Computer Science Educators Wanted: How This New Program Is Addressing...


Computer Science Educators Wanted: How This New Program Is Addressing the Shortage

By Greg Thompson     May 23, 2018

Computer Science Educators Wanted: How This New Program Is Addressing the Shortage

In an environment of 21st century demand from tech-hungry students, educators are largely stuck with out-of-date or insufficient training to keep up with demand. Particularly in the area of computer science (CS), schools need more qualified teachers.

Public-private partnerships are one way to address the nation-wide shortage of computer science-trained educators, and the latest comes in the form of STEMpath, a new graduate-level educator certification program that isn't quite a master's degree. STEMpath is a joint effort between multiple organizations, including the nonprofit mindSpark Learning; Couragion; Metropolitan State University; and Colorado Succeeds—which are all geared toward educators interested in pursuing STEM-CS credentials.

Only a handful of states require a CS certification to teach Advanced Placement (AP) CS courses, but Melissa Risteff, a strategist on the STEMpath leadership team, points out that beyond the AP realm states are requiring that every district and school provide CS, thus the growing need for qualified educators.

“Last I tallied, 84 percent of states had some sort of policy, graduation requirement, CS/STEM endorsements or seals, and/or dedicated funding to expand access and quality of CS education,” says Risteff, CEO and co-founder of Denver-based Couragion, a women-owned, educational technology social enterprise supported by public and private entities. “AP computer science courses are for the final mile in secondary school. We need to start computer science education for our students eight to 10 years earlier to grow CS pathway participation.”

One problem is that many educator preparation programs focus solely on teaching to the AP test, and there are fewer options when it comes to certifying teachers to introduce the fundamentals to younger students.

“AP courses aren’t the biggest area of need,” adds Jennifer Capps, interim dean for the College of Professional Studies, Metropolitan State University of Denver. “Basic Computer science courses in K-12 are a bigger need as all students need some baseline information about computer science. Introduction courses would be a good place to start.”

For teachers looking to burnish their qualifications, Colorado-based STEMpath offers a 12- to 15-month program of coursework and work-based learning through in-industry externships. Cost is $12,000, and creators describe the program as a well-informed perspective of computer science, far beyond the traditional skills of coding and programming. Upon completion, educators are qualified to teach CS and may be eligible for salary increases.

Open enrollment has already begun with an application process that asks educators to respond to questions about their teaching and learning philosophies. Scholarships from the Morgridge Family Foundation and other donors are available and will cover a percentage of tuition for all students in the first cohort, says Risteff. Participants are further required to engage in paid summer externships. The hope is that “educators will be breaking even or better,” she adds.

After the first cohort, there are no guarantees that future students will receive scholarships, but officials at the nonprofit mindSpark continue to look for additional donors to support future cohorts. “That is why we strove to keep the total costs down overall,” Risteff says, “in case the educator or district needs to pay for the entire certificate.”

While applications are now being accepted, STEMpath will officially launch in Colorado in Jan 2019, with an eye toward nationwide expansion the following year. Organizers selected Colorado due to its high number of unfilled tech jobs across multiple advanced industries in the state.

The first semester will be taught onsite at mindSpark Learning facilities in Lakewood, Colorado, while summer externships in 2019 will be across the Front Range region of Colorado, which includes many of the state’s metro areas. Risteff reports that the plan is to expand future cohorts to other regions within the Centennial State, and eventually across the nation via online and in-person learning.

How Great is the Need?

According to Kellie Lauth, CEO of mindSpark Learning (founded by the Morgridge Family Foundation), demand is high for teachers with CS training, and the shortage of sufficiently trained educators is real. The consequences of that shortage will eventually show up downstream.

“Right now, we cannot grow the number of students in robust programs or build new student programs without qualified teachers,” Lauth says. “We expect that the United States will need more than 30,000 secondary teachers qualified to teach CS by 2025. On the other hand, if CS training for teachers stays the same as it is now, we could expect a shortage of more than 23,000 teachers across the country, and Colorado is no exception to this shortage.”

Such a shortage would inevitably lead to a scarcity of prepared students, and ultimately a paucity of qualified workers. The Colorado Department of Labor Office of Labor and Employment reports that jobs in software developing and computer support specialists were among the top ten occupations (by numbers of job ads) in March 2018, with a grand total of 5,030 job postings.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects computer and information technology occupations will grow 13 percent in the next decade, faster than the average for all occupations. These occupations are projected to add about 557,000 new jobs.

"Computer science education is the foundation for our future tech workforce, yet the shortage of educators continues to grow," says Monica Coughlin, interim president and CEO at Colorado Technology Association.

With all this opportunity, might newly trained teachers be tempted to take their STEMpath certification and apply for lucrative jobs in the private sector? Jennifer Capps acknowledges the possibility, but is not overly concerned. “STEMpath prepares them to teach CS,” she says. “Although it’s a rigorous certificate, private sector jobs might prefer someone with a BS/MS in computer science. This new approach offers more breadth, and just the right amount of depth, to avoid being taken away by industry.”

Lauth explains that most CS teacher preparation programs require a master’s degree, or significant time spent in industry, to qualify to teach computer science. “When educators invest money and time into a master’s, they often become eligible to work in industry where they make significantly more income, and choose to leave the teaching profession, perpetuating the shortage,” she says. “We need to be smarter and more efficient about how we think about STEM teacher preparation.”

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