Tech giants lobby for elevation of code study

Tech giants lobby for elevation of code study

(Calif.) Texting. Facebook. Microsoft Word. Parent Portals. Online Banking. Gmail. Satellite TV.

It is a digital world – every facet of daily life is connected in some way by devices, apps and programs. Yet in 30 states, computer science courses can’t count as a math or science credit toward high school graduation requirements.

California – home to Silicon Valley and a booming technology industry – is one of those states.

That’s likely to change this year, however, as a bill that would allow computer science classes to count as a required math or science credit has moved from the Assembly to the Senate with bipartisan support – not to mention the backing of many of the country’s top technology titans, who have helped influence similar policy in nine states in the last 12 months.

“Our lobbying effort has focused on the movement to make computer science count as a credit toward graduation requirements,” said Amy Hirotaka, state policy and advocacy manager at the nonprofit Code.org. “Our belief is that it belongs in the mathematics department, not in a general elective credit, which would be the same as woodworking and other general electives that are great classes but they don’t necessarily have the same level of rigor or math learning that computer science does.”

Designed to initiate expansion and a new level of rigor in computer science education, the effort, if widely embraced here, said Hirotaka, could propel the state to the forefront of the growing national movement to train hundreds of thousands of workers needed for computer-related jobs.

That’s the hope, anyway, she said, and among the reasons Code.org reached out on the issue to Gov. Jerry Brown earlier this month in a letter, signed by 28 education officials, nonprofits and top industry leaders, including salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff and Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey.

“We want to partner with the governor and the state moving forward on what’s the best path for California to help it become sort of a trailblazer in computer science,” said Amy Hirotaka, state policy and advocacy manager at Code.org. “California is obviously a special state with all the [technology] industry but because there’s already all this momentum and movement in the Legislature, and the governor seems interested, it just really feels like a prime time to go after computer science education.”

AB 1764, co-authored by Assemblywomen Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, and Kristen Olsen, R-Modesto, passed out of the lower house late last month on a 78-0 vote.

It would authorize the school board of a district that requires more than two math course credits for graduation “to award a pupil up to one mathematics course credit for successfully completing an approved computer science course, as provided.”

At the same time, another bill, SB 1200 by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Paicoma, requires the California State University system (while requesting the University of California system) to develop guidelines for high school computer science courses to be approved for admission.

The bill encourages UC to ensure that computer science courses satisfying the math subject area requirements for admission “build upon fundamental math content in courses that align with the academic content standards developed by the Academic Content Standards Commission.”

There is other computer science legislation as well but proposals to develop new standards, revise model curricula and incorporate computer science curriculum into core content frameworks are stalled in committee. Partly, perhaps, because the state is still in the midst of transitioning to new math and English language arts standards and curriculum, with work on new science frameworks and curriculum next up on the California Department of Education’s docket.

But the ball is rolling and change around computer science education can’t be held back.

Illinois, New York, Florida and Oklahoma are all expected to adopt soon legislation making computer science courses count toward graduation requirements. Just last month, Texas updated its education code to require every high school to offer two computer science courses. 

Code.org, which gathered the information from the respected global business and research association The Conference Board, reported that as of April, there were 72,904 available computing jobs in the state but less than 5,000 computer science graduates each year.   

“California is home to the computing revolution that transforms our lives and provides high-paying jobs. But 90 percent of our K-12 schools do not teach computer science,” the Code.org letter to Brown read. “Computer science education draws overwhelming support – not only from the tech industry and its leaders, but among regular Americans who want their children to be prepared for the software century.”

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