Computer science isn’t just for students who want careers in tech — it should be among the foundational basics for all students.
OUR working class — young and old, rural and urban, Democrat and Republican — is worried about being left behind. With the accelerating pace of technological change, economists warn about job losses due to automation. For Washington state, we see this not only as a challenge, but as an opportunity: the opportunity to prepare for the careers of the future.
Two years ago our state led the nation in allocating $2 million to expand access to K-12 computer science. Just more than 10 percent of Washington’s students now have access to learn computer science in schools that previously didn’t offer any classes in the subject. We’ve proven this strategy works, and it’s time to double-down.
Washington’s Legislature is considering spending $6 million to expand K-12 computer-science education. Combined with matching funds from private donors, this would give our state $12 million to expand this access to 50 percent of all students, especially students from low-income, rural and minority communities.
We strongly support this budget request for the future of our state and our students.
In the 21st century, computer science isn’t just for the 10 percent of students who want careers in tech — it’s among the foundational basics for all students. Two decades ago, Steve Jobs said, “computer science is a liberal art,” because “it teaches you how to think.” The creative, algorithmic design aspect of computer science has always helped students develop their problem-solving skills — but nowadays it’s also critical for understanding and keeping up with the technological changes around us.
Every single school teaches biology, even to students who didn’t plan to become biologists. In today’s day and age, it’s equally foundational to teach students to design an algorithm, to make a simple app, or how the internet works. These concepts will be relevant in every career and in every industry. This isn’t just about the careers of the future, it’s about the jobs of today. With 25,000 currently open jobs in the computing sector, addressing this issue is a multibillion-dollar opportunity for Washington state.
Our students want to learn computer science, but most don’t have the opportunity. In Washington, only 23 percent of schools with AP programs offer AP Computer Science. At a time when every single industry is changing to adapt to the biggest technological revolution in human history, it’s not an option for our schools to treat computer science as a course that only shows up in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) schools, or is limited to career and technical education courses for high school students. It should be in every school.
In districts like Highline Public Schools where computer science is offered across almost all high schools thanks to a partnership with Code.org, interest among students is so great that the district has worked to increase opportunities by piloting courses in middle school. Not only are students enrolling in classes at higher rates each year, but they are showing enthusiasm by creating and participating in after-school clubs and work-based internships. They know that computer science paves the way to a future abundant with possibility.
Access to computer science in K-12 isn’t just something tech companies ask for, it’s what parents want. A recent Gallup survey found that 9 out of 10 parents want their children to learn computer science in school. Washington voters agree. A recent poll from Washington STEM revealed that 91 percent of voters in the state believe that Washington should expand the number of K-12 public schools that offer computer-science classes.
Computer science and programming should be a foundational part of K-12 curriculum. And the proposed $6 million in funding for computer-science education can help Washington on the path to making that goal a reality.