This week Arkansas hosted the first-ever National Computer Science Summit for State Leaders at the Governor’s Mansion, and today I’d like to share a bit about our event.
More than thirty states and Canada sent representatives to the summit, which was designed to encourage and educate people nationally about computer science education in schools. Our guests also included state representatives and senators, and commissioners and superintendents.
Our keynote speakers were Hadi Partovi, co-founder with his twin brother, Ali, of Code.org; and two governors who are among those who have led the way in computer science education in their states – Kim Reynolds from Iowa and Henry McMaster from South Carolina.
We also debuted The Arkansas Story, a video that tells how we launched the computer science initiative in Arkansas at the start of my administration in 2015.
The video told two success stories, including the work of Tate Rector, who changed careers from coaching football at Beebe High School to teach computer science. He was a special guest at the summit.
Computer science, and computer coding, remain an excellent career choice as technology grows more sophisticated. The statistics show that there are far more jobs than there are people to fill them. Nationally, there are over 500,000 computer science jobs available, and there are only 64,000 graduates to fill those jobs. A Gallup survey found that nine out of 10 parents want their children to study computer science but that only 35 percent of our schools offer a class.
Of course, all the public high schools in Arkansas offer the course, but we want more students to sign up, because fifty-eight percent of new STEM jobs are in computing, and only 10 percent of STEM graduates are in computer science.
I am proud to report that Arkansans have caught the computer-science vision. When I became governor, only 1,100 students were enrolled in a computer science class in Arkansas. In the fall of 2018, our enrollment had increased by 620 percent to more than 8,000 students. The number of girls taking a computer science class increased from 220 to over 2,400, an increase of more than one-thousand percent. The number of teachers who are teaching computer science courses has grown from 20 to over 370. This includes 184 fully certified and 188 alternatively credentialed computer science teachers.
Gerri McCann is one of those teachers. She had been teaching French at Manila High School when she decided to expand to computer science. She was one of our panelists on Monday. She told how her computer science program grew from seven students and one class to four classes, which required her to reduce the number of French classes she taught. She’s seen a lot of students go on to college to major in computer science or engineering. But she also told of the student who didn’t have support at home and often missed school. Everything changed when he discovered computer science. For the first time, she saw hope for this student.
There is a great need for a computer-literate workforce, which presents a great opportunity for our young people. We have come a long way in Arkansas, but our mission won’t be complete until every child in every nook and cranny in Arkansas is aware of the opportunities to study computer science and the benefits that come with that.