To be clear, the problem isn't that the state rewards schools for promoting CTE programs in information technology, but rather the absence of a balancing computer science option. For comparison, the state has CTE programs that allow a student to become a dental assistant or pharmacy technician, but these paths don't displace foundational science for students who intend to become doctors or research scientists. Yet, if we handled health care like we do CS, then we would channel students to a service industry and abandon serious pre-med courses altogether. That would be ridiculous, of course — just as it is ridiculous to needlessly limit student options on computational sciences.
The second issue is that whether or not it can be used for graduation, Maryland gives no guidance on what ought to be a CS curriculum in the first place. In core areas such as English or algebra, students get consistent presentation of content because the state established clear curricular goals. Not so for CS. This is left to teachers to say what it might be. The result is a huge disparity in content between offerings and inequity in opportunity.
Put this in perspective. Maryland has a curriculum for teaching Earth-space systems, which is accepted for science credit. State-approved science courses thus prepare more students for interplanetary space travel than they do the computer scientists who would launch a craft in the right direction in the first place.
The third major issue is teacher credentialing. Not only does Maryland define no CS curriculum, but it gives little guidance on who can teach CS. In other topics, the state is pretty specific about degree obligations, and tests are required for a prospective teacher to demonstrate proficiency. There are no such tests for CS teachers. The only way to become licensed for secondary education in CS is to become licensed in another field, then take enough credit hours of computer classes — for which the state has no preference about content. This means two teachers having entirely non-overlapping coursework would be equally qualified in the state's eyes. The range of courses used to satisfy this obligation is huge.
Credentialing is even more problematic for CTE information technology instructors. The chief obligation is from the federal No Child Left Behind law, which requires secondary education instructors to have an advanced degree in the field of instruction. Math teachers thus have a college degree in mathematics, for example, in addition to education courses. But CTE programs are licensed under a catch-all "vocational education" certification. No computer exposure is required. This is why there is no policy violation when an instructor whose background is in food service teaches computer programming, as happens. It may be legitimate for NCLB and Maryland, but it doesn't give students the best advantage.
These three issues — nearsighted graduation requirements, lack of state guidance on CS curriculum and lax credentialing of teachers — account for the huge drop in high school enrollment in computer classes of any kind over the last five years, a time when the state had a crying need for leadership in computational fields. In the coming years, it will get worse. Schools will soon be pressured to expand CTE to emit workforce-ready cyber warriors — technicians with security training who will keep labor costs low for industries servicing large Department of Homeland Security contracts. This will come at the expense of preparing professionals to win contracts in the first place.
Sadly, we don't find alignment between state interests and higher education either. The recently adopted General Education requirements for my campus do not once use the word "computer," which means that the last official exposure most of our undergraduates receive before getting a college degree will be the tech familiarity credit that satisfied their high school obligation. Computation is a lens through which all scholars view fields anew, which is why institutions in other states increasingly mandate courses in computational thinking for all majors. Not so at Maryland's flagship campus.
And while my campus offers strong STEM education programs to specifically prepare high school teachers, the nearly decade-long effort to win approval of a CS education major remains administratively blocked. Maryland is simply not in the CS ed game.
Marylanders deserves far better from us. A little coordination among stakeholders would go a long way to reducing costs while expanding opportunities. Our state should offer a full spectrum of educational pathways in computational sciences.
James M. Purtilo is a professor in the Computer Science Department at the University of Maryland, College Park. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.