Whether it was the adoption of universal schooling to produce a literate society during the industrial revolution, offering new agricultural science courses in 1890 to better equip students for shifting farming practices, or the proliferation of physics during the Cold War, schools have always adapted to the needs of society.
With the passage of House Bill 5 a few years ago, Texas schools are more aligned than ever with pathways to set students up for college and career. Many Valley school districts have begun or expanded options for students in areas such as law enforcement, medical sciences, or public service.
At the same time, technology skills required for the workforce of today and tomorrow still remain out of reach for most students. Only 18 percent of high schools nationwide are currently accredited to offer AP computer science and this percentage is even lower in the Valley. A few select schools are fortunate enough to have a trained teacher to maybe teach one or two sections at the high school level. This gap may have alarming consequences for our future, given how pivotal computers, robotics, and large amounts of data are to the nature of all work.
In my own job as a managing director at the education nonprofit Teach For America, I find myself faced with new technology platforms such as a mass marketing tool which requires some basic knowledge of the HTML language. The vast amounts of data which are now generated in every sector, every second, require a new understanding of how to manipulate that information to inform decision-making. Yes, some students might choose to become computer programmers, but many more will work in a different field in which a foundational knowledge in computers will be beneficial. We need to think more expansively about how we increase access so that it is now an expectation for students to be exposed to computer science as part of the college and career ready focus of high school.
Fortunately, there are a growing number of potential pathways and options to shift our current programs. Many organizations in the region such as Club Code UTRGV, Border Kids Code, Code RGV, FIRST in Texas U.I.L. robotics, Nerdvana, and Sylvan Learning have already implemented engaging programs which reach elementary and middle school aged students to pique interest and build confidence. The University of Texas OnRamps program trains teachers to become certified in computer science and equips them to teach a dual enrollment computer science course through the university. Through grants with the National Science Foundation and AT&T, Teach For America has trained teachers to bring an accessible curriculum called Exploring Computer Science to several local high schools.
All of these efforts are reaching more students but are incremental in nature. The state of Texas needs a major push to encourage students and schools to offer more courses. Proposed legislation last session, sponsored by Representative Bobby Guerra of McAllen, recommended counting computer science courses towards high school graduation requirements. A change in the way these courses are credited could open the floodgates of students excited to tackle the subject. Local organizations, teacher training programs, and school districts should be preparing to find and prepare the teachers necessary to support such an expansion.
Much like all of those past moments in history which have shaped our education system today, it is now time to respond to our changing economy and globalized society by ensuring that schools equip all students with the needed 21st century skills, including computer science. Nationally, and here in the Valley, we are celebrating CS Education Week from December 5-12 this year. Learn more and get involved by participating in an Hour of Code online.