Mandatory Kindergarten Computer Science Education

April 1, 2019

On February 28, 2019, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice signed Senate Bill 267 which requires the state’s Board of Education to adopt and fund a policy describing the computer science instruction students receive at each grade level in K-12 schools. This move by Governor Justice makes West Virginia the first state to require a computer science curriculum at all grade levels of public school.

The bill’s legislative findings point out that the computer science industry is booming, and West Virginia wants to train students for those jobs as well as bring more of those jobs into the state. One of West Virginia’s technology integration specialists, Audrey Williams, argues that delaying computer science education until high school is too long of a wait. Williams hopes that this earlier intervention will allow for a deeper understanding of technology, and even teach students how to design their own video games by the fifth grade. These motives, along with the fact that West Virginia “was 50th in just about everything,” inspired the signing of this bill.

The importance of technological knowledge is apparent, but is it worth forcing or allowing a student to skip out on the chance to study chemistry or calculus?

Other states have adopted computer science standards, but most either leave discretion to the school district as to whether they will follow the standards or the standards only apply to high school students. For example, in 2017, Ohio passed a law requiring the state education department to adopt standards and a curriculum for computer science in grade schools, but did not require all Ohio school districts to abide by the standards. The Ohio law also allows for students to opt out of an Algebra II course, and replace it with an advanced computer science class, even though Algebra II can sometimes be a college admissions requirement.

This sheds light on the fact that states can’t simply just add a computer science course on top of everything grade school students already do, and require them to stay after hours to complete the course. The states must be sacrificing, or replacing, other pre-established courses to make room for the new computer science courses. The West Virginia bill provides that the new computer science course may satisfy a math or science class credit, meaning the students will enroll in one less math or science course in order to obey the new law. The importance of technological knowledge is apparent, but is it worth forcing or allowing a student to skip out on the chance to study chemistry or calculus?

Another problem posed by this legislation is that many schools are not well-equipped to incorporate a computer science curriculum. Many schools across the United States lack properly trained staff to teach computer science courses. Without sufficient expertise in computer science, it would be difficult for a teacher to effectively relay that same information to an elementary school student. Additionally, the technology used in these courses (computers, servers, maintenance equipment) are very expensive and Governor Justice himself has already addressed the fact the new programs will require large sums of money. Despite the financial burden, Governor Justice remains confident that “the end result will benefit us all.”

Zan Newkirk, 18 March 2019