This weekend, President Barack Obama announced a $4 billion initiative to support computer science education. I appreciate our president recognizing the importance of this effort, and I am proud that in Arkansas, we’ve already started—and we’re leading the country.
Last year, Arkansas became the first state to pass comprehensive legislation requiring that computer science courses be taught in every public high school. In addition, the state now allows computer science to count towards a graduation credit, in lieu of math or science. Only six months later, these classes were in place—right in time for the 2015-2016 school year.
As a result, nearly 4,000 students have enrolled in computer science classes; 550 students are taking more than one course. Within one academic year, Arkansas’s public schools saw an enrollment increase of 260% for computer science classes.
To help make this a reality for our schools, I set aside $5 million to kick start this initiative and tackle the challenges it faces, including the shortage of computer science teachers. Because of this investment, we have trained hundreds of teachers across the state in computer science instruction. All other students are able to learn coding through virtual courses. In fact, the state’s virtual provider, Virtual Arkansas, offered a computer coding course at no charge to districts.
Computer science and coding is for everyone. The field is drawing students from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Last year alone, Arkansas saw a 609% increase in African American female students enrolled in coding classes. Our state is making these valuable learning opportunities available to every student, laying the foundation for success in and out of the classroom.
This would not have been possible without the support of our legislature, our education leaders and, of course, our students. We are off to a great start.
Arkansas already has met the majority of national computer science recommendations as established by Code.org at the high school level. And now, we are well on our way to doing it again in grades K-8. The Arkansas Department of Education took my initiative one step further and recently created new K-8 computer science standards. These were reviewed and approved by the Arkansas Board of Education in January of this year, making Arkansas the only state in the country to introduce coding concepts to students in grades K-8. We expect these standards to be fully implemented by the start of the 2017-2018 school year.
As our nation’s leaders begin to recognize this exciting undertaking, I can attest to the fact that we are all heading toward something great. Computer science is in everything we do, from manufacturing, to agriculture and even the medical field. It’s changing our students from being consumers to creators and innovators.
Technology has changed the face of education and, most notably, our economy, and we must respond to those changes. There is a greater demand than ever for new employees to fill high-paying tech jobs in all fields. In Arkansas, we are equipping our students today with the skills they need to compete tomorrow in the global workforce.
The emergence and importance of computer science education has started a national movement. We’re moving toward future growth for our students, our economy, and, most importantly, our country.
Arkansas is leading the way, and we’re just getting warmed up. I challenge the rest of our states to do the same.