Give every student access to computer science education

Despite Washington’s status as a technology hub, more than 40% of the state’s K-12 public school districts do not offer a single computer science class, according to recent data.

This is unfortunate. Not every young man from Washington will want to grow up to work in the computer-related industries, but every student should have the opportunity to explore these in-demand and lucrative careers.

Lisa Wellman, chairwoman of the state Senate’s early education committee and chair of the K-12 Education Committee, has her eye on the problem, telling members of the editorial board recently that she wants to ensure that all students have access to the most rigorous computer science curriculum, which has been Developed with industry input.

More than 14,000 ICT companies operate in Washington, according to the state Department of Commerce. The sector includes small startups and giants such as Google and Facebook and local companies such as Microsoft, Amazon and Tableau.

But only about 30,600, or just under 9%, of the state’s high school students were enrolled in computer science courses during the 2019-20 school year, according to a 2021 report from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Education. Of this number, only 25% were female. Students with disabilities, English language learners, and students living in poverty were also underrepresented.

OSPI officials counted a total of 728 computer science courses alone across 335 high schools in 169 counties. They also found that teachers of these courses tend to be less experienced than teachers of other subjects and more likely to have limited degrees in the field or to teach outside of their areas of expertise.

Washington state adopted computer science learning standards in 2016, but state education officials are still working on an implementation plan to direct teacher training and make more computer science classes available to students. Groups like Washington STEM are working to expand access to computer science education. There is clearly a lot to do.

The state’s growing technology industry generates an estimated $36.4 billion in annual revenue and employs more than 313,000 technology-based workers. It is expected to continue to grow at an average rate of 3% annually, outpacing many other occupations, according to a December 2020 analysis from the Washington Student Achievement Council. They estimate that the sector will create more than 69,000 jobs per year.

Washington students, their families, and their businesses all benefit when these well-paying jobs are filled by qualified local applicants. Introducing K-12 students to the basics of computing systems, networks, data analysis, programming, and other basic concepts is an important step in bridging the gap between worker skills and employer needs.

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