Wednesday July 27, Governor Kay Ivey announced the first initiative of her administration, an education initiative. As a former high school math teacher, perhaps it is no surprise that education is a top priority for Governor Ivey’s administration. Her “Strong Start, Strong Finish” initiative focuses on three areas:
- Early Childhood Education
- Computer Science Education in Alabama schools
- Workforce Preparedness
This was an exciting announcement for a nucleus of people in our state who have been working to expand access to quality computer science education to Alabama students. Most of the momentum of this movement can be traced to Dr. Jeff Gray, a computer science professor at the University of Alabama, who has been a prolific National Science Foundation (NSF) grant recipient to bring professional learning opportunities to Alabama teachers who, in turn, facilitate computer science courses in Alabama schools. Dr. Gray has personally trained over 1,600 teachers in grades K – 5 introductory lessons and strategies to begin computational thinking as early as kindergarten. He has also secured funding that continues to provide training and support for Alabama high school teachers who are leading classrooms for courses such as the new College Board course “Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles” which was debuted in classrooms across the nation during the 2016-17 school year. Forty-three teachers trained with funding from Dr. Gray’s grants pioneered the AP Computer Science course in Alabama. Dr. Gray has also secured funding for projects to bring computer science education to underrepresented groups such as girls, minority students and students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Since 2011, Google CS4HS (Computer Science for High Schools) was a foundational partner in helping to build teacher interest and awareness, sponsoring multiple workshops and teacher trainings. In 2014 and 2015, Google CS4HS sponsored an online course that brought the CS4Alabama CS Principles training to over 2,200 teachers in 48 states.
Early on, Dr. Gray reached out to A+ College Ready to potentially combine his leadership, expertise and passion for computer science education to A+ College Ready’s school/teacher network expanding computer science education opportunities to more schools and more teachers in Alabama. That partnership continues and thrives. Now, the support and influence of the Governor’s office will help escalate computer science education awareness and bring opportunities to more and more of Alabama’s students.
In 2015, A+ College Ready became one of the first regional partners of Code.org. This partnership provides funding, teacher training and open source curricula to support the expansion of computer science education opportunities for ALL students. Together, Code.org and A+ College Ready have prepared 57 Alabama teachers who will offer AP Computer Science Principles and 20 Alabama MIDDLE SCHOOL teachers who will offer Computer Science Discoveries this year. Together, these teachers will be providing over one thousand Alabama students access to high quality computer science education opportunities this fall. A+ College Ready is committed to collaborating with the SDE and other stakeholders to continue these training opportunities when the Code.org financial support ends next May. In addition, over 20 middle school teachers across Alabama are offering computer science courses from Project Lead the Way.
Few people know that Alabama is a NATIONAL LEADER in computer science education, and that many Alabama teachers are taking on national responsibilities in this field. An early charge in 2006 by then Computer Science Teachers of America (CSTA) President, Chris Stephenson asked over a decade ago, “What if Alabama Led the Way?” Ironically, even though the use of digital devices is ubiquitous in our society, courses and curricula that teach students computational thinking are quite rare. The work of Dr. Gray, the State Department of Education, A+ College Ready and other stakeholders has culminated in significant achievements in the computer science education arena.
- 131 Alabama teachers have been trained and will be prepared to offer AP Computer Science Principles in Alabama high schools this fall.
- 24 new Alabama teachers, predominantly in Alabama’s Black Belt, will offer Exploring Computer Science in the 2017-2018 school year, with an additional 30 to be trained the following year. This is a collaboration led by Tuskegee University with the University of Alabama and Auburn University with support from NSF.
- The State Department of Education has assembled a diverse team of educators, administrators, higher education personnel, etc. to create digital literacy/computer science standards for our state. Currently, only 10 other states in the nation have computer science standards.
- Alabama’ State Department of Education was the first in the nation to have a course code for computer science principles and one of the first of only 34 states to allow a computer science course count for graduation credit.
- At the inaugural AP Computer Science Principles reading (the event where all of the AP exams are scored) sponsored by the College Board, 23 of the 300 teachers selected to participate were Alabama teachers.
- There is an appropriation by the state legislature in the 2017-18 budget for $1.5 million to be used for computer science education in middle schools.
- Alabama teachers are NATIONAL leaders in computer science education: Carol Yabrough–Alabama School of Fine Arts, is on the AP Computer Science Development Team; Jill Westurlund–Hoover High School, Gina McCarley–formerly of Lawrence County High School, Dr. Jeff Gray and Carol Yarbrough serve as College Board AP Summer Institute instructors; Gina McCarley is now working as the CS Content Director for the National Math and Science Initiative; and Justin Cannaday–formerly of Homewood High School, is now a leader for WeTeachCS out of the University of Texas at Austin.
An emphasis on computer science education is a perfect springboard for Governor Ivey’s third focus of workforce preparedness. According to Code.org’s research, of all the jobs in the lucrative STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields, 71% of them are computing jobs. Yet, only 8% of all STEM graduates (an already small number of graduates!) are in computer science. Currently, a high school graduate can expect to earn approximately $0.58 million during his/her lifetime, a college graduate can expect to earn $1.19 million and a computer science major can expect to earn $1.67 million, 40% more than a college graduate. In the United States, computing jobs are the #1 source of new wages. Nationwide,. there are currently 500,000 computing jobs available and almost 5,000 are found in Alabama, compared to 503 computer science college graduates in our state. A recent AL.com article indicated that three of the top six jobs in Alabama are computer science related. A well-prepared Alabama workforce will require better access to computer science education!
There is much work to be done! A+ College Ready is honored to work collaboratively with Governor Ivey’s team, the State Department of Education, the Alabama legislature, Dr. Gray, Alabama’s schools, districts and teachers and other stakeholders to expand access to quality computer science education to ALL of Alabama students.