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Nine out of 10 schools don't offer computer programming coursework.
March 21, 2016 – 06:51 am
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Teacher Brian Irr teaches in a mobile app development class for high school students taking increased interest in college majors that could lead to high-tech careers. Medfield High School has a boatload of seniors heading to schools like MIT, RPI and Harvard to study tech in various forms. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)Teacher Brian Irr teaches in a mobile app development class for high school students on June 13, 2014, at MedfieldHigh School in Medfield, Mass.

Barely a month after Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson was sworn into office this year, he signed into law a measure that requires high schools to offer computer science classes.

As a result, the number of students enrolled in those classes shot up, from 1, 100 students in the 2014-2015 school year to more than 4, 000 students so far this year.

"Really it wasn't even a full year that it took to do this, " Anthony Owen, the computer science coordinator at the Arkansas Department of Education, said during a panel Thursday at the Microsoft Innovation and Policy Center in Washington. "[Hutchinson] said he wanted it done this August and we said, 'Yes, sir, ' and started looking at how to begin accomplishing his vision."

[READ: State Education Funding Hasn't Recovered from Recession]

Hutchinson's vision extends beyond the law's current requirements, too. Beginning in the 2017-2018 school year, Owen said, plans are in the works to require students in kindergarten through grade eight to have some type of computer science exposure.

With its energized push, Arkansas joins a small but growing list of states that are trying to feverishly expand their computer science offerings. The momentum comes at a time when an increasing number of jobs require computer science skills, an area of expertise employers report is still difficult to find despite the growing focus on science, technology, engineering and math – or STEM subjects – in the K-12 system.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 37.5 percent growth by 2022 in the "computer systems design and related services" industry – from 1.6 million jobs in 2012 to more than 2.2 million in 2022. But only 1 in 10 schools nationwide currently are teaching computer science classes, according to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. And, a computer science advocacy group, reports that 9 out of 10 schools don't offer computer programming coursework.

To counter that, states are trying to encourage districts to offer computer science courses by amending graduation requirements to either allow or mandate that they be taken to fulfill math or science course requirements, said Jennifer Zinth, director of high school and STEM at the Education Commission of the States.

In a recent study of state offerings, Zinth found that 14 states allow students to fulfill a math, science or foreign language credit for high school by completing computer science classes, and at least four states – Louisiana, Massachusetts, Texas and Virginia – award a special diploma to graduates who have earned certain computer science credits.

"Looking at the graduation requirements across the 50 states, we have such a diversity of requirements, " Zinth said. "As long as the momentum is there, I think we'll be able to [close the computer science skills gap]."

One significant obstacle stands in the way of that, however: A lack of teachers qualified to teach computer science courses.

Indeed, Owen says he can imagine a future where students in Arkansas will be required to take computer science courses as a prerequisite for graduation, but that the state isn't ready to go there just yet as the pipeline for computer science teachers isn't robust enough.

[ALSO: New Federal Education Law Shifts Power to States]

In an effort to spur certifications, Microsoft recently doubled down on an investment aimed at getting more computer science educators in the classroom. In September, the company announced it would pour $75 million into its YouthSpark initiative, which will be used in part to expand its Technology Education and Literacy in Schools program. That initiative helps professionals in the tech industry volunteer and partner with teachers to start computer science programs in high schools.

In addition,, which works to establish computer science programs in schools and has already helped certify more than 16, 000 teachers through various training programs, is pushing teacher preparation programs at colleges and universities to require computer science training as part of their degree programs.

"You could smoosh computer science into the education technology course that teachers have to take, where I learned how to create a PowerPoint, which they don't need to use anymore, " Pat Yongpradit, chief academic officer at, said at the Microsoft panel in reference to his experience becoming a teacher. "But they do need to know how to use computational thinking."

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