Last week, Representative Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., introduced legislation that would redouble the nation’s focus on computer science. The legislation, the Computer Science in STEM Act of 2013 (H.R. 2982), would redefine STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) in the COMPETES Act of 2010 to include computer science; establish grant programs for both K-12 schools and institutions of higher education, with special priorities for low-income and underrepresented communities, to bolster computing learning in schools and better equip teachers with the skills needed to teach it; and ensure that computer scientists are eligible for the Noyce Teacher Scholarship program.
This sensible legislation reflects growing bipartisan interest in Congress to invest in computer science education. Just last month, the House of Representatives adopted an amendment to a major education bill that would enable federal funds to support training of computer science teachers.
Rep. Cárdenas is right to take steps to enhance computer science learning. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that by 2018, more than 1.5 million computing jobs will be created in the U.S. Unfortunately, as currently constituted, the domestic pipeline for computer scientists is nearly empty. The College Board estimates that less than 1 percent of the nation’s students take the advanced placement exam in computer science. What’s more, Change the Equation, a leading STEM education advocate based in Washington, D.C., estimates that, while six in 10 high schools offer a basic computer science course, only about a quarter of the nation’s high schools offer an advanced placement computer science class, and those that do are in school districts that are disproportionately white and wealthy.
At a time when other countries are making major investments to develop STEM-proficient workforces, failing to heed these red flags will put the American economy on shaky ground at best, and could potentially do irreparable harm it. Computing jobs are quickly becoming the lifeblood of advanced economies around the world. These jobs spur innovation and create untold growth opportunities. It is against this backdrop that we applaud Representative Cárdenas’ efforts to bring computer science learning to more classrooms around the country, which will no doubt mean major returns for the U.S. economy in the coming years.
Momentum for the Computer Science in STEM Act continues to grow. Both Computing in the Core and Code.org have joined with ITI to pledge their support for the bill. Now it’s up to Congress to take notice and act. Given the increasing reliance on computing skills in today’s workplace, it’s critical that policymakers work together to ensure that students from all walks of life are armed with the skills they will need to compete in a global, 21st-century economy.