More and more school districts are requiring their schools to offer computer science classes, but according to computer science educators, certification requirements to teach the subject are often vague or ineffectual, which could prove problematic as more schools face the need to hire more such teachers.
Mark Nelson, executive director of the Computer Science Teachers Association, said that most states don’t even offer specific certification or licensing to be able to teach computer science.
Some of those states have added computer science to teaching licenses they already provide that are necessary to teach related fields, such as math or science, he said. But more potentially problematic are teachers who are certified to teach fields much less closely related to computer science, such as business, and are able to get hired teaching computer science just because the state added computer science coursework to its business teaching licenses.
“In some cases, the people who have those licenses do not have any CS background,” Nelson said. “Sometimes school administrators hire whoever they can find whether or not they have the requisite skills and knowledge.”
A 2013 study conducted by the CSTA and funded by Google concluded that licensing and certification requirements for computer science teachers, which vary between states, need to be standardized, saying the system as a whole is, “typified by confounding processes and illogical procedures.”
In one extreme example, the study found that Florida requires computer science teachers to complete a specific class titled, “Special Methods for Teaching Computer Science K–6.” However, that class is not offered anywhere in the state of Florida, according to the study.
The report also cites a 2005 survey of 14,000 computer science teachers in which respondents gave conflicting answers when asked whether their state required a license or certificate to teach the subject, suggesting those teachers, at least at the time, didn’t know what was required of them.
In addition to recommending certification requirements be standardized, the CSTA also recommends all prospective computer science teachers pass a course instructing them on how to teach various computer science concepts for each grade level.
The CSTA wants computer science teachers to be involved in developing their particular state’s certification requirements, Nelson said.
Carl Frank, who has taught computer science for 25 years, said state requirements to teach the subject can be vague and ambiguous, leading to confusion and problems for those interested in becoming computer science teachers.
“Each state should have clear cut requirements for teachers to be certified to teach computer science,” said Frank, who teaches at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts. “Universities need to know what their state requirements are so they can prepare computer science teaching students. They’ll be able to advise students on what classes to take.”