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Arkansas Spends Millions to Implement Computer Science Courses

November 21, 2017

The state of Arkansas is spending $5 million to fund computer science (CS) initiatives in public school classrooms through 2019.

“In the spring of 2015, Gov. [Asa] Hutchinson worked with Arkansas legislators to pass Act 187, requiring that at least one high-quality CS course be offered in every public high school in the state,” Code.org reported in September 2016. “This legislation was the first of its kind in the [United States]. The governor then sealed the state’s commitment to CS by allocating $5 million to the effort, providing necessary funding that is often missing from educational initiatives. During the 2015-16 school year (the first year of implementation), the state focused on building teacher and school capacity for CS through grants.”

State administrators assembled a task force to create K-12 CS state standards, which Arkansas adopted in January 2016. The 74million.org, an education news website, reported in September 2017 the standards “are expected to be implemented in every elementary and middle school in the 2017–18 school year, whether in separate computer science classes or incorporated into the normal curriculum.”

‘Every Kid Learns Uniquely’

State Rep. Jim Dotson (R-Bentonville) sponsored a failed bill in spring 2017 to establish education savings accounts in Arkansas. Dotson says parents, not the state, should decide what topics their children learn, through their choice among education options.

“The parents are the ones who are closest to their child and know their unique needs, talents, learning styles, and that sort of thing,” Dotson said. “So for a parent to be able to customize the educational component for their child’s needs to tailor-fit how they can best learn and grow to fulfill their individual potential, it’s a much better route to [put] the money under the control of the person who is going to be receiving the benefit.

“My school choice efforts have been to try to put the decision-making power into the hands of the folks who oversee the educational life of a student,” Dotson said. “Every kid learns uniquely.”

Crowding Out Other Subjects?

Jane Robbins, a senior fellow at the American Principles Project, says initiatives focused so intensely on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) threaten other important subjects.

“[The education establishment] has decided that everything about education should be geared toward workforce training and STEM,” Robbins said. “The idea of teaching everyone computer science and coding and all of that starting as soon as they’re out of diapers is a fairly new concept, but it’s gaining popularity. That seems to be connected to this program in Arkansas.

“There’s certainly nothing wrong with making sure that kids have some knowledge of computers and that kind of thing,” Robbins said. “The problem is, that mindset crowds out everything else. It crowds out the humanities, English, history, and even science. With the next-generation science standards, they’re not really even teaching science anymore. It’s all to develop these technical skills in kids, many of whom aren’t interested.”

‘Forces and Funnels Kids’

Robbins says programs like the one Arkansas is promoting are the results of “educrats” “aligned with corporations, politicians, and politically connected companies” using children for their own agendas.

“When the education establishment allies with the political establishment and the corporate establishment to make these decisions, it really forces and funnels kids into an area that might be really wrong for them,” Robbins said. “If you leave it to parents and local school districts, then they can decide what they want to do. They can decide how much weight to give that part of the curriculum.

Empowering Local Authorities

Robbins says the best approach to education policy is to empower local entities.

“I think what they need to do is devolve as much authority as they can to the local system, because as long as they’re trying to make these decisions on statewide levels, then somebody has to decide what’s important, and it’s probably not going to be parents,” Robbins said. “If they do it on the local level, then each school district decides what to offer, with lots of parental involvement.”

Elizabeth BeShears (liz.erob@gmail.com) writes from Trussville, Alabama.

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Elizabeth BeShears writes from Trussville, Alabama.
liz.erob@gmail.com