Florida Rejects Bill Making Computer Coding an Alternative to Foreign Language

Published May 27, 2016

A Florida bill that would have allowed high school students to replace foreign language courses with computer coding classes was rejected in the state House after gaining strong favor in the state Senate.

Senate Bill 468 passed the Senate by a 35–5 vote, but it never came to a vote in the House. The bill would have authorized public high schools in the state to offer specialized coding courses and would have required Florida College System institutions and state universities to accept identified coding credits as foreign language credits.

‘Should at Least Be on the Menu’

William Mattox, director of the James Madison Institute’s Marshall Center for Educational Options, says the more choices students have, the better.

“Learning how to code is something that more and more people entering the workforce need to know, and it’s something that interests a lot of young people,” Mattox said. “It’s certainly not a course for everyone and in no way diminishes offering courses in computer science and in no way diminishes the importance of other things. But in an increasingly specialized marketplace, having specialized skills is increasingly important. For high school students, to have the option to take a computer coding course … makes a lot of sense. It should at least be on the menu.”

Students Missing Out?

A group of ethnic advocacy organizations issued a statement denouncing the bill.

The Florida chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Florida Conference and Miami-Dade branch, and the Spanish American League Against Discrimination issued a joint statement in which they said, “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.”

College-Level Precedent

Mattox says the opponents’ argument ignores well-established college policies in Florida.

“Here in Florida, there are two flagship universities, Florida State and the University of Florida,” Mattox said. “[They] require several courses in foreign language, but they do allow that to be covered by taking American sign language, and both schools allow communication majors to take business language courses rather than taking foreign language, if they wish. Given that we have a precedent at the college level for substituting computer science for foreign language, I don’t see it being very radical if we do that at the high school level.”

Mattox says some exposure to computer coding in high school would particularly benefit those students who want to study in one or more of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math fields.

Prefers Free-Market Alternative

Lennie Jarratt, education project manager for The Heartland Institute, which publishes School Reform News, says students and their parents should decide what classes the children take, not the state.

“This is where school choice comes into play,” Jarratt said. “More and more states are trying to push computer coding, and instead they should be allowing students to take any class they want to take. Having a free market could do this much better than the schools trying to push this through.

“I don’t see passing a coding bill as a real need, because there are a lot of places out there right now already training young people for technology with certifications,” said Jarratt. “There are a number of private-industry options for that training.”

Ashley Bateman ([email protected]) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.