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Computer science hiring still puzzles school districts

Schools compete for computer science graduates with private sector's higher salaries

Schools that can’t afford to compete with the private sector in hiring technology specialists are looking to other options, such as hiring part-time experts, bringing in volunteers or finding funds to retrain teachers.

Only 1 percent of all college graduates leave school with a computer science degree. The average starting salary for computer science majors was estimated at $64,800, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ 2013 survey of 400,000 government and private employers. But graduates who want to be teachers are faced with a much lower average starting salary of $39,992.

“It’s a hard financial decision for kids to make when coming out of university with debt,” says Kevin Wang, the program manager and founder of Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS). Wang’s organization was founded by Microsoft employees in part to get high-tech professionals to volunteer as part-time high school computer science teachers when districts fall short.

A projected 122,000 job openings in computing will need to be filled by an estimated 60,000 computer science graduates by 2020, according to federal labor forecasts for 2010-2020. Districts must find ways to lure computer science graduates away from the private sector.

Another challenge schools face is that there are few tech training opportunities available, Wang says.

Districts must navigate each state’s varying certification rules to find qualified teachers. And there are few higher education institutions that offer a computer science pre-service program for teachers, states Microsoft’s Director of Citizenship and Public Affairs Jane Broom.

In Florida, for example, “would-be computer science teachers have to take a K8 computer science methods course that is not offered in any teacher preparation program in the state,” the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) wrote in its 2013 report, “Bugs in the System: Computer Science Teacher Certification in the U.S.” And prospective computer science teachers are often unaware of the certification or licensure requirements, the report states.

Schools already struggle to find qualified math and science teachers. So add in the more focused computer science qualifications and it is even harder, Wang adds.

Schools may be able to get more funds for computer science classes if they are classified as math or science, rather than as vocational courses. “We need to change the frame and try to get folks to understand computer science is an academic way of thinking—not a vocational skill,” Broom says. “That change then drives how the hiring is conducted.”

Computer science courses and teaching positions receive less funding when they are classified as information technology, Broom explains.

Fewer courses

Computer science courses in K12 education are fading. Since 2005, introductory high school computer science courses have decreased by 17 percent while the number of Advanced Placement computer science courses has diminished by 33 percent.

According to CSTA’s 1998-2013 AP data, meanwhile, nearly 30,000 students took the AP Computer Science A exam in 2013, an increase of 19 percent from 2012. The number of teachers who passed the AP audit also increased by 7 percent. Although students showed more AP computer science involvement in 2013, they comprised a tiny fraction of the 14.8 million students enrolled in U.S. high schools in 2013.

Now, 24 states plus Washington, D.C. count computer science as a math/science graduation credit. Remaining states should change computer science from a career and technical education or non-college-ready elective, Wang says.

ISTE’s Chief Innovation Officer Wendy Drexler offered hope from her recent experience at the organization’s inaugural Lead & Transform Townhall in June.

“We heard from a wide range of administrators who suggested that teachers who were adept in engaging students using technology would soon be replacing teachers who are less skilled in this area,” she says. This also could lead to the hiring of more teachers skilled in computer science, Wang expands.

To help districts hire more technology teachers, Broom says, several steps need to be taken by educators, parents, students, volunteers and training institutions:

  • Change policy by convincing administrators that computer science is an essential part of the curriculum.
  • Create demand by having students and parents ask for the course.
  • Build instructor and training capacity inside and outside of schools to increase your options.