A proposed amendment changing the vehicle for state Del. April Rose’s legislation to give Maryland public school students more opportunities to pursue coding courses could be an avenue forward for otherwise heavily opposed bills.
Rose, R-District 5 (Carroll County), introduced one bill that would authorize county boards of education to allow computer programming language courses to satisfy a student’s foreign language graduation requirement. The other would allow computer science or programming courses to satisfy a student’s science requirement.
“My hope,” Rose told the Times, is that by enabling counties to allow these classes to be taught hopefully at public schools rather than dedicated career and technology centers, “it will provide more access to all of our students to have exposure to these classes that really provide true workforce skills.”
Opponents of HB 1211, which would allow the coding for foreign language substitution, came out in droves. Despite coding, programming and computer science being of paramount importance for the future, considering the field an equal substitute for world language is misguided, they argued.
“The key point here is that computer programming is deeply valuable, no question,” David Steiner, a member of the Maryland Board of Education and professor at Johns Hopkins University, told lawmakers on the House Ways and Means Committee Friday. “We should be providing students with the opportunity to study computer programming in this day and age …
“What we oppose is knocking out one value in order to replace it with another.”
Rose maintains the legislation is not crafted as an attack on world languages, it’s meant to offer an alternative. Her bill doesn’t mandate school boards to authorize computer courses as language satisfiers, it gives them the option, she added. “I think that anything that we can do to expand opportunities in different arenas to different kids as young as possible, the better off they will be.”
Numerous statewide education organizations, some of which opposed Rose’s coding-foreign language credit bill in years past, submitted written testimony rejecting the legislation. The Maryland State Department of Education, the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland, the Maryland State Board of Education, the Maryland Association of Boards of Education all requested the committee issue an unfavorable report — effectively killing the bill.
It’s about more than the language, Steiner and others said.
“Do we take diversity seriously as a society?” Steiner asked. “We give it a lot of rhetorical support, but the study in depth of a foreign language is one of the most serious, substantive and cognitively enhancive ways in which diversity can actually be enabled and enacted. It’s the most effective way students can experience a truly different culture, a way of life, a world view.”
While Steiner and other proponents acknowledged the burgeoning computer industry, and many job opportunities therein, the increasingly global economy rewards speaking a second or third language, he said. “From the early contact with prospective clients abroad to negotiating contracts, speaking the native language of one’s customers and clients.”
A handful of foreign language teachers from around the state decried what they said they saw as an attempt to diminish world language education.
“It would only be a valid substitution if computer programming and codes were, in fact, the same as a natural language … coding is not a natural language,” Adam Kauffman, chairman at Mount Saint Joseph High School, told committee members. “Natural language is inherently connected to a culture, forcing us to broaden our perspectives and see other peoples, their histories, traditions and literatures.”
People don’t converse with Python or Java (common coding languages), he added.
Proponents of the bill didn’t argue the validity of learning a foreign language, but acknowledged that public school students who are inclined with computers — or who struggle with languages — to pursue their strengths.
Adell Cothorne, an instructor at Loyola University Maryland, said in written testimony that her son was diagnosed with language processing issues and struggled mightily with Spanish class, while excelling in STEM and computer-related courses.
“Please understand that while I support foreign language instruction,” Cothorne wrote, citing her having taken German and Latin in public school growing up, “some students will NEVER be successful in this type of instruction due to their learning needs.”
The Maryland State Education Association, which represents 74,000 educators and school employees, agreed with opposing testimony that coding for foreign language was not a fair swap. But they proposed a solution.
“Math is a more proximal substitution,” Tina Dove, a MSEA lobbyist, told lawmakers. “It is not a language, per se, in the way that, French, Spanish, (American Sign Language) are.”
The organization proposed an amendment changing the bill to authorize a local school board to allow a student to satisfy a state or county middle or high school math requirement by completing a course in computer programming.
Rose said at the bill hearing Friday that she was amenable to the amendment.
Steiner, the state school board member, said he was in favor of the amendment and that he’d run the amendment by the rest of the board.
“I really hope that through these bills that we are able to increase the opportunity for all of our kids to take these (coding) classes if they would like to,” Rose concluded.