Missouri works to develop computer science standards for K-12 schools

Computer

(KMAland) — A work group made up of educators and parents is creating computer science standards for Missouri’s K-12 public schools. The new measures are a result of the 2018 passage of House Bill 3.

The legislation, passed during last September’s special session of the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Mike Parson, teaches career awareness to middle schoolers about STEM – science, technology, engineering and math. It also lets high schoolers swap a math class with a computer science class for graduation.

During a hearing in Jefferson City this week, one of the work group members said the standards being developed would not require a computer to learn. They could be studied through what is referred to as “unplugged activities”, which involve critical thinking and understanding algorithms.

Since technology is a major part of everyday life for many Missourians, work group members could integrate computer science learning across other subjects, especially in elementary school. Higher level courses in middle and high school could be offered separately.

High school computer science teacher Burdett Wilson says one of the national trends is to turn high school computer science classes into courses for college-bound students.

“One of my big concerns, as a teacher, is about half of my students go directly to work out of high school. The other half then go to college,” he says. “I teach students every day who will never go to college.”

Wilson launched a computer science program about five years ago at Macon Area Career and Technical Center in northern Missouri. His computer programming courses are made up of mostly high school juniors and seniors.

The school partners with an IT outsourcing company across the street. The company takes people without computer experience and teaches them the ropes in an eight week boot camp. The top students of each class then work for the company.

Wilson says state computer science instruction should be geared toward giving students real world skills, not necessarily for those strictly going to college.

“What I have found, and this is what most college professors tell me, is the students I’m sending them are one year, two years ahead of everybody else that comes into the computer science programs,” Wilson says.

He cites a student who worked for the partnering IT company for two years. With the student’s high school diploma and job experience, he was offered a $65,000 a year data job in St. Louis.

Another student who struggled with learning took a job right out of high school.

“He came back and said ‘Mr. Wilson, I’m so excited. I’m making more (money) than my mom.’ His mom worked two jobs and she worked really hard to get him through high school. It is so exciting,” says Wilson. “I had two students both of them graduated with their Associates Degrees this year and they are making $70,000 a year. They are making a lot more than their teacher.”

Wilson says the state should not “pigeon hole” the program for college-bound students only.

“We have a chance to have hundreds and thousands of students that have great careers,” he says. “We’re very excited about the idea of having computer science standards, but we’re hoping that it is aimed at those students who would not necessarily be college students. It could change their life.”

Wilson’s assertion is one similarly shared by Governor Mike Parson, who wants more state focus on workforce development.

The work group plans to give its recommendations to the State Board of Education in May and then would be subject to approval by the panel. If endorsed, the standards would take effect in the 2019-20 school year, per state statute. Districts would then develop their own curriculum to align with the standards.

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