Summit: U.S. needs more computer science teachers

Panel members spoke of the need for more rigorous computer science education.
Panel members spoke of the need for more rigorous computer science education.

Fewer than 65 percent of K-12 schools in the United States offer an introductory-level computer science course, much less rigorous training, according to a recent study conducted by the Association for Computing Machinery and the Computer Science Teachers Association—and an Oct. 6 Computing in the Core summit aimed to draw attention to the need for more computer science teachers.

James Shelton, the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement, spoke of how computer science education was never explicitly included as a part of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education Coalition, which works to support STEM education programs for teachers and students.

“We want a well-rounded curriculum for students. That means reading and writing … but it also means the other things that add into making a student well-rounded,” Shelton said.

“The nation has embraced much more the importance of STEM education, but computer science [education] is very often missing from that conversation,” said Robert Schnabel, dean of the School of Informatics at Indiana University.  “Computer science has by far the largest demand for jobs in any period that you see out of the STEM sphere.”

One reason for the lag in computer science education is the lack of properly trained educators.

“There are too few computer science teachers, and they are in too few schools,” said Lucy Sanders, CEO of the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) during a panel discussion.

Norm Augustine, former CEO of Lockheed Martin, said the failing in computer science education is causing the U.S. to lose footing in today’s global economy.

“We rank 21st in math and 25th in science out of 30 nations,” Augustine said. “The major challenges we face can be centered in two areas: One is underinvestment in basic research to create new knowledge … and secondly [is] properly trained people.”

Only 10 states require a thorough computer science course as a requirement for high school graduation, according to “Running on Empty: The Failure to Teach K-12 Computer Science in the Digital Age,” which was released at the summit.

“If it doesn’t count, the students won’t take it,” said Schnabel. “If the students don’t take it, the schools will offer it less.”

The lack of K-12 computer science education has a direct impact on U.S. technology-based companies, as representatives from Google and Microsoft pointed out. Government projections show that in the next 10 years, more than 1.5 million high-paying jobs in the technology sector will be created in the U.S. alone.

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