The Kansas Department of Education is revamping computer science education standards and in doing so, hopes to meet the workforce demands of employers and parents. According to Code.org more than 90% of parents want their children to study computer science in school, but only 35% of Kansas schools teach computer science. Code.org says students who learn computer science in high school are 6 times more likely to major in it; women are 10 times more likely. Yet, in Kansas only 146 Advanced Placement exams for Computer Science were taken in 2018. What parents would like to see in their child’s education is not being met by schools.
However, Dr. Stephen King Ph.D., the media and technology education program consultant for the Kansas Department of Education, believes Code.org is not giving a clear picture of Kansas’s offerings.
“They have a very narrow definition of coding, and I think we are doing a lot better than they say we are,” says King.
The proposed standards would introduce fundamental concepts of computer science beginning in primary school and at the secondary-level to offer, “computer science courses that will allow interested students to study facets of computer science in more depth and prepare them for entry into the work force or college.”
Representative Steve Huebert (R-Valley Center) wants to encourage students to take computer science classes by advocating to allow students the option of taking them to fulfill a science requirement for graduation.
“One of the way we do that is allowing for computer science class to count as a credit, a science credit for graduation,” Say Huebert.
Huebert is not proposing to make computer science mandatory, but allowing it to count as one of the science electives needed for graduation. Huebert wants to do something at the legislative level that works with the Kansas Department of Education.
“Ensure that what we are teaching in schools is cutting edge, more of what’s happening in the real world. So kids will be able to use what they are learning, prepare them to enter the job market and be able to do jobs that need computer science skills,” says Huebert.
Everyone learns about chemistry, physics and biology, but as Huebert says he never uses them however, “The one area I wish I would have had more classes in and my biggest weakness is computer science.”
In 2018 there were more than 2,200 computing science job openings in Kansas according to Code.org. The average salary of the jobs was more than $77,000 dollars, which is $30,000 dollars higher than the average salary in Kansas. The Kanas Chamber of Commerce is pushing for more computer science in high schools after hearing from employers about their needs.
Kristi Brown, the Senior Director Government Affairs at the Kansas Chamber, says the chamber is hearing from businesses across the state about the need in computer science careers.
“We do have a lot of technology-based companies in this area that really need to grow their work force,” says Brown.
This is just one of the reasons Huebert wants to address computer science education across the state.
“The state board reviews their standards in all areas of education every 7 years. And we are at a point where the science standards are being reviewed so it is the perfect time for the bill we introduced.”
The proposed standards lays out education goals for each grade level starting in pre-K and focuses on a multi-pronged approach to computer science. Yet, the definition of what computer science is can be just as confusing. One of the key issues when discussing computer science is that many groups have wildly varying definitions.
“It needs to be said, computer coding has nothing to do with learning how to use a keyboard or learning how to use Microsoft office. That’s not what this is about,” says Brown.
King agrees that getting everyone in Kansas on the same page about what computer science is one of the biggest challenges.
“It’s hard to really specify what computer science is. We know it’s not just coding, we know it’s not just computer literacy, although those are both part of it,” says King “So what we have chosen to do in Kansas is to kind of take a step back and say what we are interested in is computational thinking.”
Huebert admits that the legislature can only make recommendations to the state board of education regarding curriculum, but with new standards on the horizon it was a good time for the legislature to weigh in.
“In my mind it is trying to move the issue forward. We can’t mandate it, but we can make the recommendation that it is in the best interest of the state board and local board and the legislature to get this change made,” says Huebert.
Computer science is a subject that brings a lot of stake holders to the table, including parents, educators, lawmakers, and businesses. According to Brown that is why it is so important to emphasize it in Kansas schools.
“I think that it is not just about educating kids, who are interested in learning this area. It is also educating the adults and making them more aware of the possibilities of student who are interested in that skill,” says Brown.