Computer science must be top education priority
Updated 5:10 pm, Monday, June 6, 2016
In Texas, an estimated 42,000 computing jobs are waiting to be filled. In 2015, 2,000 computer scientists graduated in Texas. You do not have to be a math major to see this is a problem.
As a computer science graduate of Texas A&M University, I wish more kids were going into my field of study. As a congressman who represents San Antonio — which has the most cybersecurity professionals outside the national capital region — I see the growing need for a workforce with strong coding and analytical skills. And as the elected representative of an economically disadvantaged region, I want parents and students to be aware of the benefits that computing jobs provide. The average salary of a computer science professional is more than $85,000 — almost twice the average salary in Texas.
Too few Texas high schools offer Advanced Placement computer science. In the 2014-15 school year, only 298 schools offered the class (only 17 percent of the Texas schools that offer AP programs). At the middle-school level, only a handful of schools offer coding classes. Coding for this generation will be as important as typing classes were for my generation. If you are not proficient, you will be left behind.
As chairman of the Information Technology Subcommittee, I’ve learned that technological change follows a pattern of exponential growth. The change and innovation during the last 20 years is going to be minor compared to the change we will witness the next 20 years. That is why we must prepare our kids for jobs that don’t exist yet.
This year, Congress passed and the president signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which replaced No Child Left Behind and puts our nation on track to improve K-12 education. ESSA allows states to provide computer science teacher training, professional development for the use of technology, and enhance the overall quality of computer science and STEM curriculum. This bill increases flexibility for funding so schools can work on programs that best align with local priorities — and now is the time to make computer science education a priority.
Superintendents, principals and teachers are in a unique position to shape the future of computer science education by working together to give students access to top-notch curricula and extracurricular activities. Superintendents must work with principals to get computer science in the classroom, and principals must ensure there are enough qualified teachers. The quality of our workforce will directly correlate to the preparation of our educators.
School districts cannot do this alone. Community leadership plays a vital role in the multifaceted approach we need for a well-rounded computer science education. Universities, colleges and computer science associations must contribute to the training of students who will work in their industries and drive them into the next decade. Through partnerships with high schools, institutions of higher education can help design and offer meaningful curriculum that will allow students to gain college credit early and stay on track to fill one of the ever-increasing positions in the computer science field. Private sector involvement is not only beneficial to students — it is absolutely necessary.
In San Antonio, I have witnessed how private sector partnerships can impact high school students by offering mentors and funding for students to participate in robotics competitions or learn computer science basics. Private sector contribution can happen at any level. Bringing in expert speakers, counseling educators on curriculum, and providing opportunities for consultative teacher training are all ways we can fill the gap we are witnessing today. There are multiple approaches and solutions to this problem.
The bottom line is this — we need to place computer science at the top of our priority list in education and be creative about how we do it.
Will Hurd is the U.S. representative for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas.