States making strides in expanding computer science

States making strides in expanding computer science

(Wash.) Though there is still a ways to go in ensuring all students have access to high quality computer science courses, a new study shows substantial momentum building among lawmakers across the country attempting to do just that.

Researchers for Code.org found that in the past 18 months alone, two-thirds of states have adopted policies that, among other things, establish rigorous K-12 computer science standards, allocate funding for professional development for those teaching the classes, or require high schools to offer such coursework.

“The pace of reform is accelerating; since the last state of computer science report in 2017, 33 states have passed new laws and regulations promoting computer science,” authors of the report wrote. “When the Code.org Advocacy Coalition began its work in 2013, just 14 states plus Washington, D.C. had at least one of these nine policies in place. Because of bipartisan support from state and national leaders over the last five years, 44 states have enacted one or more of these policies.”

The need for a technologically literate workforce has drastically increased–and schools have struggled to keep pace in with the demand of preparing students to enter those fields. More than 600,000 high-paying tech jobs across the United States went unfilled in 2016, and this year, 51 percent of all STEM jobs are projected to be in computer science-related fields, according to federal data.

Code.org–a Washington-based organization that promotes computer science education–highlights nine policies it recommends states implement, which include:

  • Creating a state plan for K-12 computer science;
  • Defining computer science and establishing rigorous standards;
  • Allocating funding for professional development and course support;
  • Implementing clear certification pathways for computer science teachers;
  • Creating programs at state colleges and universities to offer computer science to preservice teachers;
  • Establishing dedicated computer science positions in state and local education agencies;
  • Requiring that all high schools offer computer science with appropriate implementation timelines;
  • Allowing such courses to satisfy a core graduation requirement; and
  • Allowing computer science to satisfy an admission requirement at state colleges and universities.

There are areas where states have made strides, and others where they are falling short, according to the study.

While researchers found that only six states have strategic plans for K-12 computer science–and eight are in the process of developing plans–many more have adopted or are in the process of developing standards. Currently, 22 states now have computer science standards, and 11 are making progress.

Nearly 20 states have dedicated funding for K-12 computer science professional development purposes, while 33 states and the District of Columbia have computer science teacher certification programs. Yet just 13 have state-approved preservice teacher preparation programs at higher education institutions.

Meanwhile, 15 states require all high schools to offer computer science, and 39 states plus D.C. allow computer science to count towards a core graduation requirement. More than five states leave that decision up to district leaders.

Authors of the report noted that while there is still plenty of room for improvement, the number of states that have adopted at least one of the nine policies is a far cry from five years ago, when just 14 states and D.C. had done so. Since 2013, 44 states have enacted one or more of the recommended policies.

Researchers did identify disparities in access to computer science, however, many of which have been persistent. Across 24 states, 35 percent of high schools offer the subject, but those with higher percentages of underrepresented minorities are less likely to offer it. And students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches, as well as those living in rural areas, are also less likely to have a computer science course at their schools.

“We cannot let generations of students—particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds—leave the K-12 system without some exposure to computer science,” researchers wrote, pointing to Arkansas as an example of how policymakers can promote efforts to close those gaps.

Arkansas has put into place all nine model state policies, and now sees one of the highest rates of computer science course access in the country at 63 percent.

Authors of the report also point to $15 million in funding allocated to, among other things, incentivize schools to increase the enrollment of female and underrepresented minority students.

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