7 reasons FL push to make coding a foreign language is a bad idea

 ROSA CASTRO FEINBERG

 By: Rosa Castro Feinberg, Ph.D

The issue: SB 468/HB 887 – awarding foreign language credit for coding classes. To urge lawmakers to oppose this effort click here.

1. Should Florida mislead students, parents, employers, institutions of higher education and the general public by awarding foreign language credit for completion of coding classes?  No. Coding “languages” are not human languages. While coding “languages” may be in use in many countries, they are not used to communicate with other people or to connect with the history and culture of other people. They are used to tell computers and other devices what to do.

Even when coding experts communicate with each other through journals such as the International Journal of Information and Coding Theory, International Journal of People-Oriented Programming,  Science of Computer Programming, and Computer Languages, Systems and Structures, they do not write their articles in coding languages. They follow the directions provided in the journals’ author guidelines to use a specified human language.

 Public opinion: Both are necessary and neither is equivalent to the other:

Miami-Dade County schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho explains that technology and globalism are both necessary.  “We cannot approach the importance of computer science and foreign language as an either-or proposition,” Carvalho said. “I absolutely disagree with the proposition that computer coding is an equal substitute — an equal and necessary substitute — for foreign language.”

Superintendent Carvalho’s position is fully supported by the results of a statewide poll conducted by the University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research. The survey found strong support from every region of the state for requiring both foreign language and computer skills instruction in Florida’s public schools. 

Editorials from Tampa, Orlando, Tallahassee, Gainesville, and Palm Beach caution against sacrificing foreign languages for technology.

Minority concerns

The frustration of community members who believe their children do not have sufficient opportunity to prepare for careers in an economy based on both technology and globalism is evident in the following statement by Stephen Hunter Johnson, Chair, Miami-Dade County Black Affairs Advisory Board:

 That said, the need to make minority students — especially African-American students — bilingual is of the utmost importance. Educators should make every effort to find a cost-effective way to teach our students the skills necessary for their success.

Miami-Dade County’s importance in the global economy and its proximity and cultural affinity to Latin America make it a no-brainer that the school district must make sure that our students are given the opportunity to be competitive in the workplace and business arena.

 It has become increasingly clear in this age of computer literacy and our dependence on the Internet that methods of teaching a second language could be linked so that all students have access to becoming bi-literate and bilingual.  

To award foreign language credit when none was earned would be counterproductive, confusing and deceptive.

2. Is the position that coding is not a foreign language held only by foreign language teachers fearful of the creation of disadvantage for their students or of losing their jobs due to enrollment drips if this bill is implemented? No.

Computer science educators, technology industry leaders, and foreign language educators and advocates hold that position. In an article published in Code.org’s blog titled “Computer Science is Not a Foreign Language” the State Policy and Advocacy Manager for Code.org points out an important difference between natural and computer languages:

Is the position that coding is not a foreign language held only by foreign language teachers fearful of the creation of disadvantage for their students or of losing their jobs due to enrollment drips if this bill is implemented? No.

 “Although we use the term “programming language” to refer to C++, Java, Python, and so on, these aren’t natural languages. Spanish has a vocabulary of 10,000 words, with a consistent grammatical and sentence structure. In contrast, a typical computing language has a vocabulary of about 100 words, and the real work is learning how to put these words together to build a complex program.’’

 The same article goes on to explain that computer science fits within the disciplines of math and science and that there is widespread support for computer science as a math or science credit. “17 states and Washington, DC have adopted policies allowing Advanced Placement (AP) or rigorous computer science to count toward a mathematics or science credit. And at least five states are already moving to adopt this policy. Code.org and Computing in the Core, along with Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Facebook, the College Board, the Computer Science Teachers Association and numerous other organizations, support a policy allowing computer science to count toward mathematics or science graduation requirements.”

3. Can SB 468/HB 887 be implemented easily?  No.

In “Why Counting CS as a Foreign Language Credit is a Bad Idea”, the Computer Science Teachers Association elaborates on the principle that computer science is more than merely coding and identifies implementation problems associated with the recently enacted Texas law that is similar to SB 468/HB 887. Those problems include course proliferation, pathway confusion, and selection of a computer language. 

