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Delaware Could Mandate High School Computer Sciences Classes

Delaware Rep. Debra Heffernan has introduced legislation directing public high schools to offer a computer science course by the 2020-2021 academic year.

(TNS) -- Rep. Debra Heffernan is taking legislative steps to make sure students are computer literate.

The District 6 representative introduced House Bill 355 March 3. The bill requires high schools to offer a computer science course by the 2020-2021 academic year, and requires the Delaware State Board of Education to establish a computer science course that satisfies a math or science credit.

Heffernan said her goal is to produce more tech-savvy students.

“There are a lot of jobs that are open in the technology area in Delaware and nationally that kids are not qualified for and they don’t even know about it,” she said.

The bill was approved with amendments by the House Education Committee but has yet to be act one by the House and Senate. If it isn’t passed by the end of the session on June 30, Heffernan will have to reintroduce it next session.

The bill originally gave the state board until 2017-18 to create an adequate computer science course, but that was changed to 2018-2019. Alison May, spokesperson for the Delaware Department of Education, said the department agreed with the idea of a computer science course in every school, but wasn’t prepared for the timeline Heffernan suggested.

The bill doesn’t excuse students from basic math and science classes. It means seniors can take a computer science course in place of an advanced math class such as Algebra II.

The extent of legislative reach was also an issue, May said.

“The department was in agreement with her that the legislature should not be mandating curriculum,” May said. “We also wanted to ensure that the state had time to create computer science content standards, which do not currently exist, before the legislation went into effect.”

HB 355 now has the DOE’s full support.

Some educators still aren’t convinced.

Gene Montano, curriculum director for Capital School District, said he agrees with the idea of a computer science course, but he’s concerned districts won’t have the necessary resources.

He said Dover High and other high schools often struggle to attract basic math and science teachers. Attracting computer science teachers is a hurdle every school won’t be able to jump, he said.

“I know there is a need for computer science and getting people into this field for [Science Technology Engineering and Math] jobs,” he said. “I think there are some issues.

“You have to provide some funding and some additional resources to help districts in implementing this. I don’t see any funding in this bill to support that.”

Heffernan said some schools offer a computer science course, but this isn’t enough to make kids competitive.

“A lot of high schools don’t have [computer science courses],” she said. “If they have one it’s only at the Advanced Placement level. This is the very highest level and that doesn’t make it as accessible to every student.”

©2016 Dover Post, Del. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.