TOPEKA — High school students in Kansas will now be able to swap a computer science course for a core math or science class. The state school board voted to pass the proposal on Tuesday.
As technology advances, advocates of the measure said the workforce is also changing, prompting a much-needed change in what students are taught.
“Being 25, and I’m entering the workforce, and I know now what I would have liked to learn in high school,” Sierra Bonn said.
Bonn, who holds the title of Miss Southwest Kansas 2020 and is a passionate technology advocate, spearheads her own non-profit organization, known as “Let’s go full STEAM ahead.”
The organization encourages young women to pursue careers in the fields of science, math and technology. It’s something that Bonn had a hard time pursuing herself, with a lack of guidance to help push her forward after graduating high school.
“I didn’t end up taking a computer science class until my sophomore year of college. I actually ended up failing that class because I had no background knowledge,” she said.
Bonn said having computer skills would have made a big difference as she navigates a career in engineering.
Now, some high schoolers across the state won’t have to be stuck in the same position. The state school board’s decision allows students to prepare for computer science courses early on. An issue some school board members, like State Board of Education Chair Jim Porter, said was hard to address before.
“We are so far behind in meeting the needs of businesses, industry, and students when it comes to computer education,” Porter said.
Before the decision, Kansas was one of only two states that didn’t provide the option to have computer science as a core class, as opposed to an elective.
Porter agreed with advocates, who believe that this would help students get ahead of the competition when looking for jobs or pursuing their future career goals. However, some board members opposed the measure, arguing that there are better solutions to solving that problem.
“What we need is a broad range of computer education courses in all 286 districts, so we need more trained teachers, robotics clubs, girls who code clubs,” said board member Ann Mah.
After the State Board’s vote, local school boards can substitute one unit of computer science for either one unit of science or math as long as the student meets the math and science concepts required in regulations and the school district allows it.
Kansas graduation requirements include a minimum of 21 units of credit, including four English language arts units; three history, government and social studies units; three math units; three science units; one physical education unit; one unit of fine arts; and six units of elective courses.
According to the State Board of Education, the approval of the recommendation doesn’t change the minimum 21 credits required for graduation, and it doesn’t make computer science a required course for graduation.
It does, however, “put an emphasis” on the importance of computer science and increases the flexibility for students, counselors and administrators to count computer science as a core credit.