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Ring's Coding Bill Clears Senate On 35-5 Vote, Heads To House

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Democratic Senator Jeremy Ring is determined to get coding before more Florida public school students. Now his plan is now heading to the House after the Senate voted to approve it on a 35-5 vote Wednesday. 

It’s not what Margate Democrat Jeremy Ring is trying to do. Most people, including fellow Democratic Senator Jeff Clemens, say getting more kids to learn coding is a good thing. But Clemens is concerned about how Ring is going about doing it.

“For some things, when you get past Algebra 1 or Geometry, the vast majority of our society is not going to use those skills. Having said that, I understand there’s not chance this amendment is going to pass today. But I was looking for an alternative because I understand what Senator Ring is trying to accomplish here, I just disagree with how he’s accomplishing it.”  Clemens said.

The issue—whether coding should substitute for a foreign language over a higher level math: has generated some of the most heated debate over the bill. Early on Linda Markley with the Florida Foreign Language Association spoke out against it.

“Coding is not the same as world languages. Even coding.org, the national organization for computer coding, doesn’t agree with that trend. They state that computer coding is to computer science and spelling is to writing poetry," she said.

Markley cited a two-year-old blog post on Code.org. And while it may be a stretch to say the organization doesn’t support the idea, blog author and policy director Amy Hirotaka argued while coding is a language of sorts, it’s more of a math or science. She writes, "code is more a tool to interact with computers to make your ideas come to life."

Several states are pushing bills like Florida’s. Some do allow coding to substitute for a higher level math, like trigonometry, or calculus. Others, like Florida are looking at the foreign language substitution. And Ring argues, “whatever profession we choose…if you don’t have certain technology skills you will be left behind today. It is a basic skill.”

Changes to the bill allow schools to choose whether to offer coding. And there are other questions—like how districts would carry out such a plan. The original version of the bill would have required districts to implement a coding course, but an amendment by Republican Sen. Bill Galvano now makes it optional for districts to offer coding. And it allows students to use the Florida Virtual School to meet the requirement if they choose. And that caused Miami Democrat Dwight Bullard, to ask how some students would access coding: especially in poor or rural districts that may not have enough devices, and still have to meet other state technology requirements.

“How do you then conceptualize teaching a course when you know several weeks out of the year, [there's little] access to those labs, and computers, that coding would necessitate.”

“It’s something we’ve tried to address. But in the meantime, I would say, if a school can’t afford instruments, are they not going to have music class," Ring responded.

But Bullard shot back. "To your point, Senator Ring. We’ve seen a number of schools that don’t have access to instruments and do not have a music class.”

Under the proposal, students can choose to take coding to meet foreign language requirements if that class is offered at their school, or through Florida Virtual. Parents would have to sign a waiver stating they understand coding may not count at an out-of-state school. And Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner says there’s nothing wrong with offering kids an option.

“Which will it be? Will I take coding or will I take a foreign language? We have options every day," she said.

And Republican Sen. Aaron Bean used himself to illustrate his point. He says he took about four years of Spanish between high school and college, but he can barely understand it.

"Let me tell you about a blow off class I took in high school that I use everyday. Keyboarding. It was supposed to be a blow off class, but it’s a skill that’s proven to be invaluable.” 

Though, as Senate President Andy Gardiner noted, Bean’s Spanish teacher may not be too happy about those comments.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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