Computer science rises in popularity as national funding soars
By Dr. Gregory Firn
K-12 computer science (CS) classes have long been an afterthought in U.S. public schools due to a lack of funding and national focus on required courses such as math, science, history and reading. While these required courses serve a more traditional purpose in the classroom – mainly preparing students for college, regardless of what grade level they may be in – they don’t teach children the computational and critical thinking skills needed to succeed post-graduation.
In fact, STEM and computer science courses don’t just offer students opportunity to learn new concepts they might not otherwise be exposed to, but enable them to collaborate, co-create and become better communicators via personalized lesson plans. In 2016, Gallup reported 84 percent of parents, 71 percent of teachers and 66 percent of principals said they believe offering computer science courses are just as important as long-established courses like English and arithmetic for precisely this reason.
Mind the CS gap: The U.S. government’s commitment
Still, there’s a major gap in how Americans view K-12 computer science classes compared to how they believe STEM and CS is implemented in the classroom. While 61 percent of Americans think K-12 public schools do a good job of teaching basic, core classes like English and arithmetic, just 25 percent think K-12 STEM education is the best in the world or above average compared with over advanced countries.
This gap is slowly closing thanks to a slew of major governmental funding announcements from the last three U.S. administrations alone:
- In 2006, President Bush announced the American Competitiveness Initiative to strengthen science and technology education in pursuit of increased innovation. The bedrock of America’s competitiveness, Bush said, is a well-educated and skilled work force. The Initiative committed $50 billion to increase funding for research and development of new technologies across all industries.
- President Obama unveiled the Educate to Innovate campaign in 2009 to move American students from the middle to the top of the pack in science and math achievement. The nationwide effort included over $260 million in public-private investments to foster a world-class STEM workforce and ensure students get the STEM education and training needed for a 21st century workforce where critical thinking is a crucial aspect of most jobs.
- More recently, in 2016, President Obama continued his support for STEM-based initiatives with his Computer Science for All program, which helps students get an early start to learning the skills needed to stay ahead in the new economy. While the $4 billion that Obama asked Congress to set aside for the program didn’t pass at the federal level, the move fueled action at the state and local levels, driving Obama’s assertion that computer science is now a basic skill that’s necessary for all students to learn.
- In late 2017, President Trump directed the Education Department to invest a minimum of $200 million in grant funding each year to expand STEM and computer science education in U.S. schools. The move was made in harmony with Trump’s two predecessors, citing the importance of aligning the skills taught in our K-12 classrooms with jobs that exist across the country.
Supporting DISD’s computer science efforts
In line with the series of presidential commitments to STEM, Dallas Independent School District announced it will spend $4.4 million over the next three years to introduce coding, robotics and computer science technology to more than 86,000 pre-K-5 students in 156 elementary schools. DISD hopes that starting students with CS at an early age will help build a strong educational foundation that will set them up for success in college and post-grad life.
Texas had nearly 36,000 available CS jobs last year, yet the state graduated less than 2,800 CS students in 2015. Educating the new generation and sparking their interest in CS and STEM will undoubtedly build the state’s technological reputation for years to come and arm students with the skills needed to reach CS success in 2018 and beyond.
Interested in learning more about leveraging STEM and CS in DISD? Email us to determine your school’s funding allotment per Computer Science Initiative today.