What “CS for All” looks like in the Bold North.
By Renee Fall

May 17, 2019: We started on time. The people were nice. The coffee was strong. And we ate bars!

This is what it looks like when Minnesotans get together to work on a shared task, which on this day was bringing quality computer science education to all students across the state. As a recently returned Midwesterner, I was impressed with CSforAll MN’s first convening to start building its network. The group is a member of the Expanding Computing Education Pathways Alliance (ECEP) and is actively pursuing ECEP’s recommended four steps: (1) find leaders; (2) understand the landscape and policies; (3) gather and organize allies; (4) get funding to support change.

Three things impressed me most:

  1. MN has talented leaders. CSforAll MN’s steering committee has experience, a commitment to equity and access, and reach. Jen Rosato of the new National Center for Computer Science Education at the College of St. Scholastica; Cassandra Scharber, Lana Peterson, and Sarah Barksdale of the LT Media Lab at the University of Minnesota; and Andrea Wilson Vazquez, teacher and CodeSavvy director all knew how to make it happen.
  2. The MN CS education landscape is becoming clearer. With an aim to evolve this brief into a full report, CSforAll MN will rely on educational data from the MN Department of Education (MDE) and the Wilder Foundation’s Minnesota Compass STEM section. We got a preview from MDE’s Doug Paulson, director of academic standards and instructional effectiveness and former STEM specialist, and Wilder’s Jacob Wascalus.
  3. MN has plenty of allies. Teachers, school district leaders, university faculty, industry leaders, MDE staff, researchers and consultants, and representative of nonprofits, museums, and out-of-school time programs all turned out. I was impressed by teachers like Rochester’s John Bartucz, who travels to schools in his area to teach computing and lead tech clubs.  I loved Technovation MN, which had 87 teams of 350 MN girls building mobile apps as part of an international competition. And it’s great to see major companies like Medtronic and Clockwork that are committed to diversity in their tech workforces.

What are my hopes for CSforAll MN’s next act?

  1. Keep a focus on equity. With its already strong foundation, CSforAll MN can engage even more diverse stakeholders statewide. Equity also means greater transparency, which is vital for crafting policies and practices that will give all students the computing knowledge and skills they need today to be effective citizens.
  2. Measure what matters. Set goals tied to equity and gather data that show progress. Example performance measures might be the number of schools that teach computer science; or to what degree enrollment in CS classes reflect racial and ethnic diversity of the entire school; or the percentage of young women who earn college computing degrees.
  3. Gather resources. CSforAll MN can rely on the national network of ECEP leaders in 22 other states for advice and support. Many of those states are dedicating millions toward CS education efforts. More federal funding opportunities to support CS education are coming available. What philanthropic or industry partners in MN might want to join?

By the end of our day together, I felt that CSforAll MN’s first convening on a lovely May spring day had definitely lived up to our state’s image as the “Bold North.” Here was a collection of diverse, highly skilled and committed folks who want to work together and “throw caution to the wind-chill.”  I’m excited about what comes next!

Renee Fall is a researcher at the National Center for Computer Science Education at the College of St. Scholastica’s St. Paul campus. From 2012 to 2018, she co-led the Expanding Computing Education Pathways Alliance (ECEP), based at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.