Learning computer code, using it to create programs and understanding how information is broken down and delivered by networks are just some of the dozens of computer science lessons that could be taught in Wyoming public schools.
However, the speed of creating statewide computer science and computational thinking standards isn’t exactly gigahertz per second.
Nearly 18 months have passed since then-Gov. Matt Mead signed a bill creating the standards. Since then, they have been written and rewritten. But for the past five months, the Wyoming State Board of Education has been in a holding pattern, waiting for Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill to opine about whether they could pass a constitutional challenge.
There’s no word yet from Hill, who didn’t return a message about why a formal opinion from her office is taking so long, or what that opinion will be.
On Friday, Wyoming education officials are to testify before the Joint Education Committee, meeting in Cheyenne, about their progress. The committee sponsored the 2018 bill that created the standards.
“We’d like to know what the delay is,” said Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, a committee chairman. “We’d like to know what was in the (request) to the attorney general and what the attorney general’s decision is because it could affect all standards in Wyoming.”
After the bill was signed, a committee of computer scientists, teachers and others looked at computer science education standards in other states – such as Oklahoma – and at recommendations by professional associations. They used those to create Wyoming’s proposed standards.
In January, the state school board sent the standards out for public comment. Elementary school teachers had concerns about learning the various new requirements when they have to teach other subjects as well. The committee returned to the drawing board between March and April.
The committee released another draft of the standards – some would be mandatory, some would support the mandatory standards but would not be mandatory, and some would be “enhanced,” which would also be optional.
Two Wyoming Attorney General office lawyers who advise the board were concerned that they were unconstitutional, since some school districts would be able to offer all the standards and others would only be able to offer the mandatory ones. The Wyoming Constitution requires public instruction to be “uniform.”
In June, the state board wrote a letter to Hill, asking her to study the issue and write a formal opinion.
“We believe that will help us — not just with computer science but with other requirements,” said Sue Belish, state board vice chair.
Lawmakers and education officials need Hill’s guidance because creating mandatory and supplementary standards could affect education in other subjects besides computer science.
Another likely delay
But even if Hill could clear up the board’s questions in short order, it may still take a while for computer science education to arrive in some Wyoming classrooms, said Astrid Northrup, an engineering professor at Northwest College in Powell.
Northrup, who is married to Rep. Northrup, was involved with efforts at the University of Wyoming to look at computer science teaching standards even before the effort was under way with the state board.
Some school districts, especially those already teaching computer science, will be ready to adapt to the standards. Others will have to catch up, she said. The Wyoming Professional Standards Teaching Board has computer science teaching criteria. It may be unrealistic, however, for elementary school teachers, she said.
“I think we have to lock that down,” she said. “I think that piece needs to be locked down in a realistic manner.”