Code.org adds departmental and teacher certification issues to the list of implementation problems. “The idea that foreign language teachers will end up instructing students in computer science may seem unlikely, yet departmental and teacher credentialing conflicts have arisen in districts that allow computer programming to count as a foreign language.”

Senator Dwight Bullard cited problems from last year’s testing cycle that demonstrate that school district hardware and infrastructure needs are still unmet. Senator Nancy Detert raised concerns about unfunded mandates.

“Though Miami-Dade has among the most computers per student in South Florida — the district has one computer for every three students compared with one for every five students in Broward — mandating computer coding as an alternative to foreign language would still require a significant investment, Miami-Dade County schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said. That investment would come on top of $200 million spent on technology after voters passed a massive bond issue in 2012.”

4. Can SB 468/HB 887 be implemented easily?  No. Since Florida doesn’t allow computer science to count toward mathematics or science graduation requirements, don’t we need to pass SB 468/HB 887 to increase the number of students prepared for technology jobs? No. Florida DOES allow computer science to count toward mathematics or science graduation requirements. According to the Code. Org review of state status on computer science, Florida already allows computer science to count for a core graduation requirement.

Existing Florida law permits courses with industry certification for which there is a statewide college credit articulation agreement approved by the State Board of Education to satisfy credits in math or science required for high school graduation.

                1003.4282 Requirements for a standard high school diploma.—b) Four credits in mathematics. A student who earns an industry certification for which there is a statewide college credit articulation agreement approved by the State Board of Education may substitute the certification for one mathematics credit. Substitution may occur for up to two mathematics credits, except for Algebra I and Geometry.

 (c) Three credits in science.— A student who earns an industry certification for which there is a statewide college credit articulation agreement approved by the State Board of Education may substitute the certification for one science credit, except for Biology I.

The list of Statewide Articulation Agreements approved by the State Board of Education includes courses in computer science.

Since computer science courses that include but are not limited to instruction in coding are already available to Florida’s students as electives and can be used to satisfy graduation requirements in math and science, there is no need for this SB 468/HB 887.  

 5. The result of exempting students who take coding classes from higher education requirements for study of human languages will be a reduction in enrollment in those classes. Will Florida’s economy be better off if foreign language enrollment goes down?  No. In editorial comments on SB 468/HB 887 from the Tampa Bay Times, Gainesville Sun, Sunshine State News, Orlando Sentinel, the Palm Beach Post and the Tallahassee Democrat, legislators have been cautioned not to detract from foreign language enrollment because of the importance of multilingualism to Florida’s economy and society.  Given the limited number of electives in Florida high schools, granting foreign language credit for unrelated coding courses will lead to enrollment shifts.

Support for that concern is demonstrated by data compiled by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, Bureau of Labor Market Statistics, to compare Florida statewide employment projections for occupations that often require foreign language fluency and those that involve computer coding.  

 There many more current and projected Florida jobs that require foreign languages, and the salary range is also greater, including some at the lower part of the range that require no more than some high school education.

 ​According to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity​, “every computer coding-related occupation in the  Standard Occupational Classification (SOC​)​ system requires post-secondary education.”  

Therefore, the job projections mentioned in previous debate on SB 468/HB 887  are not relevant to immediate job prospects for students who take coding classes only in high school.

However, even a limited amount of proficiency in a World Language is an asset in finding a job and for career advancement, according to Dr. R. G. Rumbaut. He found that bilingualism reduced dropout rates, raised occupational status (that is, individuals achieved higher ranks in their jobs), and increased earnings. As the level of bilingualism increased, the benefits also increased, but even limited bilingualism produced a significant wage premium.

 Source: “English Plus: Exploring the Socioeconomic Benefits of Bilingualism in Southern California,” by R. G. Rumbaut, in R. M. Callahan and P. C. Gándara (Eds.), The Bilingual Advantage, Language, Literacy, and the U.S. Labor Market, 2014, Bristol, England: Multilingual Matters. Copyright 2014 by R. M. Callahan and P. C. Gándara.

