Lawmakers push for K-12 computer science standards

Lawmakers push for K-12 computer science standards

(Iowa) The Iowa Department of Education will begin work on new K-12 computer science content standards and pathways for teachers to earn computer science endorsements following a bill signing announcement made last week by Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds.

The measure will also boost professional development in computer science instruction and require the education department to create a workgroup to recommend incentives for districts to offer computer science instruction.

“Computer science is a new basic skill in the technology-driven, 21st century economy,” Reynolds said in a statement. “That’s why I’m thrilled that we were able to get legislation passed on a bi-partisan basis this year that will help us build a strong computer science foundation for all students and strengthen Iowa’s workforce talent pipeline.”

More than 90 percent of parents say their children should learn computer science skills in school, according to a survey conducted last year by Gallop on behalf of Google. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 1.3 million jobs will be created by 2022 in fields requiring computer and mathematical expertise, but just last year, more than 600,000 high-paying tech jobs across the United States went unfilled.

As part of Barack Obama’s Computer Science for All initiative, $4 billion in funding was made available to states to expand K-12 computer science through professional development and increasing access to high-quality instructional materials.

About half of states now require high school students to take a computer science course in order to graduate, but Iowa schools are not among them. A state survey found last year that just 69 percent of Iowa’s middle schools and high schools even offered a computer science course, and only 38 percent of elementary schools had computer science classes.

Ryan Wise, director of the Iowa Department of Education, said during a press conference last week that the agency will begin developing guidelines for teaching computer science at all grade levels, and that a workgroup will be convened later this month to look at how best to teach computer skills to the youngest students.

The workgroup is required to submit a report to the Legislature, the governor and the education department by Nov. 1.

In addition to pushing for new computer science curriculum standards, the legislation requires the state Board of Educational Examiners to create an endorsement in computer science for teachers. The measure also creates a Computer Science Professional Development Incentive Fund to reimburse school districts and teachers for professional development costs relating to computer science.

The Legislature has indicated it intends to appropriate $250,000 for the new incentive fund beginning in Fiscal Year 2019.

The bill doesn’t require schools to teach computer science, but it is encouraged. Expanding access to high quality computer science education has been a priority for Gov. Terry Branstad’s administration, and will likely remain a priority when Reynolds becomes governor.

“By July of 2019, our goal is to have every elementary school offer some type of instruction in the basics of computer science, and to have every middle school offer an exploratory computer science class and to have every high school offer at least one high-quality computer science course,” Reynolds said at a press conference last week. “By building a strong foundation in elementary and middle school, it helps students decide in high school and beyond whether they want to pursue a career in computer science.”