UW launches justice-focused endorsement for computer science teachers

Thursday, September 17, 2020

University of Washington researchers and teacher educators are launching a new partnership to prepare computer science teachers who position young people to understand and shape the impacts of computing on their communities.

The UW will create the first justice-focused computer science endorsement program for aspiring and practicing teachers in the state with funding from a $1 million National Science Foundation grant to the UW’s College of Education, Information School and Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering. The team will work closely with Shoreline and Highline school districts to design the program and study its impacts.

The grant will support UW researchers as they partner with practicing teachers to write a new, justice-focused computer science curriculum that reframes computer science content knowledge in the Computer Science Teachers Association standards in justice terms. The team also will co-design four new teacher education courses on computer science teaching methods, assessment, justice and equity, and a teaching field experience. Throughout, the research team will investigate changes in teachers’ critical consciousness of computing and society, and how their own changes influence their choices in the classroom.

iSchool Professor Amy Ko, the principal investigator of the grant and director of the advocacy group CS for All Washington, said, “Teachers are essential to developing critical consciousness about information, computing and society among youth. This grant will help us prepare outstanding, justice-focused CS teachers, while also advancing our understanding of how to prepare teachers for this challenging work.” 

The effort, which will also focus on diversifying the CS teaching workforce, will prepare approximately 15 secondary teachers annually with a computer science teaching endorsement.

Offering the endorsement is essential, said Anne Beitlers, principal investigator and director of the UW’s Secondary Teacher Education Program, with Washington requiring that every school district have at least one high school offering an elective computer science course by the 2022-23 school year.

“All youth need access to justice-focused computer science curriculum that includes not only an understanding of the mechanics of computing, but also the societal implications when decisions are made around design in computing,” Beitlers said. 

The UW’s program, which will be open to both pre-service and in-service teachers, will also work to support CS teacher communities in their careers, connecting them with other justice-focused computer science educators in the region. Each cohort of graduates is expected to teach more than 1,200 students per year.

"One of the biggest challenges in expanding access to computer science has been the shortage of well-prepared teachers, especially in historically marginalized schools and communities,” said Brett Wortzman, an assistant teaching professor in the Allen School who will teach in the new program. “Offering this endorsement, especially with the unique focus on justice and equity, will be a tremendous step towards the goal of making computer science accessible to all students."

Knowledge developed at the UW will be further extended by sharing with teacher education programs in Washington and across the country.

Learn more about the project, team and funders at https://criticalcsed.org/.