Out of 709 public high schools in Washington, only 51 of them offer an Advanced Placement (AP) computer science course. When a student engages in rigorous high school computing curriculum via the AP courses it unlocks multiple career paths and the prospect of lucrative compensation.

“Computer occupations” are projected to be among the fastest growing by the Washington State Employment Security Department. Software development will be the second fastest growing occupation in Washington State from 2011 through 2021. Every year until 2021 is projected to bring an additional 1,564 total job openings for software developers. The average annual wage for a software developer in March of 2013 was $101,525.

Course Credit Incentive To Take Computer Science

This week will mark one year since the state legislature passed RCW 1472 with nearly unanimous support. The bill aimed “to improve and expand access to computer science education.” Prior to May of 2013, even the most rigorous of AP computer science courses was counted as non-academic, elective credit. This was a disincentive to students hoping to take the course and to schools and school districts seeking funding to launch and maintain computer science instruction programs. To remedy this, RCW 1472 required schools to count AP computer science courses toward math or science credit requirements.

Business, government, NGOs want computer science in more Washington state high schools

Now, one year later, progress is significant but uneven. The bill cites 2011-12 statewide public high school computer science course enrollment at “fewer than twelve hundred  students;” versus 2013-14 enrollment of 1,275. At the time the bill was passed, a mere 35 of Washington’s 519 public high schools offered AP computer science. That number has now risen to 51 schools. Spokane Public Schools managed to double its enrollment numbers.

Yet AP computer science offerings remain absent in many communities across the state. To the over 70 percent of Washington’s population living outside of King County, there are only 25 high schools offering the course in 2014.

One of the bill’s sponsors, State Rep. Chad Magendanz (R-5th), notes that schools and districts are still in the process of adjusting to the sudden changes wrought by RCW 1472. He says, “A lot of districts are only now getting the opportunity to take advantage” of the new status afforded to computer science courses.

Magendanz: Computer Science Awareness “Vacuum” Needs Attention 

Rep. Magendanz said he looks forward to monitoring progress in the months and years ahead, and that he is convinced that enrollment numbers will only improve over time. He noted that part of the effort must be filling the “vacuum” of awareness and education that prevents Washington kids from being fully aware of the lucrative and exciting opportunities within the field of computer science. He praised the efforts of organizations like Code.org who are helping fill that awareness gap.

State Rep. Monica Stonier (D-17th), Vice Chair of the House Education Committee, advised advocates of computer science education to focus on identifying high performing programs around the state. “We’ll look at what’s working, identify the markers of a successful program, and then use that as an entry point.” Rep. Stonier, also a middle school teacher and faculty instructional coach, said computer science courses that come embedded with common core standards and accountability measures will have the best odds for replication statewide.

Funding, Updating Computer Science Technology in K-12 Education Key 

It’s important to have the right technology available in schools. According to state Senator Bruce Dammeier (R-25th), that will be “a critical focus area” as the state moves to close its achievement gap. Advanced computer science education requires certain hardware and technologies to which not every school or district has access.

Dammeier said not to underestimate the importance of the need for continual investments in updating hardware and making sure schools have access to adequate technology. Change will require action and investment not just from Olympia, but from individual communities as well. Dammier said simple majority tax levy approval powers won by school districts in a 2007 referendum can help shore up support for the technology and instructional funds required to teach computer science.

NGOs Boost Computer Science in Washington State Schools 

Government can only be part of the solution though. Two Washington-based efforts with national scope – Code.org and Microsoft’s Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) – are making significant progress in expanding computer science education with zero drain on the education budget. As we recently reported, Code.org is launching a program in the Fall of 2014 including 11 Washington school districts which will establish permanent computer science programs in public high schools at no cost to tax payers. TEALS manages hundreds of industry-leading software development professionals as they voluntarily educate youth and mentor teachers in computer science.

Jane Broom Davidson, Puget Sound Director of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Microsoft, said, “We are making progress in Washington State… Microsoft and the technology industry are inspiring students to explore computer science, partnering with schools to increase access to the courses and working directly with teachers to help them gain the knowledge, skills and confidence to teach the courses.”

For Microsoft, Davidson said that increasing access to computer science fits into a larger objective of closing the opportunity gap within Washington’s education system. “All young people in our state deserve to enjoy exciting career opportunities and become contributing members of society,” Davidson said. “In order to do so, our schools must effectively prepare them for their futures. This requires an outcome-based, cradle-to-career focus.”

Dennis Small, Director of Educational Technology at the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), is looking to improve and expand computer science education by building on successful models deployed in aerospace vocation training programs. “We need to get teachers out to the classroom and hooked up with industry,” Small said. According to him, industry connections can lead to cost-effective professional development for teachers through mentors, and industry reaping rewards from schools which produce students better equipped to meet their needs.


Education Strategies, PLAN Washington, Washington Business Alliance
Education Performance Measures – Metrics Explorer, Washington Business Alliance
Education article archive, Catalyst

* The total of 709 public high schools in Washington State includes 519 traditional high schools; 67 preK-12 schools; and 123 K-12 schools – as per OSPI.