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The Podium

Mass. can lead in computer science education

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

Earlier this month, we stood together to announce the House of Representatives’ Economic Development bill. Looking out at a room of reporters, business leaders, and policy experts, we found ourselves upstaged by several students from the Advanced Math and Science Academy Charter School and Westford Academy, who spoke about their experiences learning computer science.

Collectively, the students reported that their participation in the Verizon Innovative App Challenge and the Iridescent/Technovation Challenge sparked their interest in computer science. One young woman said that “learning computing skills shouldn’t be only tactical; it’s about developing a way of thinking. You’re not just programming, you’re learning how to identify problems and how to solve them. From arts to linguistics to game design, we want to innovate.” All are planning to pursue more extensive study at the college level.

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Given the state’s strong focus on strengthening the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics skills of its students, concentrating on computer science education is a logical next step. With the House’s passage of the Economic Development bill and its ultimate approval, Massachusetts would become one of the first states to make a financial commitment to developing state computer science standards, a comprehensive computer science curriculum, and supporting teachers and districts willing to provide new computer science courses to students in Massachusetts. The bill provides $1.5 million for MassCAN (Massachusetts Computing Attainment Network), which was founded in 2013 by a coalition including Google, Microsoft, Mass Business Roundtable, Mass Tech Collaborative, Massachusetts Competitive Partnership, Mass Tech Leadership Council, and others.

By choosing to directly fund computer science, Massachusetts is poised for national leadership both educationally and economically. And the business community is on board, offering to match state funding dollar-for-dollar to drive the expansion of professional development opportunities to teachers from Boston to the Berkshires with a full range of K12 offerings, including elements for K-8 (crucial points for exposing students to computer science), and a new AP Computer Science Principles offering in high school.

The proposed state commitment comes at an economic crossroads. By 2020, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there will be one million more computer science jobs than there are graduates to fill them. Code.org, a nationwide computer education group, notes that, because computer science is a top paying degree and programming jobs are growing at two times the national average, this gap represents a $500 billion untapped opportunity. Meanwhile in Massachusetts, high school students’ interest in computer science badly needs a jumpstart, particularly considering Massachusetts’ growing need for computing talent as the leading knowledge-based state economy.

By injecting state support for computer science education through MassCAN, we will change that and build upon the state’s nationally recognized STEM initiative. Code.org’s chief operating officer, Cameron Wilson, welcomes the Massachusetts proposal and calls it “a groundbreaking policy.”

We know that computer science is needed by the Commonwealth’s computer technology sector, but computing talent is increasingly needed in positions across all sectors, including health care, financial services and even advanced manufacturing. By providing computer science education we are not just teaching tactical skills, we are fostering creative thinking, problem solving, and critical analysis that will be relevant in any industry.

We are at a rare juncture where business and government can come together to prepare our state and our workers for the future. We must seize this opportunity.

Robert A. DeLeo represents the 19th Suffolk District and has been the speaker of the Massachusetts House since 2009. Steve Vinter is an engineering director at Google Boston and co-founder of MassCAN.
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