K-12 schools may see new computer science mandate

Students are back in class at the Fairmont Career Tech Center in Kettering. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF
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Students are back in class at the Fairmont Career Tech Center in Kettering. MARSHALL GORBY\STAFF

Ohio’s House, Senate will decide on approach in coming weeks

State legislators will decide in the next three weeks whether Ohio K-12 schools will be mandated to offer computer science courses by fall 2022, or whether the state merely has to start developing a plan for computer science education.

The version of the state budget bill approved by the House has specific timelines by which schools would have to offer courses. The Senate took out those local course mandates, but maintained the bill’s requirement to develop a statewide plan.

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The House bill says:

** By the 2022-23 school year, students in 11th and 12th grades “must have the option to enroll in a computer science course” offered by their school or an online course approved by the Ohio Department of Education.

** By 2023-24, students in 9th and 10th grades also must have the option to enroll in an “age-appropriate, standalone computer science course” offered by the school, or an approved online course.

** By 2024-25, students in grades K-8 must have the option to enroll in an age-appropriate general education course that incorporates computer science principles, offered by their school.

By the end of June, a conference committee of House and Senate members will reconcile hundreds of differences in the two budget bills (including this one), but where they’ll land is unclear.

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“Computer science … is probably going to be part of what Ohio students will be required to complete in the future,” said Will Schwartz, for the Ohio School Boards Association. “It’s just a matter of how we get there in the next two years. I think that’s what the Senate is contemplating in their changes.”

Both the House and Senate versions would require a new committee, led by ODE and Ohio HigherEd, to develop a statewide plan within one year. The committee would have to include representatives of teachers, the career-technical education sector, colleges, businesses and computer science organizations.

Some say Ohio’s already behind and should immediately mandate computer science classes, given American’s digital economy. Others say if it’s that important, state leaders should plan carefully and get the curriculum just right.

Many local high schools already offer computer course options. Kettering Fairmont has introduction to computer programming, computer information technology, digital design and others. Stebbins offers a path where students can take computer hardware, networking and cybersecurity courses.

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Jessica Poiner, education policy analyst for the Fordham Institute, said one of the concerns about requiring all schools to have computer science classes ready to go in the next few years is whether there are enough teachers, especially if the courses are required in K-8 schools.

“Computer science education is growing in popularity, but it’s still uncommon enough at the primary and secondary level that there may not be enough teachers to go around,” Poiner said. “A shortage would be especially likely during the first few years of a statewide implementation effort, when all of Ohio’s schools are suddenly scrambling to find certified teachers.”