It’s become a mantra of education reformers: We need to invest more in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, programs. These educate the next generation in high-tech fields at the heart of the new economic revolution, and if we don’t create home-grown graduates with these skills, the best jobs will go to people from out of state.
STEM education is vital. Washington STEM, a Seattle-based advocacy group, says half of new jobs are in computer science or technology fields, and our region has 20,000 computer science jobs available today that go unfilled for three months or more.
Vacant STEM-related jobs are projected to grow to 50,000 by 2018 unless our state, or others, produce more STEM graduates, according to Washington STEM and Microsoft.
To that end, STEM advocates are backing legislation (House Bill 1345) to improve the quality of professional training for teachers in K-12 schools, which we’ve supported. Washington STEM also backs a bill (HB 1813) that would allow a computer science credential for teachers in K-12 public schools.
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HB 1813, which has bipartisan co-sponsors, requires the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to develop standards for such a credential. The endorsement would cover both computer science and either math, science or another high-demand academic area determined by school districts.
Advocates say that we currently lack qualified teachers to instruct advanced technology-related skills in public schools.
Both measures passed in the House by a 91-to-7 margin and await further action in the Senate.
HB 1813 carries a modest cost of about $239,000 over two years, according to a fiscal report prepared for lawmakers.
Caroline King, chief operating officer for Washington STEM, and others say students in public schools need to begin learning computing skills earlier.
TESC computer program
Les Purce, president of The Evergreen State College, says its computer science program has a broader, more interdisciplinary ambience than similar programs at the University of Washington and other state universities. And that is its strength, because it appeals to students who may think a bit out of the mainstream and can bring creativity and design skills to industry once they move into the work world.
Purce said the program also can appeal to minority students and women, who make up a disproportionately small share of computer science students.
That is why Purce, who retires this year, wants lawmakers to provide nearly $1 million in new funding for the program. That is one piece of about $8 million in new funds the small liberal-arts college is seeking for operations — along with more than $30 million it hopes to receive for capital projects.
The new money for computer sciences can add three full-time faculty members and triple the capacity of the computer sciences program, which has a waiting list of at least 50 students, according to Purce. So far, the House provides a fraction of the college’s computer science request and the Senate none.
As lawmakers examine their options for new resources, Evergreen’s program deserves a fair shot at more funding.