Florida Senate Approves Bill to Treat Coding as Foreign Language

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The Florida Senate has approved a proposal that would allow high school students to count coding classes for their foreign language requirement, though some have raised questions about whether they are truly equivalent.

Democratic Senator Jeremy Ring’s bill (SB 468) passed by a 35-5 vote. If it gets approved by the House and becomes law, it would take effect in the 2018-2019 school year, reports Kristen M. Clark of the Miami Herald. Many other states are looking into similar policy changes to increase access to and reach of computer science-related education.

Ring, a former Yahoo! executive, said:

With this bill, we’re putting a stamp on it: Florida is a technology leader in this country. We are truly, in this state, pioneering something that I believe will be a very significant trend.

The proposal is considered a priority by tech companies including Motorola Solutions, which gave legislators $88,500 between July and January. Microsoft Chairman John Thompson also expressed support for the bill, believing that it may help inspire more kids to enter STEM fields, according to Sherrel Stewart of WBHM.

Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, the sponsor of the House’s version of the bill, also notes that the policy could be good for students with dyslexia or other conditions that makes learning foreign languages unfairly challenging.

Florida’s public colleges and universities would also be required to accept these coding credits towards foreign language requirements for admission. Students and their parents who take the coding classes would be required to sign a waiver acknowledging that other higher education institutions might not accept these credits, according to Scott Travis of the Sun Sentinel.

However, the bill is not without its critics. Some worry that it would rob students of a valuable cultural education.

Democratic Senator Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth voted against the bill, saying that he believes that coding is not a foreign language and that it falls squarely under the umbrella of computer science. He said:

This debate is not about coding. It’s about whether or not we value culture and whether or not we value foreign language as a means to teach that.

Ring agrees that foreign languages are important, but that they should be taught in the early grades when kids’ brains are in an ideal state of development for learning new languages. In high school, he says, they should be focusing more on career skills like coding.

Others note that underfunded school districts, many of which are already lacking in computer science teachers, would fall behind because of a lack of technology resources. The bill includes no provisions to fund these classes.

Democratic Senator Dwight Bullard of Cutler Bay, who is also a high school Social Studies teacher, is one of the five who opposed the bill. He said:

What I’m fearful of is now we’re at a place where certain students in certain ZIP codes may not have access to those kinds of classes because they may have antiquated equipment.

Ring has answered these criticisms by syncing up his bill with a similar proposal (HB 887) and removing the requirement that schools provide the computer coding classes. Instead, districts can help students take the courses through the Florida Virtual School.