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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

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