Why we need to pass House Bill 1813 in Washington state

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Hour of Code, education, computer science
Students at Lakota Middle School, in Federal Way, Washington, participate in the “Hour of Code” on Dec. 11, 2014.

Over the past two years, Microsoft and our allies worked to broaden access to computer science in high school.

Half the states now allow computer science courses to count toward high school graduation. Yet every student should be able to learn this subject. It’s time for Washington state to make computer science really count by passing House Bill 1813. That’s why I joined leaders from education, non-profits, and business in signing a letter in support of this important bill.

In states that count computer science as a math and/or science credit, the average computer science class is 53 percent larger than in states in which the subject is only an elective. Arkansas is the most recent state to make strides on this front. Last month, Governor Asa Hutchinson signed a bill mandating that starting in the 2015-16 school year, all public high schools in his state will offer computer science. We commend Governor Hutchinson for taking this unprecedented, bold action on behalf of young people.

Washington should follow Arkansas’ example. In 2013, Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation allowing Advanced Placement Computer Science to count toward graduation. While this was a major step forward, we continue to work toward a more comprehensive solution.

House Bill 1813 is an important part of this comprehensive approach. It would establish standards for computer science. It would match private funding to train teachers, who are critical to expanding access to this field. It would also prioritize investments to reach underrepresented students first. We believe this bill will help Washington high schools start on a path to teach computer science.

Teaching computer science in schools would be good for our children and for our economy. As the letter we sent to the Legislature yesterday highlights, there are 20,000 open computing jobs across all industries in Washington. These jobs increasingly exist across every sector and employer and not just in what people consider to be the “tech industry.” These are unrealized opportunities for our young people. The problem is that students aren’t learning early enough – in high school – how exciting these careers can be. We see the results when they enter college. In 2014, there were only 1,200 computer science graduates at the university level in Washington state, and among high school AP Computer Science test takers, only 260 were female. Only 48 were black or Hispanic. We need to reach more young people, from all walks of life, while they’re in high school. Yet today AP Computer Science is only offered in 7 percent of our high schools. Think about the potential we’re missing!

In addition to supporting policy changes such as HB 1813, Microsoft is focused on helping expand access to computer science in other ways. As part of our Microsoft YouthSpark initiative, we partner with nonprofits to help provide STEM skills and opportunities for young people. We work with organizations such as Code.org to drive excitement in computer science, and we support STEM education programs such was Washington STEM, Washington State Opportunity Scholarship and Year Up.

In addition, through our TEALS volunteer program (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools), we recruit, train, mentor and place high-tech professionals in high schools unable to meet computer science needs on their own. There are currently 131 TEALS schools across the country, with a volunteer base of nearly 500 current and former industry professionals. It is through the commitment of these volunteers that TEALS reaches an estimated 6,600 students. I encourage those with a background in computer science to volunteer your expertise.

Code is the language of our future. It’s essential that our young people have the chance to learn this vital language. Their future opportunities depend on it. HB 1813 is an important step towards doing this.

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