A year after a bipartisan coalition of governors was established to promote the growth of computer science education in K-12 classrooms, numerous states have taken up the cause, with millions being allocated by state legislatures to increase the accessibility of CS classes, along with substantive professional development for educators.
“I think the Governors for Computer Science Education Partnership has really highlighted that there’s more than talk now; there’s policy, there’s money,” John Aultman, a senior policy advisor for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, said. “now knowing that CS is a core STEM literacy for any student in the United States.”
Inslee, a Democrat, partnered with Asa Hutchinson, Arkansa’s Republican Governor, during the past year’s legislative session to support budget legislation to support CS growth in schools. Hutchinson reported that in Arkansas, there had been a 400% rise in CS enrollment since the 2014-2015 school year, buoyed by a $2.5 million boost to fund CS initiatives and teacher development. Inslee has proposed $6 million in grant funding to support CS implementation, with Aultman noting those funds will be matched by private industries in terms of company time, tech investments, or direct funding.
“It’s really bringing the industry to the classroom, and getting the industry to have a vested interest,” he said. “The curriculum is so robust in that it represents current needs. It’s not keyboarding and the basics of computer tech. It’s a deep dive into a computer science.”
The coalition works with Code.org, an NPO working to expand access to quality CS education, particularly for women and students of color. In the partnership, governors commit to increasing access by pushing for all high schools to offer at least one rigorous CS course, funding professional development for teachers and push for a set of high-quality standards followed by educators, schools and districts.
According to Cameron Wilson, the Chief Operating Officer and President of the Advocacy Coalition at Code.org, the organization specializes in professional development, and creates coding curriculum it freely offers schools and districts. The organization also has worked with states in terms of developing standards for CS classes, many of which are set at the state level. Wilson said the CS community worked to develop a framework for the minimum concepts and practices that should be imparted to every student, releasing the K-12 Computer Science Framework in 2016, a partnership between a multitude of organizations, states and school districts.
“What we encourage states to do is look at the framework, and they can develop state specific standards that work within the framework,” he said. “What are the big picture concepts that every student should be exposed to?”
Aultman said the push to expand CS access, and partnerships with organizations like Code.org, was paying off in Washington, particularly in some rural districts in the western end of the state. He described a school district with 2,000 students that was provided curriculum, and an instructor working on the I5 corridor was remotely mentoring educators in professional development. One district was at the forefront of this approach, and nine surrounding districts were buoyed by the results and will be signing on.
“We can take the risk we can do this. It was so successful that other districts are jumping into this next school year,” he said. “They will be prime candidates to bring this across the state.”
Nevertheless, nationwide the need remains high; according to Code.org, there are more than 500,000 current open computing jobs throughout the country. However, there are high quality computer science classes offered in fewer than half the nation’s schools, and only one in five students enrolled in an AP CS class are women, and less are students of color, both groups that are traditionally underrepresented in the CS workplace.
According to Wilson, the CS field no longer faces the barrier of determining what is suitable for curriculum or making it accessible for teachers; he noted the CS community has many providers like Code.org that are crafting such resources. The challenge, he said, remains allocating the funding for the necessary professional development, noting that most schools don’t have educators available that can teach the curricula offered without any prior training.
Wilson also said that it was important to retain the attention of administrators to prioritize CS education, understanding that administrators are often pulled by a myriad number of conflicting demands. Wilson said the biggest success stories came in districts where administrators prioritized the needs for CS access, whether it was ensuring there was space in the master course schedule for CS classes, or identifying teachers who could undergo professional development.
In Charles County, MD’s school district, for example, Wilson said district leaders crafted a five-year plan to get CS classes in every school and managed it in two. He was also encouraged by the bipartisan nature of the Governor’s partnership, particularly in contrast to the fierce debates raging in Washington, D.C. and throughout the country between differing ideologies.
“It’s been really amazing that in a time when we’re divided politically how much bipartisan excitement there is on computer science,” he said. “This is truly an issue all of America can get behind.”