In today’s climate of what seems to be endless government gridlock, the recent work on the new Computer Science Content and Performance Standards is a testament to how government should be.
The State Board of Education took public comment in March and heard strong arguments for the adoption of the standards as they were originally written and also heard strong arguments for the modification of the standards. The hardest part, from my perspective, was that both constituencies were right. Robust computer science standards are needed to prepare our students for a new world that is becoming more automated and computer-controlled, yet on the other hand, we as a state, are asking our K-5 educators to do more – when we already ask them to do too much. The votes in March revealed a board that was not in a 100 percent agreement on the next course of action – immediate adoption, or a reworking of the standards. Eventually, we supported the idea to have the standards writing committee take another look at the standards with an eye toward making them more accessible and focused for K-5 educators. The board vocally, and fiscally, supported the committee by designating additional dollars to support another convening of the standards committee. Driving home from that SBE meeting, I was able to reflect on the beautiful display of civics in action. Even though there was not 100 percent agreement on any of the votes to send the standards back for review and reworking, each board member wrestled with the issue free from political grandstanding or from a partisan agenda. I was confident that each trustee was simply weighing the issue from their perspective, and striving to do what was best for Wyoming.
The display of civic participation was only getting started. I had the immense honor to watch the Computer Science Standards Committee work through the document again. If the State Boards of Education’s partisan-free voting was a small spring shower of civics in action, then the two days of work from the Computer Science Standard Committee was a torrential downpour of the power and importance of civic engagement.
Nearly 20 volunteers with an interest in Computer Science from around the state found additional time to serve the state on short notice. They had already given freely of their time to write robust and comprehensive standards and we, the board, asked them to “try again.” Over the course of two days, different small teams – and then the entire committee – worked through the 16 standards and 41 benchmarks in grades K-5 and deliberated on each benchmark to determine their value for Wyoming students. Countless votes were held to assign priority to the standards. Like the board, there was not always immediate agreement. Again, each member of the team was simply weighing the issue and striving to do what they thought was best for Wyoming. What was beautiful and awe-inspiring was how the committee listened to one another and worked to embrace the perspective of the K-5 teacher who might not have his or her own familiarity with Computer Science, while ensuring that Wyoming students would still receive the Computer Science education they deserve. In the end, 100 percent consensus on new user-friendly formatting and 13 priority standards were identified in the K-5 grades.
I believe that a better balance between the need for computer science instruction and recognizing the realities of K-5 educators was achieved. The State Board of Education heard the public comments and asked the standards committee to address them. The committee took our request and worked amazingly hard to meet it. At both levels, civil discussion and deliberation were the calling cards of the work. We are the only ones who have sought to balance preference and practicality, and we did it by truly listening to each other, working together, and striving for the best. The standards are now out for public comment. So if you are reading this and call Wyoming home please add your voice.