Connecting Computer Science Education to In-Demand Careers

K-12Postsecondary & Workforce

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This post continues our coverage of computer science education as a part of our 2022-23 Chair’s Initiative.

Increasingly, students must be prepared for the workforce with technical skills, including computer science and digital literacy. One way to support job readiness is to define and create postsecondary and career pathways in computer science for students throughout their K-12 education. For that, states need qualified teachers, students with foundational knowledge and educational opportunities for students to gain advanced computer science and digital literacy skills.

States across the country have adopted various policies to improve equitable access to computer science education and pave the way for postsecondary and career pathways.

Since computer science skills have become a larger part of many professions in the past two decades, any exposure to digital literacy or computer science topics across students’ K-12 education could benefit these future job seekers as well as broad economic development. For example:

  • In elementary school, students could be exposed to computer science through math or science lessons.
  • In middle school, students could begin career exploration and more specific digital literacy and computer science-centric courses.
  • In high school, students could be offered optional or required computer science courses and experiential opportunities to get involved in potential careers.

In addition to general exposure to computer science across the K-12 continuum, state policymakers can support specific pathways in computer science in a variety of ways, including:

  • Funding teacher professional development opportunities.
  • Defining pathways for students.
  • Including computer science in accountability measures.
  • Providing high school students with career and technical education and work-based learning opportunities. Secondary CTE and work-based learning opportunities can provide particularly formative experience and exposure to computer science careers.

An important component of teacher preparation and professional development is funding. Colorado’s Computer Science Grant Program, established in 2017 (S.B. 17-296), provides local education providers with grants to offer professional development to elementary school teachers. Through subsequent legislation, appropriations have continued, and grants were provided for the 2022-23 school year.

Arkansas’ Computer Science and Technology in Public School Task Force provides recommendations for improving pathways from K-12 through postsecondary and the workforce. The task force recommendations include increasing access to computer science education across K-12, increasing teacher capacity and training, and aligning high school and postsecondary computer science pathways with industry needs and best practices. Additionally, Arkansas is the only state that specifically includes computer science course credits as part of the college and career readiness indicator for accountability.

The Utah State Board of Education includes a Computer Science and Information Technology Career Cluster as part of its CTE offerings. This career cluster includes four pathways to various careers in “design, development, support and management of hardware, software, multimedia and systems integration services.”

The Rhode Island Department of Education, in partnership with the University of Rhode Island and the RI STEAM Center at Rhode Island College, developed a Work-Based Learning for Computer Science course and curriculum. The course provides students with academic instruction and real-world software development experience with an industry mentor.

Kentucky H.B. 680 created the WeLeadCS virtual computer science career academy to expand access to accelerated, early college career pathways for high school students. This academy prepares students for careers in computing — particularly in the field of data science.

States have done a great deal of work to expand access to computer science education across K-12, postsecondary and the workforce. As states expand access to computer science education in P-12 and direct students into computer science career pathways, policymakers and leaders across the P-20 spectrum could benefit from working together to ensure those pathways are connected and ultimately lead to relevant postsecondary opportunities, credentials and careers.

Author profile
Assistant Director at Education Commission of the States

As the policy assistant director, Meghan works on K-12 accountability and student health and wellness, among other P-20 education policy topics. Prior to joining Education Commission of the States, Meghan spent six years at the National Conference of State Legislatures, focusing on human services policy, and earlier, at the Colorado General Assembly as a legislative aide. Meghan believes that education has a tremendous impact on, and is greatly influenced by, other governmental systems, including child welfare, public assistance, housing and health.

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