Building an operating system for
Computer Science Education
Five Challenges and Call to Action
Five Challenges

The “Building an Operating System for Computer Science” (OS4CS) study
was designed as a collaborative research and communication effort to establish a more comprehensive understanding of our nation’s current high school computer science (CS) teaching population, the support they have, and contexts in which they teach. The OS4CS study has five major components: (1) the Professional Development (PD) Landscape Study; (2) the Teacher Capacity Study; (3) Stories from the Field; (4) the CS in Schools Study; and (5) the Design Studio. While each component of the study can be examined independently, when considered together they complement each other, providing a broad view of the issues affecting CS education as viewed through the lenses of different stakeholders. The study includes perspectives from teachers, PD providers, school administrators, community leaders, and others.

This section highlights five major challenges that repeatedly surfaced across the five study components. The order of the challenges presented below is not an indication of importance or priority; all are important to consider in efforts to improve the state of K-12 CS education.

September 2013

To the Computer Science Education Community:

It has been a privilege and pleasure to engage with the computer science community developing the components of our study: “Building an Operating System for Computer Science Education.” This community is strikingly thoughtful, committed, and seemingly tireless in efforts to bring quality computer science education to all students. We are hopeful that the work we have done will create a foundation for next steps and that we can continue to work within the community to realize that goal.

We came to this work with collective decades of experience with mathematics and science education, teaching, research, evaluation, administration, policy-making, and scientific research, but with little knowledge of computer science education and the computer science education community. We deeply appreciate the community’s willingness to orient us to key information, issues, and concerns, to get us back on track when we strayed, and to be so forthcoming with knowledge and experience that was essential to ensuring that our efforts would be valuable. This kind of collaboration and openness is not to be taken for granted and we appreciate the support the community provided.

As we reflect on this particular piece of work as it comes to a close, we look forward to continuing to work with this inspiring community. Over the next few months and years, we hope all of us can keep the following in mind:

Coherence is Essential: History shows that destructive debates about the content and pedagogy of mathematics teaching and learning stifled progress for schools and students. Likewise, science education has suffered from a lack of prioritization and insufficient clarity of purpose. The computer science community can avoid a similar history by bringing clear, coherent, committed messages about computer science education to policy makers, the public, and other decision makers. A unified voice and aligned actions from all aspects of the community — practicing scientists, researchers, university faculty, teachers, foundations, and corporate interests — is essential.

Attention Doesn’t Guarantee Quality: Computer science education is beginning to take off, benefitting from a population enamored with parts of the technology industry — much like science education was moved into the public consciousness with Sputnik. With this support, it may be easier to convince districts and states to give computer science education more attention. More attention, however, does not equal higher quality — and sometimes works against it. It’s essential to define what quality computer science education looks like, shared ways to measure it, and develop a common language to communicate about it. Without that clarity, others will bring their own meanings and agendas to the discussion.

Now is the Time: There is a groundswell of energy, commitment and momentum for computer science teaching, learning, and leading. Having watched trends come and go in other disciplines, we see this as an unprecedented opportunity to establish norms for computer science education for all. Given the newness of the discipline, setting the right foundation now will pave the way for tremendous gains in the future — something that the contemporary mathematics and science education communities never had the opportunity to do.

Our hope is that this research is useful to the community. We welcome comments and questions at any time and look forward to continuing to work with you to move the computer science education agenda forward.

Thank you.

Jeanne Century
Baker Franke
Courtney Heppner
Heather King
Michael Lach
Sarah Rand
Jean Westrick