A bill that would allow high school students to take coding to meet the foreign language requirement of their curriculum has passed a Florida Senate committee.
The Senate Pre-K-12 Education Committee voted 8-2 on Dec. 3 to approve SB 468 for the annual legislative session that starts in January. Sen. Jeremy Ring, a Democrat from Margate, sponsored the bill.
Ring, a former Yahoo executive, said the bill would not call for coding to replace existing foreign language options, but would only add to students’ choices for meeting this requirement.
“We want to give our children a leg up, there’s no question,” he said.
Justin Dennison, who teaches at Gainesville Dev Academy, was an AP Computer Science teacher at Eastside High School. He incorporated HTML, Python, Java and other computer-coding languages into his class.
“It’s kind of like being dropped in a land where you cannot communicate with anything,” Dennison said. “Over time as you assimilate the language and get up to speed on the technical skills, you learn how to shape the digital world.”
Dennison thinks learning to code is an opportunity for students who are interested in technical fields to gain knowledge early on or simply to explore the field without having to take time in their days for electives.
“That is not to say that foreign languages are not engrossing and enlightening, but it does provide latitude for the schools and the students when it comes to making choices that can affect the rest of their lives,” he said.
Jackie Johnson, director of communications and community initiatives for Alachua County Public Schools, said an issue she hopes state legislators will consider is the availability of teachers to make sure schools can offer these classes.
“Honestly, these teachers could be making much more money working for the private sector,” she said.
Dennison said finding STEM teachers in any capacity is difficult.
“With the advance of new topics such as computer science and programming, that has become even more of an issue,” he said. “Not many people go to school to learn computer programming to become a school teacher. Their goal is to go work for Google or someone.”
An amendment was also included that required colleges and state universities to accept coding as a foreign language that fulfills their entrance requirements.
Johnson said there are still questions about how this move would apply to out-of-state institutions.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg, said other states would follow Florida’s leadership on the matter.
“If you want to exempt yourself from accepting students from the third largest state in the country, so be it,” Brandes said. “But as a college or university, I think you want our best and brightest just as much as we want to retain our best and brightest.”
Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Democrat from Lake Worth who voted against the bill, said he thinks the debate on the bill is not about coding, but rather about the role of public education.
“If we are focusing our education on getting a specific kind of job, we really are doing our kids a disservice,” he said.
Clemens said he believes learning to code is much more useful than speaking French to get a job after graduation, but that is not the goal of high school.
“I think this is more of a debate of whether they should replace one of the few requirements we have in our schools for a cultural education,” he said.
Janet Adkins, the House’s K-12 subcommittee chairwoman, introduced a House version this month, and the Senate bill still has to pass two more committees before it can be voted on during the upcoming legislative session.
If the bill becomes law, school districts would have to develop and submit to the state the plans for a computer-coding curriculum by Jan. 1, 2017.
“We can be the first state in America to do this, or we can be the 50th state in America to do this,” Jeremy Ring said. “It is going to happen.”