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February 24, 2006

ACM Shows Us Why the AP Numbers Matter

Sometimes, if you wait long enough, new information comes along that helps you see things more clearly, or at least in a way that helps you gain perspective. For some time now I have been procrastinating on a blog response to the AP Report to the Nation, but a major report, released by ACM, has helped me find a way to articulate exactly why the AP CS results are so alarming.

The number of students writing the computer science AP examinations is continuing to decrease. In 2001, 23,422 students wrote either the CS A or B exam. By 2003, the number had dropped to 21,745. By 2005, the number of students writing the APCS exams had declined to 19,021. While one might argue that the percentage of the decline from year to year is not extreme enough to cause profound concern, the fact that there is a continuing pattern of decline clearly is.

This pattern tells us that students are loosing interest, they don't think computer science has educational or employment value to them, or they do not have time to take AP CS because they are too busy taking AP courses in all those other disciplines. This worries me a great deal. But I have been putting off writing about it in fear of receiving the seemingly inevitable comment that there is nothing to worry about because all the jobs are being "outsourced" anyway.

This is why I was so happy to read ACM's new comprehensive report called Globalization and Offshoring of Software. This report, developed by a team of internationally recognized computer scientists, industry leaders, labor economists, and social scientists, finally gives us a coherent, balanced, and rigorously researched view of the increasing globalization of the software industry and what this means for countries who want to maintain their technological edge.

The report notes that globalization trends in the software industry have been fueled by rapid advances in information technology as well as government action and economic factors. What it also found, however, is that, despite intensifying competition, offshoring between developed and developing countries can benefit both parties.

The study cites data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) which indicates that more IT jobs are available today in the U.S. than at the height of the dot com boom. This trend is evident despite a significant increase in offshoring over the past five years. In fact, U.S. IT employment in 2004 was 17% higher than in 1999, and the BLS data reveals that IT jobs are predicted to be among the fastest-growing occupations over the next decade.

So what does this mean for educators? The report also tells us that IT workers and students can improve their chances of long-term employment in IT occupations by acquiring a strong educational foundation, learning the technologies used in global software, and keeping skills up to date throughout their careers. In other words, they can ensure a better future for themselves by learning computer science. The brightness of the future for individuals, companies, or countries, rests on their ability to invest in building the foundations that foster innovation and invention.

Meeting this commitment begins with K-12 education. It requires us to improve computer science education in K-12. We must do a better job of helping students understand that there are opportunities open to them, that computing is the mechanism by which the greatest problems of this century will be addressed, and that they need to begin building their skills now, because the future is always closer than we think.

Chris Stephenson
Executive Director

Posted by cstephenson at 11:48 AM | Comments (0)

February 02, 2006

Help The President Get IT Right

While it may seem like good news, President George Bush's State of the Union promise to improve national competitiveness by supporting math and science education may turn out to be very bad news for computer science education.

In his State of the Union address, Bush promised to train 70,000 teachers to lead high school Advanced Placement math and science classes. Unfortunately, he didn't say anything about computer science.

The problem is that computer science is a science and that it should be seen as a core component of all STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) initiatives. Training more math and science teachers will simply diminish the already shallow pool of qualified computer science teachers.

What we have, you see, is a communication problem. Too few people understand that computer science is as much part of the core of required knowledge for every educated citizen today as physics, biology, chemistry, or mathematics.

In addition, all of the government's economic indicators point to the Information Technology industry as the primary field for job growth and resulting worker shortages over the next twenty years. Any government education initiative that does not improve support for computer science education will never improve our national competitiveness in key areas of innovation.

So what can we do?

It is essential that we help everyone, especially policy-makers, to understand a few simple things:

1. Computer science is a science and needs to be included in any STEM initiative for high schools.
2. Teaching students to use computers is only half the battle. Computer science education is the key to preparing students for tomorrow's technology driven world.
3. Several fields in computer science over the next ten years will be among the fastest growing careers but the current lack of support for high school computer science education is contributing to the declining number of students pursuing studies in this field.
4. To keep the United States competitive, we need to effectively educate the future creators of advanced technology--the innovators and problem solvers.

And we need high school computer science and high school computer science teachers to do all of these things. We are already seeing school districts pulling good teachers out of computer science classrooms and putting them in math or science classrooms to meet the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Legislation and this new initative will make the situation worse, not better.

Help CSTA get the word out! Talk to your congressmen and your senators. Help them understand why supporting computer science education in high schools right now is the key to long term innovation and economic survival.

Chris Stephenson
Executive Director

Posted by cstephenson at 03:31 PM | Comments (8)

February 01, 2006

It is Not Life in Dilbert-Land

Sometimes it is difficult to know exactly what motivates kids to make the choices that they do, even when it comes to important life decisions such what to do with the rest of their lives. I remember at one point my niece's life ambition was to be a fire truck. Granted, she was only three years old, but we were worried for a while.

One thing we do know, however, is that students are seriously misinformed about career opportunities in computer science and information technology. The media coverage of the dot bombs and the concerns over outsourcing have convinced many students (and perhaps more importantly their parents) that a computer science education is a fast trip to a professional life as a cab driver.

There is no denying that the cyclical and volatile job market and the national economy continuously reshape the kind and number of jobs that are and will be available. There is also no denying that many families, especially those in Silicon Valley, have been devestated when jobs have moved away or disappeared altogether. No one needs to tell me what this is like. Five generations of my family have worked in the auto industry.

But the fact remains, and this is supported by every economic prognostication we have, that computing is and continues to be one of the best possible areas for a fulfilling and lucrative career. And please, we are not talking here about life in Dilbert-land churning out code. We are talking about being part of every scientific breakthrough that is going to happen in the next century. We are talking about solving real-world problems using the combinatorial and computational sciences. We are talking about an opportunity to do something important, to make a difference.

Whether your students are motivated by the dollar or by the desire to change the world, help them see the connection between your computer science classroom and the world that awaits them. The opportunities are there for those willing get the kind of education they need to succeed.

Posted by cstephenson at 01:15 PM | Comments (1)