Public schools should teach computer science — it’s a skill set all employers need.
WHEN I was 9, my father gave my brother and me a life-changing gift: a Commodore 64 computer. It didn’t have any games, so I would learn to make my own. A world of opportunity and creativity opened up to me when I began learning how to program that computer.
By my teenage years, I landed jobs as a computer programmer when my friends were baby-sitting or waiting tables. I graduated with a job at Microsoft and went on to enjoy a successful career in technology. As an immigrant, I’m living the American dream.
Yet, 30 years after I came to the United States, I look around and wonder, why aren’t America’s schools offering the opportunity I had to every 21st-century child?
Some of the biggest success stories in Washington history — from Bill Gates to Jeff Bezos — began like mine, with the opportunity to learn how to create technology. Yet, in Washington state — where Microsoft changed the world in establishing a market for personal computers, where Amazon.com changed the way the we shop and where startups like Expedia, Zillow, Redfin and Zulily are changing the future of our state’s economy — the majority of students in K-12 schools statewide cannot take a single course in computer science.
It’s time for the Washington to do more. This is a problem we can solve. We are solving it. Today, more than 50 top business and education leaders unite — from Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks to the Chamber of Commerce, University of Washington and Washington Education Association — calling for legislation to address the issue comprehensively.
There are 20,000 open computing jobs in Washington across all industries, according to The Conference Board. Did you know the most common job posting in Washington is a software developer? Software jobs are growing at three times the state average and these jobs aren’t only in tech. Two-thirds of the nation’s computing jobs are in other industries, at places like Boeing, Nordstrom or the Washington State Department of Transportation.
Skeptics might ask, must every child learn to code? What if my child doesn’t want to become an engineer? Computer science is about more than learning to code or getting a job. It’s foundational for all 21st-century students, who don’t go a waking minute without technology. In every school, students learn about photosynthesis or electricity, even if they don’t choose careers as botanists or electricians. For today’s students, it’s equally foundational to learn what an algorithm is or how the Internet works.
I can’t imagine a career that won’t be disrupted by technology in the next decade. Yet, most of our schools don’t give students a chance to study it. Ninety-three percent of Washington high schools don’t offer Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science. Among AP test takers for the course last year, only 260 out of 1,048 were female, reports the College Board. Only 48 were black or Hispanic. Last year, the state only saw 1,200 computer-science degrees awarded at the university level.
Two years ago, my brother and I started Code.org, a small Seattle nonprofit with a simple idea: Every student in every school deserves the opportunity to learn computer science. This idea has grown into an international movement, reaching 100,000 schools in 180 countries. The support of millions of parents, students and teachers in every state has shown us that this is an idea whose time has come.
Usually people wonder if schools can adapt — especially when they struggle with so many demands and limited funding. But today we see the teachers union, universities and school-district superintendents joining forces with tech companies in support of computer science.
According to a Washington STEM poll published last month, nine out of 10 Washington voters support expanding computer science by helping more K-12 teachers with training and curriculum. It’s time for our Legislature to get on board.
This session, a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by State Reps. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island, and Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah, has the potential to drastically increase access to computer science in our schools. SHB 1813 establishes education standards and matches private funding to train teachers, two steps critical to expanding access to this field. Providing funding for computer science would prepare young people for the best opportunities of tomorrow. A $10 million investment in computer science in our schools can unlock a billion dollars in opportunities.
In 2013, Washington sparked a national movement by passing legislation to allow high school computer-science courses to count for graduation. With Code.org’s support, 15 other states followed our lead.
There are already similar efforts in Arkansas, Utah and Kentucky to substantially invest in computer science. Today, we have the chance to impact students not only in our state, but nationwide.
Together, let’s give a united answer to the parent who asks, “Why doesn’t my child’s school teach computer science?”