This opinion was first published by Crain’s Business in Cleveland.
Ohio right now rows in the bottom half of the country in almost every relevant computer science metric. This dire performance must change—and quickly—to give today’s students a fighting chance as tomorrow’s workers in the 21st century economy.
Businesses across the state are in need of computer-skilled workers, and the significant gap between computer-skilled workers available and employer demand is only expected to expand over the next decade. To meet this demand and prepare students for the digital workplace, Ohio elementary and middle schools must dramatically improve their computer science curricula.
Studies show that computer science classes help creative, cognitive thinking and addition coursework in mathematics and science. Reforming policy so that students have easier access to computer science training would help them perform better in traditional school subjects like math, while also preparing them for the jobs of the future that will require computer skills.
Fortunately, the State Committee on Computer Science has recently released 10 recommendations to improve computer skills training and education in Ohio. Among other proposals, the committee suggests requiring high school students to complete at least one computer science course before graduating, changing the professional licensing laws for computer science teachers and directing education funds to support more computer classes.
Everything is commendable. And if adopted, these recommended steps would improve the status quo and further improve Ohio’s revised curriculum model in Computer Science — which was recently updated to help students apply the skills learned in the classroom to jobs in the workforce.
Unfortunately, the State Computer Science Board has not proposed the one change that could most improve Ohio’s K-12 computer science programs: attracting more computer science teachers statewide by allowing schools to pay them more.
Collective bargaining agreements negotiated between teacher unions and local school districts determine pay for public school teachers in Ohio. These agreements — intended to ensure fair compensation for teachers — have instead contributed to the computer science teacher shortage by preventing computer science teachers from being compensated relative to their value in the private sector and employment alternatives.
Akron Public Schools, for example, is already affected by the problem of teacher shortages in many subject areas and has turned to long-term substitute teachers and social media campaigns to fill the gap. This shortage will become increasingly acute as more students are required to study computer science before graduating.
But better pay will lead to more qualified computer science teachers, and a model for authorizing higher pay already exists in state law. Ohio currently allows school districts to increase compensation for some teachers when local school boards determine that the teachers’ subject area is suffering from a shortage.
Instead of waiting for individual local school districts to recognize computer science teacher shortages, Ohio lawmakers should proactively expand this authority statewide. Recognizing the statewide shortage of computer science teachers and allowing all public school districts to raise computer science teacher salaries as needed will help attract and retain more qualified teachers, prevent a looming crisis in the classroom, and will better prepare Ohio students for successful careers in digital technology. age.
Taking bold, proactive action now to help our schools hire the teachers they need to teach will help our businesses hire employees with the knowledge and skills they need to do the job. Computer science in school today will truly define the Ohio we have tomorrow.
Colas is an economic policy analyst at the Buckeye Institute’s Center for Economic Research.