New law to spread computer science education

June 4, 2013

By Peter Clark

A version of a pilot program at Issaquah High School recently passed through the Legislature to be available for the whole state.

In a bill drafted and promoted by freshman State Rep. Chad Magendanz, the state has undertaken the commitment to increase the availability of computer science instruction within the schools. In its passed language, the bill states that the Legislature “intends to take additional steps to improve and expand access to computer science education, particularly in advanced courses that could prepare students for careers in the field.”

Though it is not as complex as the Technology Education and Literacy in Schools program Magendanz was involved with while he served on the Issaquah school board, he said he is still very excited about his first co-sponsored bill to be signed into law.

“I love this bill,” he said with enthusiasm about spreading computer science education throughout Washington. “It passed unanimously through the House. This is one of the more thoughtful science, technology, engineering and mathematics bills I’ve seen. This is a bipartisan bill all the way.”

In the spirit of the TEALS program, Magendanz said he hopes to offer ways to bring many specialists that make up the workforce of big technology giants like Microsoft into classrooms. With their skilled knowledge of advanced computer science, many of those experienced technicians have shown an interest in sharing their time with students.

As an almost 20-year software developer for Microsoft, Magendanz said he felt that pull into the classroom.

“A lot of these people want to teach these areas. They just don’t have the background,” he said. “I was one of those people.”

He was a member of the school board when Microsoft employee Kevin Wang proposed the program and then pulled it together for Issaquah High School to launch in the 2009-2010 school year. In the first year, 12 students enrolled for an “Intro to Computer Science” elective course. It was so successful that the program grew to four schools the following year and drew more than 250 students to enroll.

The TEALS program is now under way in 35 schools in seven states with more than 1,500 students taking part.

Through direct interaction or telecommunication devices, employees from Microsoft, Google and other high-tech companies work with school districts to build curricula and lead classes.

“Within the state of Washington, this is one of the most productive of programs,” Magendanz said. “We should look at a sustainable way to make this a part of basic education.”

Though the bill originally contained language that would bring grant opportunities to school districts in Washington, Magendanz said the Ways and Means Committee in the State Senate took it out of the bill due to budget concerns, in an attempt to reduce government spending. Still, the law dictated that districts would be supported in developing a computer science program.

Issaquah School District Director of Career and Counseling Services Dennis Wright said he saw a great deal of potential for the spread of a TEALS-type program after the success that he has locally seen.

“Kids are seeing the value in this program,” he said. “It’s very rich in technology. I think that TEALS is a valuable enough thing to preserve in that bill.”

Wright also pointed out some growing pains that other districts would have to experience. Though most of the specialists came into the classrooms with enthusiasm and patience, it was not always the case.

“You never know quite what industry teacher you’re going to get, and every district will have to go through that,” he said about the teachers that offer their time. He also talked about the difficulty in including every interested student. “There’s a limit to how far you can stretch it. You want to make sure that every kid that wants to take it has that opportunity.”

Wright spoke favorably about TEALS and the promise it could hold for the rest of the state in growing the modern talent pool for high-demand jobs.

“We value this partnership and we want to continue it,” he said of the program they have developed in Issaquah. “I think it’s great if it could go statewide.”

 

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