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Computer Science Curriculum in our High Schools

While attending the recent Southern Business Education Association Convention in Huntsville, Alabama, I was struck by the lack of emphasis on computer science and information technology curriculum in our high schools. There we were in Rocket City, home of U.S. Space and Rocket Center, Redstone Arsenal, NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, and Cummings Research Park. Huntsville is a veritable high-tech city, populated by thousands of professionals in the STEM fields, including computer scientists. The Saturn V Rocket, Space Shuttle, and the International Space Station would be nowhere without computer scientists among other the many other scientists (chemists, physicists, etc). And yet, science in general, and computer science specifically, is really not emphasized in most of our high schools.

What a shame, I thought as I gazed in wonder and amazement at the rockets and space shuttles on display and watched an IMAX movie about man's exploration on the moon. All made possible by scientists, including computer scientists. It is gratifying to know that the U.S. Space and Rocket Center sponsors camps for young people (and adults!) to encourage budding scientists to become interested in careers related to space exploration and discovery. So what are we doing to encourage high school students to become interested in careers in computer science?

CSTA has taken an active role in helping schools offer a sequenced program of study in computer science for students grades K-12 with the release of the ACM K-12 Model Curriculum. Sample activities are even provided for each level of the curriculum. Also, the Los Angeles Unified School District has produced The Exploring Computer Science Curriculum, which is available on the CSTA website. Both of these initiatives provide outstanding curriculum resources to encourage the teaching of computer science, which ultimately will encourage students to pursue careers in computer science. Yet we still do not see an overwhelming computer science presence in our high schools. Is the issue the current emphasis on rigorous standards for high school graduation? If that were the case, surely computer science would be at the table and we would have computer science taught in every high school. I have seen that topic addressed in other CSTA blog posts. Is the issue funding? I suppose that is possible. However, many of our industry partners are addressing the funding issue. For the past several years, I have worked with two industry partners who work to provide high quality, affordable training and curriculum for our high school teachers: Oracle and SAS, both addressing the funding issue.

Oracle provides free training for teachers and is making an effort to deliver the face-to-face training to teachers in convenient locations, not far from home (there is also an online component to the training). The Oracle curriculum is free for schools. The curriculum is delivered electronically from the Oracle server so the school system needs only to have computers and high speed Internet access for the students to access the Oracle curriculum and learn a high skill, high wage, and high demand skill, specifically database design and programming. Oracle offers certification exams at a reduced price for both the students and the teachers. Yet, the Oracle curriculum has been slow to be accepted in many school systems. Even in cities where Oracle software is widely used by business and industry, the schools are slow to include Oracle Database Design and Programming in their curriculum offerings, if they offer it at all.

SAS also offers free training for teachers and free curriculum for the students. SAS provides a free textbook written specifically for high school students and offers online support for both teachers and students. Teachers are required to attend one week (40 hours) of face-to-face training. SAS holds the training at their Cary campus, but they are willing to deliver the training to any location that has 10 or more teachers to be trained. The schools are provided with the SAS software. SAS certification exams are available to both teachers and students for a reduced fee. SAS Programming for High Schools will provide students with a high skill, high demand, high wage education in the information technology area. Again, we see an industry partner addressing the funding issue. And again, even in cities where SAS is widely used, the high school course is slow to be integrated into the school systems.

Apparently, the issue is not really the lack of funding. Yet it is imperative that we prepare the next generation for careers in computer science and information technology. In the Spring 2009 issue of the Occupational Outlook Quarterly, Benjamin Wright states that "Employment in combined IT occupations is expected to increase by more than 800,000 jobs over the 2006–16 projections decade." Mr. Wright also states that "a study by the Association for Computing Machinery finds that even though offshoring may increase, prospects for IT workers in the United States will be strong". Mr. Wright does note that demand for computer programmers is expected to decline by 4% over the same decade but that this is the only IT area projected to decline. The jobs will be there. CSTA is working to provide the computer science and information technology curriculum. Now we need the students. I am working in my little corner of the world to recruit these students. What are we doing to encourage our students to study computer science and information technology?

ACM K-12 Model Curriculum and Los Angeles Unified School District Exploring Computer Science Curriculum

Oracle Academy

SAS Programming I for High Schools:


Occupation Outlook Quarterly, Spring 2009 issue:


Deborah Seehorn
CSTA Board Member


Deborah: Thanks very much for your blog article and the links. How can teachers find out if Oracle or SAS is used in their area?

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