Advocating for computer science education
Computer Science Education Week and the Computer Science Education Act aim to make computer science a core subject in American schools
Don’t know if you knew, but last week was Computer Science Education Week. Since 2010, Computer Science Education Week has been held during the second week in December to coincide with the birthday of the late Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (December 9, 1906), one of the pioneers of computer science. The week of events, held all over the country, are designed to educate and advocate for more computer science education in our schools.
There’s no shortage of evidence that there’s a need for more computer science education in the United States. A recent survey by IBM of technology decision makers found that nine out of ten organizations are lacking the skills in business analytics, mobile and cloud computing and social business. Other data on technology education in the United States find that the number of computer-related bachelor’s degrees decreased between 2004 and 2008 from 60,000 to 38,000, while the number of AP computer science classes at the secondary level have declined by 33% since 2005. This comes at a time when the number of computer-related jobs keeps increasing; the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 22% increase in the number of computer jobs between 2010 and 2020.
Clearly, there’s an increasing gap in this country between the number of computer-related jobs and the number of people trained to do them. Other countries have recognized the importance of more computer science education. Estonia recently mandated that all students, beginning in the first grade, study programming. Is mandated computer science education the solution for the U.S.?
It could be, but one big impediment is that education is managed at the local level in this country. Congress can’t simply mandate that every student learn how to code. However, it can encourage the states to do so, and that’s the goal of legislation recently introduced in Congress.
The Computer Science Education Act was introduced in the both the House of Representatives (H.R.3014) and the Senate (S.1614) in September 2011. The main purpose of the act is to encourage states to make computer science a core subject in schools, by providing states with the funding to do the following:
- Develop a curriculum and define standards and assessments for computer science education
- Train and certify teachers to teach computer science
- Improve access to computer science for underrepresented populations
It also calls for the creation of a Blue Ribbon Commission to follow states’ progress on implementing a computer science curriculum and provide recommendations to Congress and the administration.
In both houses of Congress the bill is currently stuck in committee. A spokesman for Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado, who introduced it in the House, said that he expects the bill to be reintroduced in the next Congress as part of a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (also known as the No Child Left Behind Act). When, exactly that will happen, or when/if a vote will on it will take place is unclear.
I also asked for an update from Sen. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, who introduced the bill in the Senate, but haven’t heard back yet.
What’s your take? Should computer science education become standard in U.S. schools?