Local education leaders have expressed enthusiasm for a bill aimed at increasing opportunities for students to study computer science in Ohio high schools.

Both houses of the Ohio legislature in December approved House Bill 170, which requires the State Board of Education to establish a model computer-science curriculum for grades K-12 by the end of 2018. The bill also tweaks the state's graduation requirements, allowing students to take a unit of advanced computer science in place of Algebra II.

Gov. John Kasich signed it Dec. 22, and it will go into effect March 23.

Rep. Rick Carfagna (R-Genoa Township), who co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Mike Duffey (R-Worthington), said the legislation addresses a "huge need" in Ohio.

Carfagna cited data from nonprofit group Code.org to illustrate that need. According to the organization's website, the U.S. has just shy of 500,000 open computing jobs, including more than 14,000 in Ohio.

Carfagna said the shortage of American workers with computer science-related skills leads employers to rely on the H-1B visa program to fill open slots.

"We're importing a workforce from overseas to fill high-paying technology jobs in the United States," he said.

Carfagna, who represents Knox County and part of Delaware County, said the superintendents in his district have been "very receptive" to the bill. The lawmaker said the bill does not require districts to offer computer-science instruction, which he thinks led to more support from administrators.

"The last thing I wanted to do was impose yet another ... unfunded mandate," he said.

Groveport Madison Superintendent Bruce Hoover and Canal Winchester Superintendent Jim Sotlar both support the new law.

“Regardless of whether the law was in place, we feel ensuring students are proficient with technology is critical to them being able to graduate and matriculate into college or the workforce,” Hoover said. “Our new high school has space allocated for the instruction of computer-aided design (CAD), information technology/repairs, networking, etc. We also see proficiency in technology being used in our electrical trades program and trades programs that we hope to have in the future.”

Both districts have programs already in place that Sotlar and Hoover say will help meet the requirement to establish a curriculum by the end of the year.

Canal Winchester offers an introduction to programming and advanced programming courses; Groveport uses Learning.com in grades 3-8, which Hoover said includes keyboarding and computer science components.

“This curriculum has been in place for some time as we have worked to prepare for our 1:1 computing launch that took place at the beginning of this year,” he said. “We have also added courses at the high school level to support and integrate technology (keyboarding, computer and server repairs, computer design, computer troubleshooting, etc.).

“Of course, we will be looking at the specifics of the new law to ensure that what we are doing is aligned with what is now required.”

Technology education is already a part of the curriculum in the Reynoldsburg school district, according to Superintendent Melvin Brown and school board Vice President Debbie Dunlap.

For the past two years, Reynoldsburg schools have offered Computer Science Education Week for more than 5,200 students, with 132 teachers across all 14 schools committed to participating. The week includes time for students to learn coding and other computer science activities.

The district also has a partnership with Code.org, and in 2015, about 40 Reynoldsburg teachers were trained in the Code.org curriculum.

"I think we are already ahead of this legislation in that we introduced an Hour of Code to our kids several years ago, along with exposure to technology and computer science education at a very early age in Reynoldsburg," Dunlap said. "Our students have been challenging themselves with technology-based projects and curriculum-and loving it."

In addition, Brown said, the district has a current K-12 computer science career pathway aligned with Harrison College and Columbus State degree programs.

"One of our objectives is to provide students with strong exposure to technology and computer science careers so they can gain significant experience and opportunities to reflect on the things that they like, that they don't like, and fields in which they are interested in or not interested," he said.

Experience with technology choices "is crucial to helping students to craft their futures," Brown said.

"The more exposed they are to a multitude of careers, the more adept they will be in navigating post-secondary options for careers and colleges," he said. "We have developed formal programs in middle school and will look to increase that type of engagement in the earlier grades in a multitude of arenas."

Dunlap did raise questions about funding, however.

"I am disappointed that the bill's original dedication of significant funding to support this curriculum, the technology and the expertise to deliver it to students across the state was nearly wiped away," she said.

"Districts do have the option to create a technology fund that can include money that has been donated to the district by private industry, but backing H.B. 170 with some seed money for districts certainly would have gone much farther in facilitating this initiative within individual districts."

Olentangy Superintendent Mark Raiff, a former math teacher, said he does have some concerns about students taking a computer-science class in place of Algebra II. He said a student's performance in Algebra II can serve as a predictor of his or her aptitude for higher education.

"The type of thinking that's taught in order to be successful in Algebra II is the type of thinking that is required to be successful in college," he said.

Pickerington Local School District director of instructional technology Brian Seymour said via email district officials favor the legislation.

“We believe this should be a good thing, as it puts more emphasis in schools on computer science starting at kindergarten,” Seymour said in his email.

“It also shows that the legislature and Ohio Department of Education see the importance of integrating computer science into the schools as a formalized part of the curriculum.

“Of course, until we see the actual curriculum after its development, we can't discuss its specific merits,” Seymour said.

“Hopefully, it would be a curriculum that aligns and integrates computer science with content in other subject areas. It also must be a curriculum that considers existing course requirements of colleges and universities.”

Seymour said that is an area Pickerington officials have already been reviewing at the local level.

“Specifically, we have developed a computer science pathway – a set series of courses that students can follow if their post-graduation interests are tied to computers in college or the workforce, Seymour said.

“We started this last year, and it's a fairly novel approach for a school district. We'll have to wait and see how the state's curriculum causes us to adjust what we're doing.”

He said Pickerington school district officials would love to have a seat at the table to provide insights as the state's curriculum is being developed.

“The pathway we created starts in our K-4 buildings, with elements such as visual coding – sort of a simplified ‘drag-and-drop’ approach to coding – activities such as the hour of code, and digital citizenship, covering things like safe computing, social media, cyberbulling, etc.

“As grades progress, the pathway becomes more rigorous. Coding becomes a little more complex. We continue digital citizenship courses.

“Eventually, by the time we reach high school, students are taking courses in computer science principals,” Seymour said.

He said the district is planning to launch a course in computer science, and a little later it will provide a course in cybersecurity.

“These courses and this approach reflect some of the skills and background that will be needed for many of the jobs of the future, and (district officials) believe they are important as we prepare our students for college and career,” Seymour said.

Hilliard City Schools Superintendent John Marschhausen said HB 170 was a “welcome” development.

“HB 170 and the permissive language to include computer science as an option to meet graduation requirements is a welcome addition for high school students,” he said. “Our mission is to prepare each individual student to be ready for tomorrow.

“There is no one-size-fits-all model to prepare students for success after graduation from high school.”

Marschhausen said he was “hopeful” the new law signals “the start of Ohio’s efforts to align education with workforce development.”

“Gov. Kasich, the General Assembly and the Ohio Department of Education have a wonderful opportunity to align Ohio’s laws, policies and practices to personalize education for our students,” he said. “We will, of course, to continue to prepare students for success in college.

“We are required to also offer opportunities to prepare students for success in future careers that may not require a four-year or two-year degree. Computer science is a field that is a building block for jobs that may not even yet exist.”

Carfagna said a "disclaimer provision" was included in the bill to make parents aware that although high school graduation requirements will change, universities' admissions standards may not.

If a student chooses to take computer science in place of Algebra II, a provision in the legislation requires his or her parent or legal guardian to sign a document "acknowledging that not taking Algebra II may have an adverse effect on college-admission decisions."

Carfagna said he views the legislation as "more of a workforce bill than an education bill."

"I think more and more states are getting out in front of this," he said. "It's becoming the norm for an advanced manufacturing economy."

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