Earlier this year when President Obama announced an initiative to bring computer science to all schools across the country...I thought to myself…”He’s kidding...right? Arkansas can’t be the only state doing this already?”
Just last week, John King, the U.S. Secretary of Education, visited a large high school in our state and said Arkansas schools are leading the way in computer science. Of course many other schools across the country are teaching and have taught computer science, but Arkansas is doing this for all students, in all of our schools; that’s what makes our state’s investment in this initiative so unique. Our current Governor, Asa Hutchinson, ran on a platform which emphasized adding computer science and coding to the curriculum for all students in Arkansas. Five million dollars has been invested in this initiative to make our state a leader in computer science education in public schools.
As an educator and administrator from a rural, impoverished area of Arkansas, I am extremely excited with the idea of all students receiving access to any and all educational opportunities. However, I have to wonder; $5 million for a new education mandate, for something already being offered in many of Arkansas’s suburban (well-funded) public schools? At the same time, rural schools across Arkansas struggle to obtain adequate bandwidth & devices to administer the state-required ACT Aspire Summative Assessments. It may just be me, but I see a disconnect.
Does every student deserve rich educational opportunities such as exploring & learning about computer science? Absolutely! But not at the expense of the basic educational needs of others. Arkansas was an early adopter computer science standards (2015-2016); already in place as part of the “Core Curriculum” are Next Generation Science Standards, and, before those, the Arkansas Frameworks for Chemistry, Biology, etc.. I’ve personally seen multiple science classrooms in Arkansas with dormant labs; they’re not able to provide rich hands-on experiences for students due to nonexistent funding for lab materials. One reason: a lack of substantial increase in Arkansas’s per pupil foundational funding over the past two years. Those students who do not live in affluent areas where rich property tax bases are able to make up the difference in school revenue are doing without when it comes to a their “Core Science Curriculum.”
Providing access to an outstanding education experience for all students must be our goal as educators. A student’s zip code or socio-economic status should not impact the quality of education they receive. In Arkansas, though, those factors have an outsized effect, I’ve witnessed the detriments firsthand.
I wholeheartedly support the innovation behind Governor Hutchinson’s computer science initiative. But I have questions:
- How can we innovate for all students if they are not all educated in schools that empower innovation?
- If there are public schools within our state that don’t have adequate funding/leadership to support long-standing core curriculum requirements or obtain the bare minimum in Wifi connectivity, how will they now support a new initiative?
If our goal as educators is to provide excellence in education to all students embarking on a new initiative right now gives me pause. Is it fool’s gold to think this initiative can not only be implemented, but also be sustained with fidelity for all students; including those in schools that are behind with innovation already?
There must be a long-term plan with organizational and fiscal accountability measures in place to support all schools. This is an amazing opportunity for our state’s children and we don’t want the $5 million allocation to be spent and the initiative to disappear. Without strategic planning and leadership, the fate of computer science in Arkansas will be the same as other expensive public school programs across our state; it will thrive in affluent areas and disappear in poorer areas. We must stop this cycle. All of our students deserve amazing opportunities.