The Arkansas Department of Education on Thursday published a 17-page report that is a five-year victory lap for the computer coding education program pushed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in 2014 and supported by funding in 2015.
Hutchinson campaigned in 2014 on an initiative to expand computer science courses in school districts across the state. In his first legislative session, he successfully passed legislation to expand offerings in school districts statewide, including funding for teacher training in computer science. He also annually makes a computer coding tour of the state to encourage participation in the program.
On Feb. 24, 2015, as part of the regular session of the 90th Arkansas General Assembly, Gov. Hutchinson signed HB 1183 into law, which made computer coding classes available in every Arkansas high school beginning in the 2015-16 school year. Act 187 was sponsored by Rep. Bill Gossage, R-Ozark, and others. Funding was established at $2.5 million per year, for a total of $15 million. According to the Department of Education, this is the most per capita of any state in the nation.
“This report highlights how my office, educational and other governmental state agencies, schools, teachers, industry partners, and many others across the state have come together to place Arkansas as a national leader in computer science,” Hutchinson said in the statement posted Thursday. “What Arkansas has been able to accomplish over the past five years is amazing, and I am excited to read it in print; however, I am equally excited to see that this report starts to address what must come next.”
Part of the coding push included the creation in 2015 of the Arkansas Computer Science and Technology in Public School Task Force. The group was given the following three responsibilities:
- Research and recommend computer science technology courses and content
- Study the computer science technology needs of the state
- Recommend strategies to meet the computer science and technology workforce needs of the state
Education department info shows that 1,104 students were enrolled in computer coding classes in 2014. The number has risen each year, with 9,813 students enrolled in coding courses in 2019. Also, the 20 certified coding teachers in 2014 would grow to 225 teachers in 2019.
The coding program began to gain national attention. The first National Computer Science Summit for State Leaders was held in Little Rock on June 10, 2019, and was attended by representatives from more than 30 states and Canada.
“The summit was an opportunity for high-level leaders – including governors, superintendents and education commissioners, legislators, nonprofit and corporate leaders – to share ideas on how states can provide high-quality computer science education for all students,” noted the Department of Education statement.
The department issued the following four goals for the next five years:
- Shift the coding program to a “Computer Science and Computing Initiative”
- Ensure that 50% of Arkansas school districts offer a computer science or computing pathway of three courses that lead to industry certification
- Every Arkansas high school will have at least one fully licensed computer science teacher who teaches a face-to-face computer science course
- 50% of Arkansas school districts will have a partnership with business/industry or an institution of higher education to provide computer science internship opportunities or college-level computer science courses for students