The economy is rapidly feeling the impact of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, which allows computers to make decisions, recognize speech and perform other traditionally “human” tasks. Nearly half of all jobs in the U.S. in the next 10 to 20 years will be related to AI, according to a 2016 Obama administration report, “Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Economy.”
But the quality of computer science education varies widely across the country. Many states lack well-defined computer science standards; others don’t count computer science courses toward core graduation requirements. And in many districts, computer science courses aren’t reaching enough students, according to reports by the Association for Computing Machinery, a worldwide computing society.
A sign of movement
Some states, though, are expanding computer science education, notably Arkansas, Idaho and Rhode Island, says Cameron Wilson, chief operating officer of Code.org, a nonprofit that works to expand female and minority participation in computer science.
Sidebar: Have a plan today for tomorrow’s benefit
Arkansas may have one of the most extensive computer science initiatives in the nation. New state policies include:
$2,000 stipends for teachers who receive computer science endorsements and teach the subject for at least a year
PD for teachers and administrators
computer science standards embedded into elementary school curriculum
a mandatory five-week coding block in middle school
requiring every public and charter high school to offer at least one computer science course
alternative certifications for teachers to address the shortage of computer science instructors, such as a three-year provisional teaching license for experienced computer science professionals
Springdale Public Schools, the second largest district in Arkansas, worked closely with the state Department of Education to align instruction with the new standards, says Megan Slocum, associate superintendent of Springdale schools. High school students can also learn skills from working professions due to partnerships between the district and area businesses.
Students work on projects in class or in an externship with employees of Tyson Foods, Walmart and NanoMech, a nanomanufacturing company.
A recent cybersecurity project involved students hacking into trucking company JD Hunt’s system to identify and fix potential weaknesses.
“The alternative for computer science for all is computer science for some and nothing for the rest” says Chris Stephenson, head of computer science education strategy at Google and a member of the Association for Computing Machinery’s education board.
“The other thing we know is that when our education system is dedicated to preparing kids for the jobs of the past” he says. “That’s not just a recipe for economic disaster, it’s a recipe for social disaster as well.”
Jessica Ablamsky is a freelance writer in California.