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Summit on Statewide K-12 Computer Science Education | September 20

by Ashley Lawrence / Jul 25, 2019


Team members of the I-STECS initiative are part of a push to create a plan for the future of K-12 computer science (CS) education in Illinois.

The College of Education’s Illinois Secondary Teacher Education and Computer Science (I-STECS) Initiative was initially created to address a two-fold, state-wide need: for current secondary teachers to earn an endorsement to teach computer science, and to create a certification program for new high school teachers in computer science education. And while this remains a major outcome goal, the I-STECS team has been confronted with some fundamental questions while working toward it:

  • Are there current standards and benchmarks for computer science education in Illinois?
  • What should be taught, and at what grade levels?
  • How should CS education be evaluated?
  • Are we being inclusive to the communities we serve? Are immigrant populations, Hispanics, African Americans, and others first-class players in this CS education effort?
  • What level of investment matches the demand for a CS-educated workforce in Illinois?
  • How do we ensure our students are well prepared, having every opportunity to compete for the best jobs in their home state?

To this end, Gabrielle Allen, associate dean for research in the College of Education, along with other grassroots organizers from around the state, are planning the inaugural Illinois Statewide K-12 Computer Science Summit. This event is being held September 20, 2019 at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus.

“There are multiple issues surrounding CS education in the state of Illinois that we want to open up discussion around as part of the Summit,” says Allen, who is serving as co-chair of the Summit. “We don’t have a statewide plan for K-12 CS education in Illinois, much less a definition of what computer science education is—what are students learning? We don’t have a handle on the number of educators teaching computer science curriculum, and how many students they’re reaching. We’re now finding ourselves at risk of being behind neighboring states in high school graduates with strong computer science knowledge and skills. Bringing together educators and stakeholders from across the state to begin answering these questions is the first step in formulating a plan to turn this around.”

Organizing a Summit around major statewide education policy and practice issues takes the expertise and resources of a broad, diverse group—as diverse as Illinois itself—and certainly isn’t something the I-STECS group is undertaking alone. The Summit’s planning committee has representation from Illinois State University in Bloomington-Normal, the University of Chicago, Chicago Public Schools, Hutsonville CUSD #1 in rural southeastern Illinois, and the statewide non-profit CS4IL, in addition to others from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Taking the collaborative approach even further, the planning committee is reaching out to several constituencies to participate in the Summit. The non-profit group CS4IL maintains a network of K-12 computer science teachers who will be invited to attend, as well as Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) officials, industry professionals, funding agencies and foundations, higher education administrators, academic researchers, and state elected officials. Additionally, the committee has asked Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker’s office to participate in the inaugural Summit in some capacity.

“All stakeholders need an opportunity to be involved in planning, since this is critical to our state’s economy and future workforce,” says Allen. “Hosting the Summit here in Urbana-Champaign makes sense because of our central location, our connections, and available resources. And it’s also an important part of our university’s land-grant mission to serve people throughout the state.”

More than $40,000 of support has already been committed to hold the day-long Summit, from sponsors including (at the time of this publication) Microsoft, the Illinois Innovation Network (IIN), the College of Education, the College of Engineering and its Department of Computer Science, the Center for Digital Agriculture at the University of Illinois, the NCSA, and Illinois State University. Hegeman-Davis says the initial DPI seed funding is also being used to cover travel costs for the I-STECS team to network and meet with other potential industry and private foundation partners.

“We are looking now to partner with Illinois-based corporate sponsors who see direct impact from a local workforce that is highly educated and trained in computer science. Their investment in developing a plan now for educating the future of Illinois will help more of our state’s best and brightest students stay closer to home,” says Raya Hegeman-Davis, I-STECS coordinator.

“I think these are things that we at the College of Education need to do—educate people on how teaching computer science differs from being a computer scientist and bring groups together toward a comprehensive plan for K-12 student education,” says Allen. “And I think it’s something everyone supports, but they don’t necessarily understand the challenges. So far, I’ve found people very surprised to find out that we don’t have pathways to train computer science teachers in the state. And from school district to district, the CS education can vary drastically.”

The Illinois Statewide K-12 Computer Science Summit is on September 20, 2019. Learn more about the day’s agenda at this website, where attendees can also RVSP.