Tech Industry Calls on Massachusetts to Require Computer Science

Some of the titans of the technology industry including Microsoft and Google are calling on schools to introduce mandatory computer science courses earlier in students’ academic careers, The Boston Globe reports. The companies want public schools in Massachusetts to help fill the skill gap currently being made up by foreign-trained professionals brought over to the United States on H1-B visas.

The industry wants to see lessons in computer science begin as early as 8th grade and also would like technology achievement tested like other subjects on end-of-the-year standardized assessments. Furthermore, they’re calling for a creation of standardized computer science curriculum covering grades all the way through high school.

If the plan is adopted, it would make Massachusetts the second state to make technology instruction mandatory in public schools after a similar program was adopted in South Carolina.

“This is really about workforce development,” said Steve Vinter, head of Google’s office in Cambridge, one of the proposal’s architects.

Vinter and other proponents will pitch the plan to state lawmakers and education officials on Beacon Hill Wednesday. Opposition is already forming.

The proposal would require millions of dollars in new spending to implement, as well as the retraining of hundreds of teachers and likely the hiring of new ones. It would also add another layer of teaching requirements and testing to schools.

Chester isn’t minimizing the importance of computer science instruction to tomorrow’s economy, but he believes that the same goals can be better-reached by integrating technology lessons into existing coursework. Furthermore, Chester thinks that a universal computer science curriculum would be less useful than allowing each individual district develop their own program best suited to the unique needs and talents of their students.

Moreover, the state is currently revising its standards to increase the amount of engineering and technology that public schools must teach, and Chester said additional computer science education is under consideration. Meanwhile a Massachusetts state senator, Karen Spilka, earlier this year filed legislation that would mandate more computer science classes in public schools.

Based on the latest data, many schools in the state already offer computer science courses. The problem appears to be getting students to enroll in them. In the entire state only about 700 students took the AP Computer Science exam even though the majority of public schools around Massachusetts offer the course.

The companies calling for more computer science instruction also announced their intention to back up their requests with money. The industry expressed a willingness to provide funding for infrastructure needed to support computer instruction, including providing money to train teachers and buy equipment:

The tech executives have formed the Massachusetts Computing Attainment Network, or MassCAN, to promote the proposal. The group includes executives from Oracle Corp. and Intel Corp., as well as business organizations including the Massachusetts Business Roundtable.