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What the ESSA Means for the Future of Computer Science and STEM

The federal government has a new education law, and it's giving focus to technical subjects like computer science.

With the adoption of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Washington has entered a new age for the federal regulation of schools and embraced computer science as a core subject in education.

The new education legislation was adopted with overwhelming support by both the House and Senate this month before being signed by President Barack Obama on Dec. 10  — the same day Washington introduced new policies governing technology in classrooms.

ESSA replaces the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind Act, shifting oversight on evaluations from the federal level to the states and ushering in new priorities and goals for schools across the country. Among these new goals is a focus on STEM education topics. Computer science was included with other core subjects, such as writing, science, technology, engineering and mathematics, in ESSA's definition of a "well-rounded education."

That definition is a milestone for computer science education, says Tanya Roscorla, managing editor of the Center for Digital Education.

"That's a big deal because the bill uses this definition in other sections that cover curriculum and professional development decisions. When state and local policymakers see that computer science is a component of a well-rounded education, that will help them make decisions about where to use federal dollars that go toward activities and support for well-rounded education subjects," she says.

Cameron Wilson, chief operating officer of Code.org, which recently wrapped up 2015's Hour of Code, says his team is excited about the opportunities ESSA presents but that it will be up to states to take advantage of these new opportunities for learning.

"In the United States, education is driven by the local governments, not the federal government. But this move at the federal level is a big step towards our long-term vision: that every student in every school deserves the opportunity to learn computer science," Wilson says.

Keith Krueger, chief executive officer of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), says he applauds the passage of ESSA and what it could mean for the future of K–12 education.

"By investing in strengthening school system infrastructure, addressing digital equity and building the capacity of school leaders, ESSA recognizes the promise of an e-learning environment for all students," Krueger says.

Well ahead of ESSA's passage, two of the country's largest school districts have been at work incorporating computer science into their curricula.

The New York City Department of Education in September unveiled a 10-year plan to make computer science education available to 1.1 million students across all of its public schools. The plan will cost an anticipated $81 million, some of which will go toward training about 5,000 teachers. And Chicago Public Schools has plans to become the first urban school district to offer computer science courses from kindergarten through eighth grade.

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Dec 16 2015

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