Only 2 percent of Texas high school graduates completed a computer science class in 2015, even though 60 percent of today’s science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs are in computing, according to the Texas Education Agency (TEA). One of the issues is that few Texas teachers are certified to teach computer science. For example, in 2014-15, pre-service teacher preparation programs produced only 14 computer science teachers in the entire state.
The University of Texas at Austin’s WeTeach_CS program, a project of the College of Education’s Center for STEM Education, is helping solve the problem. The program provides intensive and sustained K-12 professional development for Texas computer science teachers and already is responsible for a dramatic increase in the number of certified computer science teachers in Texas, in support of the nation’s CS for All initiative. In 2015-16, the program trained 1,352 Texas educators and helped 177 teachers receive their CS certification.
Now, a new $5 million grant from the TEA will help WeTeach_CS significantly improve those numbers. The grant will allow the program to increase its teacher education initiatives that prepare Texas teachers to become certified in computer science.
“TEA’s previous support of WeTeach_CS has already been transformative for districts across the spectrum — from giant urban districts like Houston and Dallas to remote rural districts like Presidio and Iraan-Sheffield,” said Carol Fletcher, director of WeTeach_CS. “In the Houston Independent School District, for example, the number of certified computer science teachers has grown from eight to 29 since 2015 as a result of the HISD-WeTeach_CS partnership. In 2015, the number of students in the district who were enrolled in advanced computer science courses was 151. In 2016, they had 1,042.”
Approximately half of the grant will be used to fund 29 computer science collaboratives around the state to provide direct training and support for teachers in their region. The collaboratives, which will be the largest state network of computer science teacher professional development in the country, are modeled on the Center for STEM Education’s Texas Regional Collaboratives for Excellence in Science and Math Teaching, a statewide network of 57 pre-K-16 partnerships that provide professional development to pre-K-12 science and math teachers. That program has developed the capacity of approximately 46,000 teachers of science and mathematics.
The grant will also fund pilot teacher externship projects that connect Texas educators to industry experiences in STEM fields to deepen teacher knowledge about the trends, skills and opportunities in industries that will enrich instruction and bring relevance to student learning.
“TEA is thrilled to partner with UT on these initiatives,” said Penny Schwinn, the TEA’s deputy commissioner of academics. “We believe deeply in Texas educators and know that this investment in their collaboration with industry partners will not only enrich their ongoing professional learning, but significantly impact the achievement of their students.”
“The Texas Education Agency’s investment in WeTeach_CS ensures that Texas will lead the nation in K-12 computer science education,” said Manuel Justiz, dean of the College of Education. “We are confident that the work we are doing will truly change lives.”
For more information, contact: M. Yvonne Taylor, College of Education, 512-471-3916.
Photo credit: Two high school students coding Raspberry Pi, by Christina S. Murrey.