"This isn't a movement that just happens on its own. We need to continue stepping on the gas pedal. We need to continue to make this change happen," Hadi Partovi, founder and CEO of Code.org told a full room Monday at the first-ever National Computer Science Summit for State Leaders at the Governor's Mansion in Little Rock.
He said Arkansas, where K-12 coding education is mandated, has done two positive things:
- Realized that teaching computer science isn't just about jobs, but is "foundational," like mathematics and biology, because it teaches skills the economy demands: problem solving, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity; and
- Recognized that professional development for computer science teachers is just as important as curriculum, because there is a shortage of teachers and they are the ones who recruit students to learn that subject.
Partovi was one of several speakers scheduled to address representatives from more than 30 states, including Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, and other national and international leaders in the field of computer science education.
That statement followed his revealing that, while the number of students taking advanced placement computer science courses for college credit has been growing, the number of new schools teaching it has been down for the past three years and only 20% of U.S. schools teach AP computer science to begin with.
"That's because we're running into these districts where the superintendent doesn't think it's a priority, the governor doesn't call up the superintendent to convince them to make it happen [like Gov. Asa Hutchinson does]. Money is tight. There's all sorts of issues in education," Partovi said.
He added that computer science initiatives don't have to start from the top down, which is what happened in Arkansas when Hutchinson championed and succeeded in getting legislation passed that mandated coding be offered in all K-12 schools.
It can happen from the "bottom up" as well, he said, like when a New Jersey computer science teacher convinced his state legislators to draft and pass a similar measure there.
Either way, making a change in the education system is not easy because it's not designed to change. The things taught now are the same things that were taught 100 years ago, and computer science is something new, Partovi said.
He concluded by saying that 40 million students have accounts with his nonprofit, Code.org, which is giving them the opportunity to learn computer science. In addition, 46% are girls, 48% are underrepresented minorities and 47% qualify for free or reduced lunch.
There was also a panel discussion among State Education Commissioner Johnny Key; Anthony Owen, chief state STEM officer and director of computer science education; and Gerri McCann, a computer science and French teacher at Manila High School. Sheila Boyington, CEO of Thinking Media, was the moderator.
During that panel, McCann said the relationship between industry professionals and educators is critical. Key said Arkansas needs to push more into rural communities, especially in the Mississippi Delta, that haven't heard about computer science or seen it as something they're about. But "computer science is the mechanism that can create thriving communities once again," Key said.
Owens said Arkansas must shift its focus to cybersecurity and connecting the positive things happening with computer science in K-12 schools to the state's post-secondary education system.
The governor said earlier in the event that the state must improve the quality of computer science education, keep it practical because that attracts students, and continue investing in training and rewards for computer science teachers.