Too many students miss out on job opportunities in fast-growing, high-paying science, technology, engineering and math fields.
Starting next fall, 10 high schools and three middle schools in Seattle will offer computer-science courses ranging from exploratory to Advanced Placement classes.
The courses will begin to address a growing problem: Washington businesses are creating jobs in science, technology, engineering and math fields, but the state is failing at preparing its students to seize those opportunities.
To close that gap, the state must invest more money and resources in expanding efforts already under way and look for smarter, long-term solutions to better prepare students entering the job market.
In 2013, employers in Washington had 20,000 unfilled openings in STEM fields such as computer science and health care, according to Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Washington Roundtable, a public-policy organization.
Many of the state’s fastest-growing and best-paid jobs are being filled by workers from other states or countries. Only 9 percent of children born in Washington end up working in STEM jobs, according to a 2014 BCG study. Students educated here deserve a better shot.
The 2014 study, “Opportunity for All,” recommended that Washington double the number of students graduating from state colleges and universities with STEM degrees, which requires a sustained effort and significant investment to hire and add classroom and lab space.
The K-12 system also needs a path to train teachers in computer science, which doesn’t exist right now, said Mary Davison, a career and technical-education program manager for Seattle Public Schools.
Another solution, in use in some schools, is to recruit industry professionals to co-teach with a certified teacher. Employers should encourage workers to partner with schools to help teach as well as expose students to STEM careers.
The state Senate should pass SHB 1813, a bill that would set standards for teaching computer science and match state dollars with private funding to train teachers. The bill sailed through the House 91-7.
State lawmakers should also boost funding to the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship, which gives scholarships using public and private dollars to college students majoring in STEM fields. Budget proposals from Democrats and Republicans include more funding for the program.
Code Fellows, a Seattle-based school offering intensive courses in computer programming, has churned out about 400 graduates since launching in 2013.
The school boasts that more than 80 percent of its graduates land jobs within three months.
Still, CEO Kristin Smith said the school’s graduates are a “drop in the bucket” in terms of meeting demand.
More companies and organizations need workers with technical skills such as government agencies and health-care providers — not just the Microsofts and Amazons of the world.
Washington’s STEM education needs an overhaul, but that starts with expanding effective innovations.
The state’s homegrown students should be taking a much bigger slice of the employment pie.