focused study (OS4CS) that established a more comprehensive understanding of our nation’s current high school CS teaching and learning environment.

Although implementation measures can be used to examine program impacts, for the purposes of this research, we are interested in looking at the relationships between supports and barriers to implementation and implementation itself, not the quality, efficacy or impact of ECS on student outcomes in CS courses or pursuance of CS careers.

Research Team
Project Advisors
  • Owen Astrachan, Professor of the Practice of Computer Science, Duke University, and PI of CS Principles
  • Lissa Clayborn, representative for the Computer Science Teachers Association
  • Baker Franke, former HS Computer Science Teacher, now K-12 Curriculum Development Manager, Code.org
  • Anu Gokhale, Professor of Computer SystemsTechnology, Illinois State University, and PI of Teacher Education in CS (TECS)
  • Mark Guzdial, Professor in the College of Computingat the Georgia Institute of Technology, and PI of Georgia Computes!
  • Helen Hu, Professor of Computer Science, Westminster College, and PI of the Utah ECS initiative
  • Chris Stephenson, Former Executive Director of the Computer Science Teachers Association, now Program Manager CS Education, Google
  • Brenda Wilkerson, IT Program Manager, Chicago Public Schools

Computer Science teachers in Chicago and Washington, DC completed a questionnaire in Spring 2014 that, among other things, asked them to identify the three biggest supports for and barriers to their computer science classes. All of the teachers were using Exploring Computer Science (ECS) instructional materials.

Click here to see what teachers said were their biggest barriers to teaching computer science.

Click here to see what teachers said were their biggest supports to teaching computer science.