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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, December 03, 2017 1:00 am


State offers head start on computing

If the Indiana Chamber has its way, all Indiana high school students will be required to study computer science to graduate. The proposal is part of the business organization's legislative priorities for 2018.

But before legislators jump on board, they should consult educators to determine what's now available and who is prepared to teach. They also should be prepared to dip into the state's budget surplus to pay for courses and qualified teachers.

The state's top educator isn't fully on board. Holly Stachler, spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Education, said Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick believes computer science courses should be available to all Indiana students, but not necessarily a requirement.

McCormick's own legislative priorities call for identifying best practices and research in key areas, including computer science.

Tracy Williams, chief academic officer for Fort Wayne Community Schools, noted the state's new science standards incorporate computer science, but she expressed concern about adding another graduation requirement or an unfunded mandate.

And professor Beomijn Kim, chair of the computer science department at IPFW, points to a shortage of qualified teachers, noting there's a difference in instructors trained in a carefully prescribed curriculum and those who have a broad understanding of the computer science field.

A March report from the Education Commission of the States and other groups is a good blueprint for lawmakers to consult, offering important caveats and recommendations. It identifies Indiana as one of only seven states with computer science standards in place for grades K-12. 

FWCS' Williams said the district offers numerous courses addressing the new standards through its Project Lead the Way engineering program, as well as digital applications and web design courses.

“We're in the process of revising or modifying our curriculum, so we will be looking to make those adjustments,” she said of the standards. But is there room in the curriculum for another high school requirement?

“That's a good question,” Williams said. “I think within our core content areas – science, math, English, history – school districts have to be cognizant around incorporating technology and computer science opportunities for all kids. Many of our kids come with a lot of experience and exposure to technology already. We have to continue to build on that knowledge and skill.”

“We have summer programs for students at the elementary and middle-school level,” Williams said. “We integrate technology instruction – a lot of computer instruction, coding. We utilize maker spaces and there has been a significant increase in the interest.”

The interest extends to the university level. Kim said computer science enrollment at IPFW is growing each year, with enrollment exceeding 250 in 2016-17. By official surveys, more than 90 percent of graduates are finding jobs in the field. But unofficially, Kim said, the success rate is 100 percent.

When local employers contact IPFW for potential hires, “We don't have students looking for jobs,” he said, noting the university works closely with Do It Best, Parkview Health, Lincoln Financial and more than a dozen other companies in allowing students job-shadowing and an industry-sponsored capstone project in their senior year.

IPFW also provides much instruction at the high school level, offering four dual credit computer science courses at five area high schools. About 100 students were enrolled in the courses last year, he said, and the department is offering a course at Homestead High School this year.

Working with a higher education partner should be the course Indiana follows in computer science studies. Kim wisely suggests linking high school courses with dual credit instruction to give students a start earning college credit. Universities, in tune with where the computer science field is moving, are best positioned to nurture wider interest in it among students.