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Report Urges States to Take Action on Computer Science Education

A new report out from the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) recommends actions for states and schools to help more young people — especially girls, black and Hispanic students, and students from low-income families — learn computer science (CS) and explore and choose careers in computing fields.

SREB is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works with southern states to improve public education at every level, from preschool through doctoral programs. However, the guidance in the report applies to every state.

"Bridging the Computer Science Education Gap: Five Actions States Can Take," published by the board's Commission on Computer Science and Information Technology, offers five broad steps states can take to encourage all young people — not just those interested in STEM — to learn CS and computational thinking skills. The five steps are:

  • Developing computer science standards for K–12, which includes bringing educators and other experts together to develop CS standards; requiring high schools to offer students access to "rigorous, standards-based computer science courses,” and funding the expansion of CS learning in districts and schools. Currently, only six states in the country have such standards, according to the report.
  • Laying the foundation for learning CS, including integrating lessons on literacy skills and math that will help students master grade-appropriate computer science standards; and providing "targeted interventions" and "readiness courses" for students who need extra help in mastering the fundamental skills needed for success in computing fields.
  • Creating "clear pathways" to computing careers. This can be achieved by building blocks of courses for training in high-demand jobs in cybersecurity, informatics and related fields, and redesigning the high school senior year to allow college-ready students to earn credits that will give them a head start on their associate and bachelor's degrees.
  • Recruiting and training "great computer science teachers." That includes offering "teaching endorsements" to new computer science teachers who complete a multi-week summer institute to learn their curriculum by completing the same projects and assignments as their students; and leveraging various funds to support "intensive, ongoing professional development" in CS and IT areas.
  • Educating communities about the opportunities in CS. Such actions might include encouraging "employer partners" to invest in appropriate education initiatives and putting in place career advisement and exploration across K–12 to inform students, parents and others about career options.

The report profiles exemplars and offers information about low- or no-cost CS courses for students in every grade level. For example, Arkansas passed legislation in 2015 that required CS courses to be taught in every public high school. Since then, the number of students who have enrolled in such courses has increased by 260 percent. The increase in African-American girls who took coding classes rose by 609 percent.

"What are the keys to Arkansas’s early success? These and other achievements have been possible because of broad public knowledge of the state’s commitment to computer science, strong legislative support, generous funding, educational leadership and an enthusiastic response from Arkansas students," wrote Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, the Commission's chair, in the report's preface.

"Like reading, writing and math, knowledge of computer science can no longer be considered optional in our innovation-driven economy, where data and computer technology are central to our lives," added SREB President Dave Spence, in a prepared statement.

The 48-page report is available on the SREB website here.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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