Rhode Island to offer computer science to all students by 2017

Every Rhode Island classroom already has high-speed internet

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo plans to bring computer science courses to every school in the state by the end of 2017.

To ease concerns over a lack of teachers trained to teach the subject, the state has formed the Computer Science for Rhode Island (CS4RI) initiative to supply the needed PD. That professional development will include coding, networking and other topics that many teachers have never had exposure to.

The program will also provide computer science curriculum materials that can be integrated into existing elementary and middle school courses. This approach allows computer science to ride on top of courses such as algebra while meeting the governor’s request at the same time.

CS4RI brings together the expertise and resources of private and nonprofit partners such as Code.org, Microsoft and Project Lead the Way.

Engineers and educators from Brown University, Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island will teach high school computer courses and show teachers how to train their district colleagues, says Ken Wagner, Rhode Island’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education.

“We would love to train everyone together, but train-the-trainer has historically worked for us before when we’ve initiated new professional development programs” says Lori McEwen, chief of instruction, leadership and equity for Providence Public Schools.

In the past year, Providence administrators added AP courses in computer science in every high school. In 2015, only 42 Rhode Island students took the AP computer science test, according to CS4RI.

PD will be conducted across all 306 of Rhode Island’s public schools in person and online, ranging from a single day for elementary teachers to full-summer courses for those teaching advanced high school programming classes. Providence and other districts can, under the governor’s plan, expand their long-term computer science strategies to middle and elementary schools sooner than expected.

The governor included $260,000 in her latest proposed budget to fund the initiative, but districts are concerned it may not be enough. Federal funds are earmarked for computer science through the new Every Student Succeeds Act, but spending guidelines are still being developed. Districts can also consider existing Title I funds or grants.

“We can say that we are moving forward with enthusiasm, but we still need to find internal resources to fund the initiative fully” says McEwen.

In terms of infrastructure, the schools are on solid ground. Every Rhode Island classroom has high-speed internet, and one-third of districts are implementing 1-to-1 initiatives, Wagner says.

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