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Our view: Computer science needs expanded role in North Dakota

Herald editorial board

If statistics from a nonprofit organization are accurate, technology is outpacing public K-12 education. State Superintendent of Public Schools Kirsten Baesler seems to think so, and this week she is urging North Dakotans to consider the merits of computer science education.

"Everything that we touch, everything that we use, everything that impacts our lives is in some way connected to a computer and computer language," Baesler said in a release sent to North Dakota media to commemorate Computer Science Education Week, which began Dec. 3.

Yet North Dakota lags when it comes to computer science education, she said, and it's causing a dearth of unfilled — yet important — jobs in the state.

Code.org, a Seattle-based organization that promotes computer science education, says there are more than 600 computing jobs open in North Dakota, with an average salary of more than $70,000.

Yet North Dakota only produced 117 computer science graduates as recently as 2015, according to Code.org. The problem, according to Code.org, starts with a lack of computer science education in the state's K-12 schools.

The group provides a long list of North Dakota's apparent deficiencies. For instance, it says North Dakota does not have a state plan for K-12 computer science; does not provide dedicated funding for rigorous computer science professional development; does not require that all high schools offer computer science; and does not allow computer science to count as a core admission requirement at institutions of higher learning.

It seems things are improving, though. Baesler, in her release to the media, said the state Department of Public Instruction and the Legislature have shown support for ideas that will expand computer-science instruction.

Senate Bill 2185 was approved by the Legislature earlier this year and allows high school students to substitute an approved course in computer science for one of three math credits needed for graduation. Now, students can substitute a math credit with one of two computer courses: advanced placement computer sciences, or integrated math for computer science/information technology.

Also, the DPI is working with Microsoft on expansion of an initiative called TEALS — Technology Education and Literacy in Schools. It pairs a computer-science professional with a teacher to better and more thoroughly teach computer science.

These are good ideas because, as Baesler says, computer science is "part of our world today." It's time to accept and acknowledge that.

One statistic from Code.org was especially surprising. According to the organization, 71 percent of new jobs in the field of science, technology, engineering and math — commonly referred to as STEM — are now in computing, but only 8 percent of STEM graduates are in computer sciences.

Reading, writing and 'rithmetic are the traditional triplets of a core education, but they aren't necessarily enough on their own. We join Baesler in asking North Dakotans to spend just a moment this week considering the importance computer science has on education today and, especially, tomorrow.

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