Committee to recommend computer science graduation requirement

    Growing up in the heart of Silicon Valley, technology is deeply ingrained in the lives of Palo Alto High School students. But in the coming years, computer science may begin to play an even more prominent role in the lives of Paly students as the Computer Science Pk-12 Curriculum Design Advisory Committee works towards making programming a graduation requirement.

    The CS CDAC is selecting a one-semester computer science course to recommend to the Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education this spring. According to junior Robbie Selwyn, a committee member, the committee consists of students, teachers, administrators, community members and PAUSD leaders who aim to design computer science curriculum for elementary, middle and high school students. 

    “The purpose of the committee is to develop CS curriculum for all age levels, but also to create a logical flow between the different levels of education,” Selwyn said.

    At the high school level, the majority of the committee is in support of mandating a basic computer science course for PAUSD students. Rather than designing a new course from scratch, the committee will choose an existing program to serve as a model for the class. 

    “We want all high school students to have CS experience so we are heavily in favor of requiring such an experience for graduation,” committee facilitator Suzanne Antink said. “We want all of our PAUSD students at the technology table. … In order to bring CS to every single PAUSD student, a one-semester requirement for graduation would help.”

    Selwyn said that regardless of a student’s future career, having a foundation of computer science will help them think critically and logically.

    “A well-educated student that is going to participate in the real world should really have a solid fundamental understanding of computer science,” Selwyn said. “Although not everyone will be programming after they graduate high school, there are several important concepts taught in CS, including algorithmic thinking and abstraction.”

    Selwyn compared mandatory computer science classes to Living Skills, explaining that both classes teach students crucial skills for their future careers. However, despite the value of computer science classes, adding a new graduation requirement would leave students with less room in their schedules for electives and free periods, according to Antink.

    Junior Zage Phillips works on a coding assignment for her Advanced Placement Computer Science class. Phillips expressed support for the idea of a mandatory CS requirement, but added that students should be able to choose from a variety of programming-related classes. "I think it would be a great idea for students to have a one semester requirement of some sort of programming class[[.]] ... However, I do understand that programming isn't everyone's strong suit, so I think it would also be nice to create more programming and software engineering classes at Paly so there is something for everyone." Photo: Nisha McNealis

    Junior Zage Strassberg-Phillips works on a coding assignment for her Advanced Placement Computer Science class. Strassberg-Phillips expressed support for the idea of a mandatory CS requirement, but added that students should be able to choose from a variety of programming-related classes. “I think it would be a great idea for students to have a one semester requirement of some sort of programming class,” Strassberg-Phillips said. “However, I do understand that programming isn’t everyone’s strong suit, so I think it would also be nice to create more programming and software engineering classes at Paly so there is something for everyone.” Photo: Nisha McNealis

    “The cons are that students have so much on their plates already,” Antink said. “The Board of Education might need to take a look at the current requirements and reconsider some of them.”

    Junior Zach Phillips shared this concern, but added that changes in the bell schedule might impact his opinion.

    “We already have so many requirements,” Phillips said. “If they were to change the bell schedule, I would be willing to consider it.”

    Antink said that making computer science mandatory would also require the district to hire new personnel and pay for new equipment.

    “We will need teachers trained and certified to teach CS,” Antink said. “Most folks who do CS go into lucrative tech jobs. It’s the rare CS expert who comes to the K-12 classroom.”

    Though implementing a mandatory CS class would have drawbacks, Antink says that according to surveys the committee sent out in May 2017, approximately half of high school students and 80 percent of parents were in support of the requirement.

    Antink emphasized that students would be able to fulfill the requirement in a variety of ways.

    “They can take an introductory one-semester course … or they can take any one of the current year-long offerings,” Antink said.

    According to the committee’s latest agenda, the committee expects to make its final recommendation in May and hopes to receive board approval on June 5.

    Antink added that the elementary and middle school subgroups of the committee are also implementing changes in the coming years.

    “Our exploration this semester will help inform our practice about how to make CS happen in the elementary schools,” Antink said. “In our middle schools, we know we can fit CS into three weeks of the CS Wheel exploration in sixth grade, and we are looking at some ways to include CS either in science, and maybe even in math.”

    Regardless of the committee’s final decision, Selwyn and Antink agreed that computer science classes will soon play a pivotal role in PAUSD education.

    “There will be changes to the way computer science is taught in this district,” Selwyn said.

    The committee’s next meeting will take place on March 26 at the district office.


    Following is a list of committee members and their positions from the committee’s website:

    Name Role Description Member in 2016-17?
    Amanda Gantley Elementary Teacher Addison & Palo Verde Elementary Schools Yes
    Katie Bramlett Elementary Teacher Addison Elementary School Yes
    Shirley Jou Elementary Teacher ELD specialist; El Carmelo Elementary Yes
    Colleen MacManus-Coburn Elementary Teacher Herbert Hoover Elementary School No
    Tom Jacoubowsky Elementary Principal Juana Briones Elementary School Yes
    Teri Gilbert Middle School Teacher CTE, Jordan MS Yes
    Erica Ng Middle School Teacher ELD Specialist, Jordan MS Yes
    Sarah Pierce Middle School Teacher, Math Dept Instructional Leader Math & Science, Jordan MS No
    Jaqui Kandell Middle School Teacher World Language, JLS MS No
    Marissa Ferrante Middle School Teacher Math, JLS MS No
    Eileen Chang Middle School Teacher Tech TOSA, Terman MS No
    David Rosenblatt Middle School Teacher CTE, Terman MS Yes
    Sue Pound Middle School Teacher CTE, Science, Jordan MS No
    Lisa Hickey Middle School Principal JL Stanford MS No
    Jess Hexsel High School Teacher CS & Math, Gunn HS Yes
    Josh Paley High School Teacher CS & Math, Gunn HS Yes
    Will Friebel High School Teacher CS & Math, Paly HS Yes
    Chris Kuszmaul High School Teacher CS & Math, Paly HS Yes
    Janice Chen High School Assistant Principal Paly HS No
    John Guibas High School Student 11th Grade, Gunn HS Yes
    Mallika Parulekar High School Student 10th Grade, Gunn HS Yes
    Arjan Mobin High School Student 12th Grade, Paly HS Yes
    Robbie Selwyn High School Student 11th Grade, Paly HS Yes
    Torin Secor Middle School Student 8th grade, JLS MS No
    Max Vroemen Middle School Student 8th grade, Jordan MS No
    Nina Li Middle School Student 7th grade, Terman MS No
    Smita Kolhatkar Community Representative Tech Expert for Hausner MS; Makers’ Space expert Yes
    Shuchi Grover Community Representative Stanford Researcher; CS Expert in SF USD CS Design Yes
    Tricia Kellison Community Representative CS Educator @ Girls’ Middle School Yes
    Avanika Narayan Adjunct Community Representative Stanford Student Yes
    Engin Bumbacher Adjunct Community Representative Stanford Education Researcher (MS Focus) No
    Chris Proctor Adjunct Community Representative Stanford Education Researcher (CS Focus) No
    TBD Parent Elementary student No
    Max Rayner Parent Elementary & MS students Yes
    Paolo Werbrouck Parent Middle School student Yes
    Cara Stoneburner Parent High School student No
    Suz Antink PAUSD Staff Secondary CCSS-M/CS TOSA Yes
    Emily Garrison PAUSD Staff Educational Technologies and Library Coordinator Yes
    Sharon Ofek PAUSD Staff Chief Academic Officer of Secondary Education Yes

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