Politics & Government

New standards to be set for high school computer science training

A new state law aims to expand computer science education in high schools, something supporters say will help prepare Washington’s graduates to fill high-paying computer science jobs.

The measure Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law Wednesday requires the state to adopt computer science learning standards for K-12 students, as well as new standards for teachers to earn a computer science endorsement.

Supporters said the law will help train students to fill a growing number of jobs in the computer science and technology industry. According to the Washington Technology Industry Association, Washington companies create 3,000 more jobs per year above the number of qualified workers the state produces to fill them.

“We think it’s a first important step in beginning to solve the problem of our education pipeline when it comes to computer science,” said Michael Schutzler, the group’s CEO.

The new law directs the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the state’s Professional Educator Standards Board to adopt computer science learning standards by the start of the 2015-16 school year. The board also will have to develop standards for a teaching endorsement in computer science by January 2016.

Teachers pursuing the computer science endorsement could qualify for scholarship money under the new law.

State Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah, said only about 10 percent of Washington’s students graduate high school having completed a computer science course, despite the growing number of jobs available to people with computer science training.

Magendanz said that with new teacher training standards, students will be learning computer science in high school from instructors who genuinely know the field. Opening up scholarship funding for teachers who pursue computer science training should help improve the availability of computer science courses, he said.

“This just seems like an obvious way to to narrow that skills gap,” said Magendanz, who sponsored the legislation along with state Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island.

Particularly given how well computer science jobs pay, it is important that the state prepare students locally to fill those positions, said Magendanz, who spent a decade working at Microsoft.

“To not be giving our kids an opportunity to get these jobs is really a crime, in my opinion,” Magendanz said. “We can’t keep importing tech talent forever.”

The state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction supports the bill, said spokeswoman Kristen Jaudon, though the agency is hoping that the state budget will include additional funding to help more schools offer computer science education. Lawmakers still are working to finalize a new two-year spending plan.

“We think having those kinds of skills is important for the 21st century,” Jaudon said.