Can Computer Science Replace Algebra 2?
House Bill 170 would let high school students replace the Algebra 2 graduation requirement with an advanced computer science course. Students could also choose to take computer science in place of some other science courses. For instance, they might enroll in a coding class instead of astronomy or geology. Life science and biology courses, however, cannot be substituted.
The bill would also require the state Board of Education to adopt K-12 standards for computer science and a model curriculum by July 1, 2018.
"It's important that we are preparing our students to enter a 21st century workforce, and HB 170 is a step toward that in the areas of science and technology," said Rep. Rick Carfagna in a statement. He is one of the legislation's sponsors. "If we can incorporate these classes early on and give students a pathway, we will be all the better as a state and nation."
Tech giant Google supports the legislation, as does the nonprofit code.org, a leading provider of computer science curriculum in school districts across the country.
According to the Columbus Dispatch, Google told senators in a letter that Ohio graduated only 1,137 computer science majors last year, while nationwide there are more than 520,000 jobs in the field. The letter put the problem bluntly: "Too few students have the opportunity to study computer science in high school."
Some lawmakers worry that students who opt out of Algebra 2 will be at a disadvantage in pursuing higher education since the math course is often a requirement for college admission. While critics have long questioned the need for Algebra 2, its supporters see it as a critical benchmark on the way to college or career success, as Erik Robelen reported in this Education Week article exploring the debate.
Before approving the bill, the Senate Education Committee added an amendment. It requires parents to sign a form showing they understand that by not taking Algebra 2, their child might not meet the requirements for entry into some universities.
Lawmakers also point out that schools may have a hard time raising money for hiring computer science teachers and updating their computers and networks if needed. The original bill included $2.5 million to aid districts, but the allotment has since been slashed from the proposal. Districts do have the option under the bill to create a technology fund that can include money that has been donated to the district by private backers.
The bill passed in the House in June and was recently approved by a Senate committee. It now faces a full Senate vote.