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Hawaii Bill Proposes Compsci as Graduation Requirement

Proposed legislation would ask the Hawaii Department of Education to assess the need and implications of making computer science a graduation requirement, amid concerns that students need more education in the subject.

Hawaii State Capitol
(TNS) — A bill to require the state Board of Education to determine whether computer science should become a requirement for public school graduation is moving through the state Legislature.

But while there are few arguments against the general idea, stumbling blocks for the bill include how to make space in existing graduation requirements for computer science along with other additional subjects, such as financial literacy, some key lawmakers wish to see offered or required at Hawaii's public schools.

There's also the perennial question of whether state lawmakers are overtaking BOE's authority and micromanaging the public school system when they mandate measures related to school curriculum.

The latest version of House Bill 503 would require BOE to work with the state Department of Education to "conduct an analysis on the need, impact, and feasibility of making computer science a graduation requirement" and determine whether it would "be in the best interests of public school students and the public" to do so. The proposal would also require a report to the Legislature and appropriate funds for teacher professional development in computer science.

The bill, which was introduced by a group of 16 lawmakers, including state House Education Chair Justin Woodson (D, Kahului-Puunene), survived the legislative crossover and was heard Wednesday in the state Senate Committee on Education, led by Chair Michelle Kidani (D, Mililani Town-Waipio Gentry-Royal Kunia). The committee deferred decision making to its at 3 p.m. Monday.

Currently, students must complete a total of 24 credits to earn a high school diploma: four credits each in English and social studies; three each in math and science; two from a choice of world languages, fine arts and career and technical education /JROTC; one credit in physical education; half a credit each in health and "personal transition plan"; and six credits in electives in any subject area.

"In Hawaii, just 20 percent of public elementary schools offer computer-science learning, and just 13.9 percent of all public school students were enrolled in a CS course in the 2021-2022 school year," David Miyashiro, executive director of the nonprofit organization HawaiiKidsCAN, said in written testimony. "When you consider that Hawaii currently has 2,718 open computing jobs, and that these open jobs have an average salary of $83,548, it's clear that we are not fully setting our kids up for success."

Miyashiro also spoke before the committee, saying that without additional action by the Legislature, it's unclear whether Hawaii public schools will meet the computer-science goals set in Act 51 in 2018 and Act 158 in 2021. Act 51 provided $500,000 to develop and implement a statewide computer-science curriculum plan and ensure each public high school offers at least one computer-science course each school year. Act 158 requires all public and charter elementary and middle schools to offer computer science by 2024-2025.

However, state school Deputy Superintendent Heidi Armstrong told the senators that DOE is on track to meet those goals. She did not immediately have data, but said the department will present its required annual report in July on its progress on Act 158. The DOE since 2017 has had a program to develop, implement and support statewide K-12 education in computer science, according to its website.

Written testimony from the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, which represents more than 2,000 employers, called HB 503 "especially important in light of Hawaii's rapidly growing tech industry. With tech companies such as Google, Apple and Microsoft investing in the state, there is a need for a highly skilled workforce."

Amber Davis, director of state government affairs at the Seattle-based nonprofit, testified by video that the bill is important to promote gender equity and economic opportunity: Only 3.8 percent of all students enroll in a computer-science course, and only 23.8 percent of them are female, she said.

"This gender gap is not unique to Hawaii. The only states that we have seen solve this problem have been states that have passed a computer-science graduation requirement, and that is why we are advocating for this policy."

Senate Education Vice Chair Donna Mercado Kim (D, Kalihi-Fort Shafter-Red Hill) said there's uncertainty over whether the Legislature is the right entity to decide.

"They always say that we are micromanaging, that we micromanage the (University of Hawaii Board of) Regents or micromanaging the Board of Education, telling them what to put in. Frankly, I think we should have fiscal literacy as part of the graduation requirements. So shouldn't it just be something that the Board of Education should be determining?"

Kidani told the committee she has been informed of BOE plans to create a committee to consider curriculum requests.

Miyashiro, whose organization closely follows board proceedings, told the committee he believes BOE hasn't had computer science as a specific agenda item since 2018.

"This is 2023, and there are a number of priorities, including financial literacy, that could be a part of the student experience," he said. "So again, this may not be the ideal venue for that conversation, but hope -fully, it sparks the needed discussion."

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