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Report Outlines How to Bridge the 'Computer Science Education Gap'

A new report by the Southern Regional Education Board, or SREB, provides states with a roadmap to improving computer science education.

The report entitled, "Bridging the Computer Science Education Gap: Five Actions States Can Take," was published in November.

The SREB is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group based in Atlanta that was created in 1948 to improve education in the South from preschool through doctoral programs. Its members include: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

But this recent computer science report has lessons for every state. It focuses particularly on how states can help students who are traditionally underrepresented in the field, such as girls, black and Hispanic students, and students from low-income families.

Here's a brief summary of the five recommended actions:

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

  •  The report encourages states to work with experts from postsecondary education and the business world to develop these standards, to require computer science courses in high school, and to provide funding for expanded learning opportunities in the field.

Action 2: Lay the groundwork for learning computer science.

  •  The report recommends that throughout K-12, schools should teach the necessary literacy and math skills needed to master grade-appropriate computer science standards and that students be required to take four years of math in high school.

Action 3: Create clear pathways to computing careers.

  •  The report recommends that states include computer science career pathways in state accountability and funding systems, allow seniors to earn college credit, and design four high school courses that would seamlessly connect to postsecondary programs in high-demand fields such as software development.

Action 4: Prepare great computer science teachers.

  • The report encourages the hiring of teachers with content knowledge and interest in learning computer science alongside their students and the use of government and private funds to support ongoing, intensive professional development.

Action 5: Educate communities about computer science and computing careers.

  • The report encourages states to make career advisement a part of education across K-12 and to pass legislation that recognizes communities for advancement in computer science education and for meeting workforce needs in computing.

The report's recommendations came from the SREB's Commission on Computer Science and Information Technology, a group of state legislators, secondary and postsecondary educators, and industry experts the board brought together this school year. The group was charged with addressing the question of how to make sure all students have an opportunity to learn computer science.

In addition to the five action items, "Bridging the Computer Science Education Gaps" looks at states that have had success integrating computer science instruction.

For example, Arkansas is recognized for being the first state to pass comprehensive legislation requiring computer science to be taught in every public high school. (The group is chaired by Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson.) The report also notes that only three states—Arkansas, Texas and West Virginia—require all high schools to offer computer science.

Where are the Barriers?

SREB's paper lists some of the challenges states face as they try to add computer science to K-12 instruction. Funding is almost always an issue and finding qualified computer science teachers can be difficult. Many schools also continue to confuse computer science and information technology with other terms such as computer literacy, which is the knowledge of how to use computer technology.

The report uses a quote from the Computer Science Teachers Association task force to illustrate this point: "Computer science is not about point-and-click skills. It is a discipline with a core set of scientific principles that can be applied to solve complex, real-world problems and promote higher-order thinking. In short, knowledge of computer science is now as essential to today's educated student as any of the traditional sciences."  

SREB provides information about several free resources from organizations such as Code.org that are available to help schools, and it highlights the ways in which some states have been able to attract more computer science teachers.

The paper also lists what have become familiar statistics about the country's need for workers with computer science skills. "By 2020, the United States may have 1 million more computing jobs available than people to fill them."

If U.S. schools don't prepare more students for computer science careers, the report warns that American employers will be forced to continue recruiting foreign workers for these lucrative positions.


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