Last week, Florida’s State Board of Education expressed its support for a legislative initiative to train more K-12 teachers in computer coding education. If enacted, such an initiative would provide a broad population of students access to programming careers at the associate’s degree level.
But the initiative ignores the rapid decline in the supply of new teachers qualified to teach upper level math and science classes like precalculus, calculus and physics. This decline threatens to limit access for Florida students to bachelor’s-level careers like engineering and computer science that provide leadership for the nation’s technological economy.
There is an important point of language here. When the State Board of Education says “computer science”, they don’t mean computer science the way that my colleagues in the FSU Department of Computer Science mean the term. Even students who take the most serious so-called computer science course in Florida’s high school program – AP Computer Science A – are learning computer programming and not “computer science”. In fact, FSU does not award students who pass the AP Computer Science A examination credit for a programming course. Instead, they receive credit for satisfying the university’s “computer skills competency” requirement.
Nevertheless, preparing more students to earn associate-level degrees in computer programming and technology makes a lot of sense. Students earning these degrees from Florida College System institutions earn more than $40,000 per year in their first jobs.
The math requirements for these associate degrees are low-level. The course “Mathematics I for Liberal Arts” (MGF 1106 for those keeping score) satisfies the math requirement to earn an Associate of Science degree in Computer Programming and Web Development at Tallahassee Community College. The science requirement can be satisfied with a 1000-level course intended for non-science majors
In contrast, the math requirements for a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science at FSU include two semesters of calculus, two semesters of discrete mathematics and an upper level statistics course. Most of these students take two semesters of calculus-based physics to satisfy their science requirements, although they have the option of taking two semesters of life science-major biology classes and a semester of science major chemistry instead.
The associate degree signifies a technician.
The bachelor’s degree is intended for innovators.
When it comes to preparing high school students for associates’ degrees in computer fields, Florida’s State Board of Education is on it.
And as for preparing high school students for leadership careers in fields like engineering and computer science? Somebody else will have to attend to that.