November 24, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Florida Lawmaker Suggests Students Be Allowed to Swap Foreign Language for Coding

HTML_travelerSenator Jeremy Ring (D) wants all students in Florida to learn how to code, so much so that he proposed a bill that would allow them to fulfill the foreign language requirement with coding classes.

“For students who may not succeed in traditional foreign language due to speech problems or other issues, this is another way to check off the foreign language requirement,” says Joel Ramos, senior legislative assistant for Ring’s office based in Margate, FL. “But it’s completely up to the school district if they wanted to offer it.”

Florida’s students currently have to take two years of a foreign language if they wish to be accepted to one of Florida’s universities or colleges and also to be eligible for the Bright Futures Scholarship Program, a merit-based award for graduating students, says Cheryl Etters, deputy director of communications for the Florida Department of Education.

Ring’s bill, SB 468, would have required Florida’s universities and colleges to accept coding classes as credit for foreign language, she says.

Although SB 468 did not pass before the legislative session in Florida ended last month, this is not the first time the idea of replacing foreign language classes with coding has been introduced in school districts and states.

As emphasis on STEM grows, many legislatures want to push these classes in K-12 programs, as has been done in New Mexico and Kentucky, among other states.

For many educators and others, coding is certainly a skill they’d like students to comprehend. Yet they believe substituting a core class, like foreign language, for coding is not the right route. The NAACP’s Florida State Conference and the Spanish American League Against Discrimination stated as much in February, even as they noted that students do need tech skills to succeed today.

“However, to define coding and computer science as a foreign language is a misleading and mischievous misnomer that deceives our students, jeopardizes their eligibility to admission to universities, and will result in many losing out on the foreign language skills they desperately need even for entry level jobs in South Florida,” says the group in a joint statement.

Ring’s passion for coding and technology stem from his days at Yahoo, says Ramos. Ring reportedly opened Yahoo’s first East Coast office and earned his fortune as an early hire.

Ramos says that Ring never wanted to force the swap, but adding coding as a requirement would potentially add more time to the school day. Instead, he’d hoped to find a way to bring coding classes to students without disrupting their schedule.

“That was why we made this optional,” says Ramos. “When we floated the idea, everyone thought we were trying to kill French or German or foreign language, and that was in no way, shape, or form the intent.”

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Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at www.laurenbarack.com.

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