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5 state policies to sustain computer science education

A new report examines the ways state policies can buoy computer science education efforts

Computer science skills are becoming a larger part of mainstream education with the emergence of Computer Science Education Week and efforts to introduce students to coding and programming.

Part of those efforts focus on actions states can take to ensure that computer science education is a priority year-round. After all, many of the jobs today’s students will hold in the future will require computer science and IT knowledge.

To keep the momentum behind computer science education moving, the Southern Regional Education Board, led by its 2015-16 chair, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, convened a group of state legislators, secondary and postsecondary education leaders to formulate policies and actions that positively support computer science.

Those discussions resulted in a report detailing actions states can take to bridge the computer science education gap.

Jobs in computer science, IT and related fields are a large and growing sector of the nation’s economy. The Association for Computing Machinery estimates that by 2020, as many as 4.6 million out of 9.2 million STEM jobs will be computer-related.

By 2020, nearly 3.8 million jobs will be computer science-related, with about 70 percent requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Millions more jobs in fields like advanced manufacturing, business and medicine will also require individuals to possess high-level computing skills in areas like software development, programming and network maintenance. These jobs are sometimes characterized as requiring “double-deep skills”–significant computing expertise in addition to knowledge of the field.

(Next page: 5 computer science education actions for states)

During their meetings, the experts determined that computer science can no longer be considered merely an option in K-12 education.

“Computer science offers students much more than the knowledge of how computers work or the skills needed to build a device, write code or manage data,” according to the SREB report. “It builds lifelong learning skills that hold value in every academic discipline, industry and profession. Computer science knowledge also advances our national productivity and wealth.”

The report outlines five actions, each requiring careful planning and involvement, to help states craft strong and impactful computer science education policies.

“Change comes at a cost, and most states, school districts and schools have scarce resources — money, time and talent — to devote to new initiatives,” the authors wrote. “Policymakers and educators know that when a new curricula component is introduced, other components may be pushed to the side. Given the centrality of computing technologies to our daily lives, integrating computer science across K-12 and beyond makes good educational and economic sense. The time for computer science is now.”

Action 1: Develop state computer science standards for K-12

  • Work in partnership with secondary and postsecondary educators, experts and industry leaders to develop K-12 computer science standards that include the essential concepts and practices students should master in the elementary and middle grades and high school.
  • Develop or adopt standards-based, developmentally appropriate computer science curricula that appeal to diverse learners in the elementary and middle grades.

Action 2: Lay the groundwork for learning computer science

  • Throughout K-12, integrate and teach the essential literacy skills that students need to master grade-appropriate computer science standards.
  • Require students to take four years of math aligned with their career and college goals.

Action 3: Create clear pathways to computing careers

  • Charge a state career pathway advisory council with developing pathways that meet identified workforce needs in computing fields.
  • Redesign the high school senior year to allow students who meet college-readiness benchmarks to earn college credits that transfer to associate and bachelor’s degrees and to help struggling students prepare for college.

Action 4: Prepare great computer science teachers

  • Recruit teachers with the content knowledge, interest, passion and willingness to learn and explore computer science alongside their K-12 students.
  • Offer teaching endorsements to new computer science teachers who complete a two- to four-week, full-day summer institute, led by a master teacher, in which they learn their curriculum by completing the same projects and assignments as their students.

Action 5: Educate communities about computer science and computing careers

  • Embed career advisement and exploration across K-12 as a means of educating students, parents and communities about computer science and computing careers.
  • Encourage employer partners to invest in the computing and IT workforce of the future.

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Laura Ascione

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