(PDF)
A Position of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
Question:
Should
mathematics course requirements for high school graduation be satisfied by computer
science courses?
NCTM Position
Ensuring
that students complete college and careerreadiness requirements in
mathematics is essential. Although knowledge of computer science is also
fundamental, a computer science course should be considered as a substitute for
a mathematics course graduation requirement only if the substitution does not
interfere with a student’s ability to complete core readiness requirements in
mathematics. For example, in states requiring four years of mathematics courses
for high school graduation, such a substitution would be unlikely to adversely
affect readiness. Further, courses designated as mathematics courses should
include only those designed explicitly to teach mathematics, with clear
mathematical learning goals guiding the content, and taught by professionals
certified to teach mathematics, while courses addressing computer science
content should be labeled and counted as computer science courses and should be
taught by professionals certified to teach such content.

Access to computer science can be beneficial to
students’ future success. Computer science should be incorporated into the
curriculum in a way that enhances, rather than limits, students’ college and
career readiness in mathematics and other disciplines. Although modern definitions of computer science recognize
similarities, connections, and intersections between the fields of computer
science and mathematics, it is widely agreed, especially by computer scientists
and mathematicians, that computer science is not a subfield of mathematics, or
vice versa.
When
considering whether computer science courses should count toward core mathematics
requirements for high school graduation, administrators and policymakers should
address a fundamental question: How would a policy of accepting such
substitutions affect students’ college and career readiness in mathematics? Allowing
high school students to fulfill a core mathematics requirement by completing a
course that moves them off the path of full mathematical college and career
readiness upon high school graduation is unacceptable. “Readiness” is typically
defined as full preparation for successful completion of a college or
vocational program without the need for remedial, often noncredit bearing,
courses. Operationally,
in most states, mathematical readiness minimally entails successful completion
of a threecourse mathematics requirement leading through an updated Algebra 2
or Integrated Mathematics 3 course. Allowing a computer science course to substitute for a
mathematics course in states with a graduation requirement of only two
mathematics courses (beginning with Algebra 1 or the equivalent) would surely undermine
students’ mathematics preparation, while doing so in states that require four
mathematics courses would be unlikely to have an adverse impact on college and
career readiness in mathematics.
Currently,
more than 25 states and the District of Columbia allow computer science courses
to satisfy either a mathematics or a science course requirement. The number of
states allowing computer science to count toward graduation credit in these
fields is increasing, and ongoing efforts to expand the core requirements for
high school graduation will make it more difficult for students to acquire the
mathematical knowledge to be college and career ready unless the number of
required mathematics courses protects math readiness even in the case of the
substitution of a computer science course for a mathematics course. Although
computer science classes have great value for students and may help reinforce
some mathematical skills and processes, computer science course options should
not be expanded at the expense of mathematics course opportunities that build
the required mathematical foundation for college and career readiness.
Furthermore,
the content of any course should determine the qualifications of the professional
assigned to teach it. If a course is primarily a computer science course, with
some connections to mathematical content, it should be considered a
computerscience course and taught by a professional who is certified to teach
such a course. If, however, a course is primarily and fundamentally a
mathematics course with computer science content introduced in support of
mathematics learning goals, it should be taught by a mathematicscertified
teacher.
References
Computer Science and
Mathematics Graduation Requirements. (March
2015). Discussion paper for the Board of Directors developed by the Emerging
Issues Committee of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
NCTM position statements define a particular problem, issue, or need and describe its relevance to mathematics education. Each statement defines the Council's position or answers a question central to the issue. The NCTM Board of Directors approves position statements.