New York State School Boards Association

Computer programming jobs are plentiful, but only 186 schools in NYS teach the subject

by Paul Heiser

On Board Online • February 9, 2015

By Paul Heiser
Senior Research Analyst

While computers and technology are common in the lives of youngsters, the nation's high school students spend relatively little time studying computer science. Few are taught to write code, or take classes that delve into the workings of the Internet or explain how to create an app.

"I think schools don't do enough to instruct students in computer science," said Matt Hladun, director of technology in the Queensbury school district in Warren County. Two years ago, Queensbury's high school began offering two courses in computer science.

"I found a statistic last year from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that showed that by 2020, there will be 760,000 jobs in IT (information technology)," Hadlun said. "However, we are only graduating 40,000 students a year with a computer science degree."

Computer programming is among the least popular Advanced Placement exams in New York. In 2014, only 1 percent of the 256,910 Advanced Placement examinations taken were in computer science, roughly on par with Physics and Mechanics, French Language and Culture; Studio Art: 2-D Design and Human Geography.

By comparison, 25 percent of AP exams taken in New York were in history, 19 percent in English literature and language, and nearly 10 percent in calculus. Even among STEM subjects (the areas of science, technology, engineering and math), computer science lagged behind other disciplines (see chart).

Queensbury High is one of only 186 schools in New York State that teach computer science, according to Code.org, a non-profit launched in 2013 to support K-12 computer programming education.

New York is weak at the college level, as well. According to Code.org, New York has 37,440 open computing jobs, and the demand is growing at nearly five times the state average for other jobs. Yet, the state produced only 5,680 computer science graduates.

Nationally, there are about four million jobs in computer science fields, according to workforce expert Anthony Carnevale. He is the director and research professor of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, an independent, nonprofit research and policy institute that studies the link between education, career qualifications, and workforce demands.

"Jobs involving understanding the inner workings of computer technology are in the highest demand," Carnevale told On Board. The growth in new jobs is expected to be about 700,000 over the next decade, plus another three times that amount to merely replace existing employees who leave their positions due to retirement, attrition, etc. He said these are relatively high-wage positions with chronic worker shortages that have persisted since at least the mid-1990s.

"Technology has always been ahead of our ability to train people and schools to teach it," Carnevale told On Board. "It's not that schools have failed so much as that technology has moved so fast that they can't keep up with the particular skills that are in demand at any given time."

Carnevale pointed to one area in which schools have been slow to provide skills necessary to meet rising demand: coding, which is the process a computer programmer uses to specify the actions to be performed by a computer by writing instructions in some human-readable computer language.

"Ironically, schools didn't think coding was 'academic enough' to offer it," said Carnevale. "In a sense, it was too practical in an environment in which schools wanted to offer subjects that were more theoretical and mathematical. In fact, coding is a primary area of employer training."

Carnevale believes it will take several years for schools to catch up.

"When a shortage of skilled workers starts in a labor market, employers jump up and down and say they can't find the right people," Carnevale said. "So, they can either train them themselves, which most employers don't want to do, or contract with community colleges, contractors, and others to provide the training. If demand continues, then it eventually becomes part of the public school landscape."

There is hope, though. Districts such as Queensbury are trying to develop a pipeline of students interested in computer science. An eighth-grade elective was added last year as a way to increase participation among younger students. The Robotics and Programming course has units in programming, video game design, app design and Lego robotics. This year, one of Queensbury's technology goals is to explore a K-5 computer programming curriculum that can be connected to its math curriculum as a way to introduce elementary school students to programming.

New York is one of 25 states where students can count computer science for credit towards high school graduation, according to Code.org. Computer science counts as either a math or science credit and there are clear certification pathways for computer science teachers.

The computer science graduation credit gives schools "flexibility to use courses in computer science to meet the unit of study requirements for either mathematics or science, including local course offerings or other courses such as AP Computer Science," according to the State Education Department (SED).

"Many of today's newly created jobs, including those that offer good compensation packages and a positive work/life balance, are those that involve computer science and programming," SED said in a letter to school officials posted on the department's website. "In addition, a commitment to computer science and coding in the K-12 setting promises long-term equity benefits, particularly for girls and students of color, who are typically underrepresented in these fields."


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