We must support and empower schools to act as computer science “incubators.”
WHY doesn’t my child’s school teach computer science? As a school leader in a state home to the likes of Microsoft and Amazon.com, Boeing and cutting-edge technology startups, I believe this is a critical question that requires action.
And progress is being made.
On March 4, leaders from businesses at the forefront of technology joined together with nonprofits, state universities, public school districts and educators to call on our elected representatives in Olympia to expand access to computer science in classrooms across Washington. These leaders spoke of the critical need to prepare students with the skills needed to succeed in a state where one of the most common — and promising — jobs is computer programming.
With nine out of 10 Washingtonians in support of additional funding for computer science, increasing educational access in this field of study is a start. But we need to do more.
Our state’s tech leaders must continue to invest in and support our local schools to produce the kind of change that’s needed. We have a wealth of talent in our region to help schools that have a computer-science curriculum or are planning to add classes through mentorships, internships, financial support and board service.
While additional public and private revenue and professional development for teachers are prerequisites, we must also support and empower local schools to act as computer-science “incubators” — schools that make it their mission to determine best practices in computer-science methods and concepts. In turn, these incubator schools could develop and share these best practices that then are replicated in other schools looking to incubators for guidance.
The need for these incubator schools is great.
Currently, many organizations, including Code.org, CodeHS, Codecademy and Khan Academy have designed computer-science coursework intended to provide a self-contained and complete learning environment. As a result, students can immediately create programs, compile, run and render Web-based applications without any sort of setup or overhead. They can also access and run their code from any computer. But in the end, teachers are the experts who will determine the necessary level of rigor and amount of differentiation needed to create an effective lesson for children.
This August, Excel Public Charter School will open to 150 sixth- and seventh-grade students in Kent and will eventually serve grades six through 12 by 2021. To address our state’s shortage of local computer-programming talent, we’ve built computer science into our everyday core curriculum. This will help develop the computational thinking skills our students need to be successful in college and career. Our daily schedule includes one, 50-minute period of computer science, in addition to twice the amount of instructional time in language arts and mathematics.
Excel is committed to getting students coding in a real coding environment where they’re writing code, as opposed to drag-and-drop learning environments. At the same time, we’ve made great efforts to keep things accessible for students — our introductory computer-science course is based in Web programming, not traditional object-oriented programming languages (such as Java and C++), which will ultimately allow them to easily create Web applications on any device.
By transitioning our focus to coding rather than cursive, and by supporting both legislation and local incubator schools, Washington can ensure that its high-tech companies continue to have at their doorstep the next generation of highly skilled graduates. What’s more, they will have been educated in our own backyard.
We’ve been encouraged by the response we’ve received by those in the education community, as well as by parents. Since opening registration to our school, we’ve received more than 130 applications for our inaugural sixth- and seventh-grade classes. Now is the time for tech-industry leaders to rally behind local schools that are leading the way forward in computer science.