 According to the National Research Council, Americans’ “pervasive lack of knowledge about foreign cultures and foreign languages threatens the security of the United States as well as its ability to compete in the global marketplace and produce an informed citizenry.” Business leaders agree. A McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) Report “The World at Work: Jobs, Pay and Skills for 3.5 Billion People” found that worldwide, 40 percent of job growth in advanced markets like the U.S. is going to foreign nationals because of language skills and cross-cultural competency.

6.  Are Florida’s foreign language requirements unfair to students with speech disorders? No. Alternatives and waivers exist for students whose speech disorders would present barriers to their success with instruction in spoken languages.

Alternatives: According to State Board of Education rule, students may opt to study ASL [American Sign Language] instead of a modern foreign language, or a classical language. 

6A-10.02412 Foreign Language Competence and Equivalence.

Completion of a postsecondary course at the elementary 2 level in one (1) foreign language or American Sign Language (ASL) shall be considered to produce the competence specified in subsection (1) herein.

 (1) The competence to be demonstrated by students upon successful completion of two (2) credits of secondary instruction in one (1) foreign language is:

(b) Classical languages.

  1. The ability to read and understand materials ranging from low to medium levels of difficulty; that is, adapted text.
  2. The ability to give a reasonably accurate account of the contents of the reading material by answering questions, paraphrasing, translating, or summarizing. 

Waivers:   According to Florida Board of Governors regulations, requirement waivers are also available for students with disabilities.

(i) Any FTIC student with a disability shall be eligible for reasonable substitution or modification of any requirement for admission pursuant to BOG Regulation 6.018.

6.018 Substitution or Modification of Requirements for Program Admission, Undergraduate Transfer, and for Graduation by Students with Disabilities.

7. Does the legislature have the authority to require public institutions of higher education to accept coding classes to satisfy their foreign language requirements? No. According to the House of Representatives Staff Analysis, HB 887, January 15, 2016:

 “The bill requires state universities to “recognize the [computer coding] credits as foreign language credits” for purposes of demonstrating foreign language competency. This provision likely infringes upon the State University System (SUS) Board of Governors’ (BOG) constitutional responsibility to govern admissions to SUS institutions, as confirmed by the SUS Governance Agreement and in statute. ..

 However, the Legislature is without authority to govern admissions requirements for SUS institutions. “

Does the legislature have the authority to require public institutions of higher education to accept coding classes to satisfy their foreign language requirements? No. According to the House of Representatives Staff Analysis,, HB 887, January 15, 2016:

As noted by Code.org, “ If computer science is counted as a foreign language credit toward high school graduation, students who take it as a replacement for a spoken language may fail to be accepted into colleges and universities that require traditional spoken foreign language credits as entrance requirements.” 

 The Higher Education Coordinating Council would be unlikely to find “High school courses in computer science, including computer coding and computer

programming, which may be used to satisfy state university admissions requirements for foreign language”  since coding courses do not address a similar range of objectives. Foreign language objectives include cross-cultural communication, the history and culture of the people who speak the target language, and language skills.

 As pointed out by Code.org in its issue brief, “Spanish has a vocabulary of 10,000 words, and a very consistent grammatical and sentence structure. In contrast, a typical computing language has a vocabulary of about 100 words”.

Notifying students to contact any out of state or private post-secondary institution to which the student is applying and inquire whether the course credit satisfies any of the institution’s admissions requirements imposes an unreasonable burden on youngsters, many of whom have not selected their preferred colleges as early as the 10th or 11th grades.  

 If SB 468/HB 887 is implemented, Florida students will be at a disadvantage if their goal is admission to a private or out of state institution.  Since bill provisions that seek to provide access to Florida’s public institutions of higher education exceed the legislature’s authority, students who receive foreign language credit for coding classes could well be foreclosed from admittance to any college or university.  This would be a terrible disservice to our students and very poor public policy.

Author guidelines for the cited journals: http://www.inderscience.com/info/inauthors/author_mp.php,http://www.igi-global.com/publish/resources/journal-guidelines-for-submission.pdfhttp://webshop.elsevier.com/languageediting/, ​https://www.elsevier.com/journals/computer-languages-systems-and-structures/1477-8424/guide-for-authors#14000 .

Rosa Castro Feinberg, Ph. D. is a retired ​Associate Professor at Florida International University and the current Government and Media Relations Subcommittee, League of Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Florida State Education Committee.

 

 

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