Bill Would Let Students Substitute Programming Language for Foreign Language Requirement

ANNAPOLIS (March 8, 2019)—Middle and high school students in Maryland may be allowed to learn a programming language to fulfill foreign language requirements under a bill with bipartisan support that is scheduled to be heard Friday in the House Ways and Means committee.

House bill 1211 would add classes in computer programming languages as a means to receive foreign language credit, which currently applies to world languages, American Sign Language and advanced technology education.

The purpose of adding computer programming is to expand tech schools, said lead sponsor Delegate April Rose, R-Carroll.

"We really need these opportunities," that give students a chance to expose themselves to a career field that can be very rewarding, Rose said.

The legislation has been proposed in 2017 and 2018 to both the House and Senate, but did not pass the committees that reviewed it. This year, the legislation is co-sponsored by multiple Republicans and Democrats.

"Familiarity with computer languages is one of the few skills that can lead directly to high-paying jobs without the need for a 4-year degree," Jeffrey Jerome, chairman of a science and technology advisory panel for Baltimore County Schools, said in a written statement about last year's bill.

"This proposal provides accommodation for students of different abilities," who are "unable to process traditional foreign languages," Jerome said.

Members of the autism community are supportive of the bill, because those affected by autism often struggle with language, but excel with computers, Rose said.

However, opponents say not learning a foreign language would be detrimental to students' understanding of world culture and chances of getting into college.

While computer programming is important, "Maryland students need to be prepared to participate in the world community both inside and outside our borders," Public School Superintendents' Association of Maryland Executive Director Renee Spence said in a written statement for last year's bill.

The role of "Curriculum, courses of study or graduation requirements … belongs to local boards of education working together with the State Board of Education," not legislators, Spence said.

"While this bill does not increase existing requirements for high school students to obtain a diploma, it would severely limit college entrance competitiveness," Latisha Corey, president of the Maryland PTA said in written testimony for last year's bill.

Students who decide to use the option of learning a programming language for foreign language credit may be denied entry into Maryland's flagship university and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, an analysis of the bill said.

Rose said altering foreign language acceptance requirements is something both universities should think about changing, and stressed the bill would not require students to take a programming course, rather it would just create another option.

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