Imagine a field that is growing at such a rate that it is the top source of new wages in the United States, with 500,000 current job openings in every industry and every state.
Imagine that this field is projected to grow at twice the rate of all others.
We would want our children to have access to these economic opportunities. Yet in 2016, only 14 percent of Florida schools with Advanced Placement programs offered AP classes in computer science, a field that has more than 20,000 open jobs here and that offers an average salary $30,000 higher than the state’s average.
Even more surprising: Florida universities did not graduate a single new teacher prepared to teach computer science in 2016.
This school year, however, Northeast Florida has turned a corner in computer science education.
• In April 2016, Florida State College at Jacksonville partnered with Code.org, a national nonprofit dedicated to expanding participation in computer science. Through this partnership, this year FSCJ has trained 20 middle school teachers and 23 high school teachers in computer science education, reaching more than 2,000 Northeast Florida students with Code.org’s curriculum and course content.
• In the 2017-2018 school year, for the first time, Advanced Placement Computer Science is available at every public high school in Jacksonville.
Despite this exciting progress, our work is not done.
At the Northeast Florida Regional STEM2 Hub, we share Code.org’s vision that computer science should be part of the core curriculum in every school, alongside other STEM courses such as biology, physics, chemistry and algebra.
While Florida has clear course standards for computer science and certification pathways for teachers in the field, it does not yet require that all secondary schools offer the course.
Computer science isn’t just a vocational course, it is foundational for the world in which today’s students will live and work.
In a presentation to Northeast Florida educators, Code.org’s outreach manager for the Southeast, Don Miller, summed it up best: “Every 21st century student should have a chance to learn about algorithms, how to make apps, or how the internet works, just like they learn about the digestive system, photosynthesis or electricity.”
We need to open more students’ and teachers’ minds to the possibilities in computer science and its applications in other fields and nurture the problem-solving skills, logic, and creativity which are key to success in any 21st century pursuit.
Robert Copeland, former teacher of statistics, calculus and algebra at Stanton College Preparatory School, now is the executive director of the Northeast Florida Regional STEM2 Hub.