New Science Standards Must Include Computer Science

Kids-computers-300x199  The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were issued this week.  MBAE , with its long record of    advocating for rigorous statewide academic standards, had encouraged employers to join us and submit comments on the final draft calling for increased emphasis on computer science.  Unfortunately, early reviews indicate this call went unheeded.

In a summary of feedback  received in January 2013 about the final draft, the NGSS acknowledged calls for increased emphasis on computer science but dismissed it as “a misunderstanding of the purpose of the NGSS”.   This was not unexpected as the NGSS had ignored previous calls to make computer science a more central component of the new standards.  Now, it is up to individual states to make decisions whether to adopt the new NGSS standards or go with their own.

MBAE will be urging the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which has the authority and responsibility for approving state curriculum frameworks, not to miss this opportunity to address a serious need in our state’s science, technology and engineering education.   In fact, the NGSS in its dismissal of feedback on computer science stated that, “In contrast to many current state standards, the NGSS specify content and skills required of all students, and are not intended to replace high school course standards. The NGSS are meant to specify the knowledge and skills that will provide a thorough foundation for student success in any chosen field, and can be supplemented with further in-depth study in particular upper-level science courses.” (emphasis my own)

In Massachusetts, “computer systems design and related services” is the 5th largest growing industry with 37% growth projected and a total of 17,600 new jobs being created in this field during from 2006 to 2016.  Network systems and communication is the fastest growing occupation, with 50% growth, and computer software engineer is the third fastest at 35%.  Massachusetts schools, however, are not preparing students to take advantage of these opportunities.  This denies our students the background they need for many high-wage jobs and leaves a growing skills gap between the jobs going unfilled and the competencies applicants possess.

Computer Science Education Now

Computer Science courses are electives in Massachusetts schools so most students are never exposed to this field.  Where these classes are offered, the curriculum generally does not cover computational thinking or teach students to build the technology in a way that exposes them to or prepares them for the opportunities available in this profession.  Similarly, career technical education trains students for company-specific certifications and does not provide the solid math and science foundation needed for high level computing jobs.  In addition, because computer science is an elective, it is not available to all students across the state and courses do not have to meet consistently high statewide standards.  Too few students are choosing to study computer science in college or pursue it as a profession as a result.

Only nine states currently incorporate computer science into their required math or science courses to earn a high school diploma.  Massachusetts is in the process of implementing the Massachusetts Core Standards in mathematics and will not be reviewing or revising these standards in the foreseeable future.  But the state does have the opportunity to incorporate computer science in to its science, technology and engineering (STE) standards as a core course.  Whether or not the BESE decides to adopt the NGSS for grades K-12, Massachusetts has a chance to address computer science in the next version of Massachusetts STE curriculum frameworks.

Opportunity to Make Computer Science a Core Course

The Massachusetts business community has considered this issue through groups such as TechHub, Broadening Advanced Technical Education Connections (BATEC), and the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council.  Curriculum and instructional materials have already been developed by respected local and national organizations.

MBAE believes this addresses a priority of many industries in the state that rely on this type of knowledge for their growth and success.  Establishing such a course to provide all children with exposure to computer science and a pathway to deeper knowledge for those interested in pursuing it as a career is also consistent with the college and career readiness goals of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education as well as the commitment of the Department of Higher Education to align its training and degree programs with Massachusetts economic development goals and needs.   Providing the opportunity for students to learn about and develop skills in this area where employment growth and demand exists makes sense for our citizens and communities.

Join us in calling for  Massachusetts to make computer science a core course as part of  any new STE standards!


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