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S.C. Department of Education introduces K through 8 computer science standards

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All South Carolina public school students in kindergarten through eighth grade would be required to learn computer science beginning in 2018 under new standards proposed by the state Department of Education.

draft of the state's standards, released at the end of November, was designed in part to prepare S.C. students for the nation's technology-driven workforce.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer and information technology fields are expected to add nearly 500,000 new jobs between 2014 and 2024. A report by the National Center for Women and Information Technology projects 70 percent of new job openings in South Carolina could be filled by workers with computing degrees.

Despite growing demand for computer science graduates, schools rarely offer more than keyboarding classes in their roster of coursework, said Quinn Burke, an education professor at the College of Charleston and a member of the Education Department's team charged with writing the standards.

Schools that do provide coding curriculum are often clustered in large cities, such as Charleston and Greenville, so access to computer science education is limited, he said. 

"It's not about making every kid a computer scientist," Burke said of the state's proposed standards. "It’s about giving them a better understanding of the way these devices operate and how they compute."

The state's standards were modeled after the K-12 Computer Science Framework, a set of guidelines for introducing core computing concepts at every grade level created by a national coalition of technology and education groups.

By the end of kindergarten, for example, students should know the difference between a tablet and a smartphone, how to responsibly use a laptop or computer, and appropriate vocabulary for computer hardware, such as "monitor," "keyboard" and "printer."

In second grade, they'll learn how to identify a strong password and weak one. In third grade, they'll master word processing and search engines. Before they start high school, students should be well-versed in concepts like algorithms, networks, programming and computing systems. At least, that's the goal. 

"Students, once they leave the eighth grade, they could either move into high school and continue to pursue a computer science career or if they're not into that, they would definitely be more adept at using these computer science skills in other career fields," said Darwin Shorters, a nationally recognized computer science teacher at St. John's High School on Johns Island.

A former computer programmer and systems analyst, Shorters left his corporate career in Detroit to pursue his passion for teaching underprivileged children. Shorters, who helped write the state standards, said mandating computer science curriculum in public schools will help ease the digital divide between students in poverty and their wealthier counterparts. 

"When you push an initiative like K-8 standards for everyone in public schools in South Carolina, yes you do start to balance things out," he said. "You start to have more equitable access to these digital tools."

Shorters said his biggest fear about implementing the state's new standards is teachers' reluctance to teach them, perhaps because they're not "comfortable or confident about their own skills."

According to a state task force on computer science and information technology, S.C. doesn't certify teachers in computer science nor do any colleges provide computer-science teaching preparation programs, though at least three colleges — University of South Carolina, Winthrop University and College of Charleston — are developing proposals for training computer science teachers. 

The task force, convened this year by the Education Department and Education Oversight Committee, recommends the state make an initial investment of $500,000 to expand the state's K-12 computer science education, including $175,000 for professional learning opportunities for teachers in about five-to-10 pilot districts. 

Education Department officials said the standards will be fully implemented in the 2018-19 school year. The public is invited to review the proposed standards and provide feedback online until Jan. 15. At that point, the writing team will reconvene to revise the standards before submitting them to the State Board of Education for approval.

You can review a draft of the state's computer science standards online at scde.formstack.com/forms/sccsstandardspublicreview.

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Reach Deanna Pan at 843-937-5764 and follower her on Twitter @DDpan. 

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