Governor Hutchinson described the historically bipartisan support for K-12 computer science education and how his NGA Chairman’s Initiative will engage other Governors on strategies for expanding student access to these courses in their states.
By Seth Gerson and Catherine Van Ness
On Saturday, January 29th, National Governors Association (NGA) Chairman and Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson kicked off the NGA’s 114th annual Winter Meeting with a dedicated session on his Chairman’s Initiative focused on K-12 Computer Science Education.
Governor Hutchinson began by noting the historically bipartisan support for K-12 computer science education, including the 14 Governors from both parties that comprise the Governors’ Partnership for K-12 Computer Science.
The Governor then noted that investing in computer science education is critical for filling the more than 609,000 current open computing jobs nationwide, including in cybersecurity, AI, and data science. Governor Hutchinson emphasized that expanding computer science education in American public schools so that students have the skills to fill the open jobs close to home is a national security imperative.
The Governor then provided an overview of Arkansas’ efforts to expand K-12 computer science education over the past seven years. Beginning in 2015, Governor Hutchinson worked with the Arkansas Legislature to pass a law mandating that computer science be offered in every high school in the state. He then moved to incorporate computer science in elementary and middle schools to provide younger students with exposure to foundational skills. Finally, in 2021, the Governor signed into law a requirement that a student complete at least one computer science course prior to graduation from high school and that every high school employ at least one certified computer science teacher.
To provide a model for other Governors on ways to expand computer science education in their states, Governor Hutchinson recommended four strategies for doing so based on his efforts in Arkansas:
- 1. Legislative Support: Although it is possible to expand computer science education through executive action or through a Cabinet Secretary, when action is taken in partnership with the legislative branch, it can provide the initiative with greater support and sustainability.
- 2. Dedicated Funding: Arkansas has supported the expansion of computer science education with an annual appropriation. This funding is distributed to teachers and students through various incentive programs.
- 3. State Office and Position: An office and/or full-time position dedicated to computer science education at the state education agency helps to coordinate a statewide initiative, administer funding, and work with external partners.
- 4. Governor’s Leadership: A Governor using the bully pulpit to prioritize computer science education can also be important to the success of the initiative. For example, Governor Hutchinson visited more than 80 high schools and spoke to students and teachers regarding the importance of computer science education, catalyzing greater participation and interest.
The Governor highlighted how these efforts have resulted in increased student and teacher participation in Arkansas since 2015. There has been a more than 770 percent increase in overall student participation, including a significant increase for both girls and students of color. During this time, the number of certified computer science teachers has also increased from 20 to 600 statewide.
Governor Hutchinson then noted that unfortunately, only 51 percent of public high schools in the United States offer computer science.
As such, he challenged Governors to work together as part of the Chairman’s Initiative to increase this number. The Governor specified five measurable policy goals for the Initiative:
- 1. To increase the number of high schools offering computer science classes;
- 2. To increase the number of Governors who are members of Governors’ Partnership for K-12 Computer Science;
- 3. To increase the amount of state funding for computer science education;
- 4. To increase the number of states requiring at least one computer science credit for high school graduation; and
- 5. To increase the diversity of students participating in computer science education.
He noted that in support of the Initiative, NGA plans to host two Spring regional roundtables in Bentonville, Arkansas in March and Boston, Massachusetts in May and spend time at NGA’s Summer meeting in July 2022 on this topic. Already, in Denver in August 2021, NGA convened a bipartisan group of Governors to discuss efforts to expand computer science education and build a strong tech workforce.
Governor Hutchinson closed by asking Governors to sign on to a NGA Chairman’s Initiative Compact committing to expand access to computer science education in their states. The final Compact will be presented with Governor signatures at the Summer Meeting. Please check back for ongoing updates on the Initiative at https://www.nga.org/computerscience/.