Gentz: Comments accepted for Iowa’s computer science standards

Computer Science Iowa The Iowa Department of Education is seeking public comments on its new computer science initiative. Photo courtesy of Alpha Stock Images

Last year then Governor Terry Branstad (R) signed into law SF 274 which encourages computer science in every Iowa school, establishes voluntary computer science standards and creates a computer science professional development fund to help prepare teachers.The Iowa Department of Education is seeking public comment on the voluntary computer science standards and will hold public forums April 10th and 12th and has an online survey open through April 13th.

All of the details can be found here.

Both components of the law are incredibly important. Standards help to evaluate the quality and without high-quality computer science offerings, we are doing every student taking those courses a huge disservice. It likely will turn off a generation to an important skill set that will be required in virtually every field in the workforce.

Professional development for educators to teach computer science is just as—if not more—important than the standards.

If the standards we create as a state require every school to have a computer science teacher but there are no new allocated funds for such a requirement, we could find ourselves with new graduates who have no desire to have a career in anything with computer science.

An unqualified teacher will be forced into a position to teach computer science, who may not love it.

This again does a disservice to students as it is completely apparent when an educator loves what they are teaching—and when they don’t.

Students feed off the energy of the teacher in the room and if we start forcing teachers who don’t love computer science—or are unqualified to teach the subject—we create un-engaging learning environments. Then we have a large group of students who detest computer science which will inevitably leave learners behind and a plethora of jobs unfilled.

Professional development should also be implemented as a continuous learning process for our educators. The rate of change for technology and computer science is faster than we can keep up with, meaning educators must constantly have opportunities to continue growing in their knowledge in order to pass on the most up-to-date information to their students.

Future Ready Iowa

Along similar lines of the computer science standards, Governor Kim Reynolds (R) signed the Future Ready Iowa bill on Tuesday. Governor Reynolds was quoted in The Des Moines Register saying that, “This bill changes lives by helping Iowans earn credentials that prepare them for rewarding careers in advanced manufacturing, computer science, finance, healthcare and many other fields.This bill also helps employers hire the skilled workers they need to grow, which means Iowa communities will be even more prosperous.”

While the bill itself has a focus on higher ed and workforce, the legislation does create opportunities for high school students to start earlier on necessary skills through summer courses that are aligned with “high-demand career pathways.”

We would be foolish to think that computer science doesn’t touch every one of the “high-demand career pathways” in some way. We’ve been in the era of big data for a while now and we’re finally entering what experts are calling the “fourth industrial revolution”, where we are able to take the data and turn it into something tangible through artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and robotics.

We must be careful to not think that computer science alone is a silver bullet, indeed, it is not. It will be, however, a basic skill that every person entering the workforce in the next five to ten years will need to know. The people who know how to code will not be the richest people in business in our next-gen workforce, but those who figure out the problems coding can solve. This is why coding alone will not be a silver bullet- but an incredible skill set to foster innovation and creativity within the workforce.

Also along the lines of future workforce is the release of the latest working paper on automation from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The OECD works to provide a forum in which governments can work together to share experiences and seek solutions to common problems. They work with governments to understand what drives economic, social and environmental change and measure productivity and global flows of trade and investment.

In their recent release, the OECD provides some helpful statistics on what the future workforce will actually look like. It suggests that 14 percent of jobs in OECD countries are likely to be “highly automatable” which means that the probability of automation is 70 percent or higher. Although that doesn’t seem like much, it equates to 66 million jobs across OECD countries.

The likelihood of automation in the workforce, along with evolving requirements for every job field is why every student must have access to high-quality computer science offerings, and educators must receive the professional development they need. Our community has the opportunity to give meaningful input on this important issue, which is why I urge you to submit your comment to the Department of Education.

Our future workforce depends on it.

Susan Gentz is the deputy executive director for the Center for Digital Education and a contributing writer for Clay & Milk.

Previous commentary from Susan Gentz

What if there was no curriculum? – April 24, 2017

Employee benefits and a changing workforce – April 10, 2017

How do we make data meaningful? – March 27, 2017

Local chambers, business groups should engage remote workers – March 13, 2017

Gentz: Community engagement better prepares tomorrow’s workforce – Feb. 27, 2017

What to know about the FCC (part 2) – Feb. 13, 2017

What to know about the FCC in 2017 – Feb. 6, 2017

Should Iowa’s unemployment benefits change to better aid entrepreneurs? – Jan. 25, 2017