New York State School Boards Association

Why isn't computer science part of the NYS math sequence?

by Michael Nagler

On Board Online • April 17, 2017

By Michael Nagler
Superintendent, Mineola Public Schools

The Wall Street Journal recently quoted Go Daddy CEO Blake Irving lamenting, "There are currently 500,000 unfilled high skilled IT and computer science jobs in the U.S." Simply put, our schools aren't producing qualified candidates to fill these positions, forcing companies to look abroad for talented people.

Our public schools have to be part of the solution. The U.S. Department of Education has a campaign called Computer Science for All (#CSforAll) which has spurred many districts around the county to create or expand programs involving computer science. But there is a problem: the traditional path of mathematics coursework we offer high school students does not incorporate computer science. It should.

While Advanced Placement offerings in New York schools typically include Computer Science and Statistics, our math sequence does not include these important and practical subjects. We currently emphasize the importance of classes in Algebra, Geometry, Algebra II/Trigonometry, Pre-Calculus and AP Calculus. Where is computer science?

It is time to reexamine this sequence. Every aspect of our lives in this century has some type of interface with computers and code yet we fail to realize the opportunity to embed computer science in our mathematics curriculum. Coursework in computer science, particularly coding, would provide students with marketable skills for either college or career.

By the way, did you know that the AP Computer Science exam is NOT taken on a computer? As odd as that sounds, we don't ask students to demonstrate their knowledge of coding by actually asking them to code. This is something that belongs in the curriculum. We need to ensure that students are exposed to the concept of algorithms and learn something about coding languages.

At the November 2016 Board of Regents meeting, an independent committee recommended to the Regents the addition of a fourth math Regents course in Statistics. I strongly agree with the concept of another math Regents exam, but I don't think Statistics is the best choice. I would advocate for a parallel course to "old" Algebra II /Trigonometry entitled Algebra II/Algorithms. Half of such a course would mirror the Algebra II curriculum already established, and the other half would be a practicum in computer science in which students must demonstrate proficiency on a series of coding challenges.

The Regents exam for such a class would be similar to the Regents exam in Earth Science, in which a significant portion of a student's grade is determined by a lab portion of the exam.

What would be sacrificed? Trigonometry. If the Algebra II course is to be viewed as a foundation for more advanced work in mathematics and recognized with an Advanced Regents Diploma, this is a transition we have to make. In August 2016, General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt said, "If you are joining the company in your 20s, unlike when I joined, you're going to learn to code."

At a minimum, students should have a choice in deciding which 'math pathway' they wish to follow to receive an Advanced Regents Diploma. This would also enable students to get more out of the AP Computer Science course. Algebra II/Algorithms should be the prerequisite to this course and should include an introduction to languages such as Scratch, Python and HTML.

The last piece of the puzzle would be to certify teachers to teach this course. Right now there is no certification to teach AP Computer Science, and the course is typically taught by a math certified teacher with a proclivity for coding languages. A Computer Science extension should be created for current Mathematics 7-12 certificate holders. It should be a series of three or four courses similar to the TESOL and Bilingual extension currently available at several universities. Teachers should be allowed to teach the course while they are enrolled in the college classes and working toward the certification extension. The coursework can be supplemented with companies such as KidOYO, a not for profit online platform that provides coding coursework to districts and currently partners with the computer sciences department at Stony Brook University.

Making computer science and algorithms part of our math sequence would be a major step to ensuring that our high school graduates are "college- and career-ready." I also believe middle school students should be learning computer science. Until the Regents act, it is up to math teachers, school administrators and school boards to see the importance of coding and ensure students have the opportunity to learn it.

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