Should computer coding class count as language?

Posted at 7:14 AM, Dec 04, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-04 07:14:08-05

Move over Spanish, French and Latin. Computer coding could be on the way.

A Senate committee Thursday approved a bill aimed at allowing high-school students to take computer-coding classes as an alternative to learning more-traditional foreign languages.

Bill sponsor Jeremy Ring, a Margate Democrat who is a former Yahoo executive, said the proposal would give Florida students a "true leg up" in the increasingly tech-driven world.

"We're not replacing foreign language,'' Ring told members of the Senate Education Pre-K-12 Committee. "We're saying computer language should be in the language initiatives, in the language disciplines."

The committee voted 8-2 to approve the bill (SB 468), which is filed for the annual legislative session that starts in January. But some committee members, including at least two who voted for the bill, expressed skepticism about making the change. Opposing the bill were Sen. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, and Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth.

Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who doubles as CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said he was concerned that adding computer coding would lead to schools dropping other programs. He pointed, in part, to limited amount of time in the school day.

"If you add something, something's going to fall out,'' said Montford, a former Leon County schools superintendent.

Sen. Nancy Detert, a Venice Republican and former member of the Sarasota County School Board, called the proposal "forward thinking." She said, however, she is afraid the state would not fully pay for it, which could force costs onto local school districts.

"I think this just screams unfunded mandate (to the local districts),'' she said.

The bill would require school districts to develop plans for computer-coding curriculums and submit them to the state by Jan. 1, 2017. Ultimately, it seeks to allow high-school students to learn computer coding to satisfy two credits of foreign-language instruction.

It remains unclear whether the bill will pass during the upcoming legislative session. A House version (HB 887) was filed Thursday by House K-12 Chairwoman Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, and Ring's measure would have to be approved by two more committees before it could reach the Senate floor.

But supporters argued, in part, that allowing students to take computer coding would help prepare them for jobs.

"We should be preparing kids to be successful in the world in which they live,'' Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, said.

Ring also was adamant that the proposal would not replace traditional foreign-language courses.

"It is not a replacement. It is optional,'' he said. "You can take French, and you can take Spanish."

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