Governors, legislators and education department leaders are making these subjects a priority.
Top state leaders across the country are working together to push science, technology, engineering, math (STEM) and computer science forward.
From a new governors' partnership to an education framework that will be finished this summer, state leaders are trying to tackle the challenge of educating enough students to fill workforce needs in at least six ways.
Earlier this year, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee became co-chairs of a newly formed Governors' Partnership for K-12 Computer Science. Gov. Gina Raimondo, D-RI, also joined the partnership, whose members commit to working on three policy goals laid out by the nonprofit advocacy organization Code.org:
On Friday, July 15, students will demonstrate a short coding tutorial that's part of the "Hour of Code" campaign during the National Governors Association meeting in Des Moines, Iowa. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and Iowa Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds will learn from the students along with talking about computer science best practices, challenges and what's working in computer science education.
"It's going to be an exciting launch for this governor's partnership, which is the first time computer science has really engaged state leaders all at once," said Amy Hirotaka, director of state government affairs at Code.org, which is helping the governors set up times to collaborate.
Not many STEM action plans existed at the state level a few years ago. Now, however, a number of state departments and other state agencies have created plans in response to the Race to the Top competition requirements and the Every Student Succeeds Act, which will force states to have more comprehensive STEM conversations than before, said James Brown, executive director of an advocacy group called the STEM Education Coalition.
Along with action plans, some governors — including Iowa and Massachusetts — have been pulling together STEM advisory councils. These councils bring together a diverse group of people who can advise the governor on policies, challenges to tackle and other STEM issues.
In states including Washington and Idaho, leaders are looking to the business community to provide matching funds that will help states' investments in these areas go further. And state education departments see an opportunity to reel in more private investments in schools, particularly for robotics competitions, Brown said. Texas, Connecticut and Minnesota have worked to make robotics a varsity sport complete with a statewide championship competition that businesses can support financially.
In some cases, city mayors' leadership in STEM and computer science has prompted statewide action as part of their community development strategy. Take Indianapolis, for example, where former Mayor Greg Ballard worked with community members to help pay for school robotics teams from every school to compete. This year, a statewide grant program will build on his efforts by supporting teams across Indiana.
"In the political climate of today, mayors are sort of the adults in the room," Brown said. "They have to deal with issues in real time, and they don't recess for summer break."
Governors are also incorporating STEM jobs into their development strategy and creating agencies to tackle this as a business development issue in such places as Arkansas and Alabama.
Since 2013, policy changes in 24 states have helped expand computer science education, according to Code.org. For example, Arkansas legislators passed a bill that required high schools to offer computer science classes starting in the 2015-16 school year.
A number of states have also created budget line items to emphasize science, technology, engineering or math, Brown said.
Fourteen states have been working with a variety of stakeholders on a common framework that identifies what K-12 students should be able to know and do in computer science, and the framework is expected to be released in September. While these aren't standards, Hirotaka said, they do provide a guide for states and districts to create their own standards.