Computer science will likely be taught in all Wyoming schools in the coming years, thanks to a bill passed last week.
“This is landmark legislation,” state Superintendent Jillian Balow said Monday. “... By and large and in many ways, we’re pioneers of this. That’s a really exciting place to be.”
The measure, which has been sent to Gov. Matt Mead for final approval, will fold computer science into the state’s educational program. It will become one of several areas — like math and science — that will have its own content standards, created by state educators.
The legislation affects both graduation requirements and the Hathaway success curriculum. Students could swap computer science for a science credit — of which they need three — for graduation. For the Hathaway Scholarship, it can also stand in for a math class.
Balow said the work to build enthusiasm about computer science began years ago and was initially met with disinterest.
“I broached the idea with (the Joint Education Committee) about two and a half years ago during the interim and didn’t get any traction whatsoever,” she said.
But as months went by, educators, business leaders and the tech industry voiced support. Not only was computer science a chance to add to a Wyoming student’s education, but it could also help provide a sorely needed workforce. At the time, the state was going through another energy bust, and officials were looking for ways to diversify Wyoming’s economy.
Sen. Hank Coe, the chairman of the education committee that sponsored the bill, told his fellow lawmakers last month that he had heard from a tech official that there were “$30 million worth of (computer science) jobs in Wyoming that are unfilled.”
Over this past interim — the months between legislative sessions — lawmakers on two education committees put forward legislation to codify computer science into Wyoming’s schools. Balow said that while the state Department of Education supported both measures, education officials leaned more toward the eventually successful Senate measure.
That bill — titled Senate File 29 — would place computer science into both the common core of skills and common core of knowledge. The skills component are areas that are taught across subjects — like critical thinking. The common core of knowledge, meanwhile, is often its own subject area, which is why computer science will have its own state-developed standards for it.
“That is really essential,” Balow said. “It gives pathways for computer science education at each grade level.”
While computer science found fertile ground among education-minded lawmakers, some educators voiced concern about just how to teach it. How would a small school district be able to attract qualified instructors? Even if they could bring them in, what’s stopping that teacher from turning around and taking a higher-paying job in the tech industry later?
Balow acknowledged that was a concern. But computer science won’t be fully rolled out for five years, which she said should give districts and teachers ample time to prepare.
The state hopes to train 500 instructors to teach computer science by 2022. That will look different for different grade levels, she said. For instance, a fourth-grade teacher may not need a math certificate to teach the subject. But that instructor does need training. The same would go for elementary school-level computer science teachers.
At the secondary level, Balow says she anticipates “that we’ll have a number of teachers step forward and want to what’s called micro-credentialing.”
“Basically, add an endorsement that’s designed and approved by the Professional Teachers Standards Board,” she explained.