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Wyoming, Idaho Laws Expand K-12 Computer Science Education

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Two states, Wyoming and Idaho, passed laws mandating schools offer computer science instruction, with the goal of preparing students for the future workforce.

Wyoming's law requires districts to offer computer science instruction for all students in grades K-12 and calls on the state department of education to develop computer science standards to integrate into the state's Common Core. Students will also be able to use computer science courses to fulfill some academic and state scholarship requirements.

In Idaho, high schools will be required to offer at least one computer science course to students by fiscal year 2020.

This is the latest in a series of steps Idaho has taken to legislate computer science education. In 2016, the state passed a law that directed its state education department and STEM action center to adopt computer science standards by the 2017-18 school year, provide professional development for teaching the subject, and create an online hub for materials.

Wyoming Plans to "Boot Up"

After Wyoming's law passed, the state's department of education announced Boot Up Wyoming 2022, a new initiative to facilitate the development of computer science standards and support districts in implementation. The standards mandated by the new law are set to go into effect in the 2022-23 school year.   

Helping districts find funding for the program is a priority, said Kari Eakins, the communications director at the Wyoming Department of Education. The law doesn't allocate any additional funding for computer science education, which was a concern for districts, she said.

The department plans to direct districts to available funding that could be used for computer science, including one grant annually awarded for innovations in education, said Eakins. They also plan to refocus and narrow the scope of other existing grants to target the expenses associated with building out a computer science program, including professional development for teachers, said Dicky Shanor, the chief of staff of the department.  

With only 34 educators certified in computer science in the 2016-17 school year, the state's goal is to have 500 teachers prepared to teach the subject by 2022, said Shanor.

Expecting all of those teachers to come from a computer science-focused pre-service program isn't practical, said Shanor. Instead, the department has worked with the state's professional teaching standards board to allow districts to accept microcredentials from industry and non-profit trainings. This would enable educators certified in other areas to teach specific computer science courses. For example, said Shanor, a teacher could earn a credential in coding at the 4th grade level from Code.org.

Eakins predicts this will be a commonly used certification method in the early stages of the implementation, especially for the state's smaller districts that may not have enough students to hire a dedicated computer science teacher.

Industry partners will be involved in developing the state's computer science standards, said Shanor, as will computer science experts, Wyoming educators, parents, and other community stakeholders. "It's really important to us that we connect K-12 to Wyoming's technology industry."

The department also plans to consider existing K-12 computer standards from other states and nonprofits, like Code.org. "We don't have to reinvent the wheel entirely," said Shanor.


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