CS for All – Let’s Go MA!

 |   Shereen Tyrell, Executive Director of the Mass TLC Education Foundation & Aimee Sprung, Civic Engagement Manager at Microsoft

Ask any student what they want to be when they grow up, and you’re bound to hear about sports and entertainment. Too many students, and parents, don’t know high tech careers are within their reach, or that knowing how to use a smartphone doesn’t make a student tech savvy. Microsoft has many programs that make technology accessible and relevant — but as a community, we can do more. We must become mentors to students, partners with teachers, and providers of resources to schools. Making CS relevant will make it a skill worth striving to learn in the eyes of parents and students.

Last month, the White House announced a plan to give all kids across the country a chance to learn computer science in school. With $4 billion in funding, CS for All is VERY exciting.  Just reading through the announcement, you can see the diverse public and private organizations that are coming together to support this effort.  The White House announcement did an great job summarizing why Computer Science is not just a part of the buzz-word “STEM,” but a real, important and foundational critical-thinking skill that all of our students need to succeed. Thank you to the White House for calling attention to CS nationally.  So what will happen in Massachusetts?

code.org statsThanks to the MassCAN collaboration, which includes Code.org and the MassTLC Education Foundation, Massachusetts is already well on its way to achieving CS for all.

But we still have lots of work to do. We must train our teachers, increase equitable access to computer science, improve extracurricular coding programs and make CS count toward graduation in all Massachusetts high schools. And, we need to inspire parents and kids to see how computer science is an exciting tool for building career in almost any profession. Here are the steps we need to take to achieve CS for all:

  1. Teacher Training — Only 108 schools in MA (26% of MA schools with AP programs) offered AP Computer Science in 2013-2014. There are fewer AP exams taken in computer science than in any other STEM subject area.  Increasing the number of high school teachers qualified to teach computational thinking is the key to reaching more students.
  2. Equitable Access to CS and Coding — Out of the 1,784 high school students in Massachusetts who took the AP Computer Science exam in 2015, only 22% were female; only 102 were Hispanic; only 51 were black. These statistics are a wake-up call. Too many talented youth are sitting on the sidelines. Making CS education available to all students, in earlier grades, can turn things around.
  3. Extracurricular Programming —Coding clubs, contests, camps and classes are great ways to deepen student’s knowledge and interest.  One positive experience after-school can change the direction of a student’s life.
  4. Make CS Count — Establishing CS as a statewide class that counts toward graduation will strengthen the adoption of CS in every school.  In Massachusetts, we are taking the first step, and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is collecting public input on CS Standards until April. Standards are available for public review here.

The White House CS for All challenges states to develop a five-year plan to transform computer science education. We can do it. But we must take action now.

Let’s start at the very beginning and each take one small action: Investigate. Find out what your school system offers around Computer Science.

Let’s all work together to make Massachusetts a leader in innovation.  We will open doors of opportunity for our youth, and make our economy strong.  And it all starts with us.

About Shereen Tyrrell, Executive Director at the Mass Technology Leadership Council’s Education Foundation

The Education Foundation invests in innovation partnerships between high tech and education in order to transform education to prepare students for the 21st Century.  It’s goal is to change lives, unlock potential and fuel the talent pipeline.  A former computer & system’s engineering, Shereen is a passionate advocate for large scale system’s change that improves the quality of life. She believes that investing in education benefits individuals, companies, Massachusetts, our Nation, and the Global economy.

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