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GUEST COLUMN: Equip Colorado's students with vital computer science skills

By: Roberta Robinette
March 30, 2017 Updated: March 31, 2017 at 8:46 am
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If you look up the phrase "computer science in Colorado K-12 schools" you'll find thousands of results. Apparently it's a hot discussion topic.

As it should be. With more than 13,000 computing jobs available in Colorado with an average annual salary of $95,000, it's not surprising Coloradans are seeking aligned educational opportunities. In fact, nine in 10 parents want their children to learn computer science while in school.

Despite this demand from families and businesses, there is no mention of technology or computer science skills in Colorado's current K-12 academic standards.

With Colorado's 2017 legislative session well under way, a solution is in sight: HB-1184, Modern Technology Education in Public Schools. This bill would move computer science out of the background and into the forefront of education in Colorado.

HB-1184 would accomplish this by:

- Embedding technology skills into Colorado's current content standards, which are slated to be revised in 2018,

- Creating a publicly available and voluntary resource bank for schools and districts interested in computer science, and

- Removing barriers that prevent industry experts from co-teaching in the classroom.

As one of Colorado's top employers, AT&T knows that our success relies on the strength of our workforce. That is why we have invested so much in education initiatives and talent development in Colorado and nationwide; from helping current employees earn nano-degrees to providing financial education grants.

But we also know that to reach all Colorado's children and prepare them for the future, we must do more, and our state must lead the way.

We know vast inequities still exist in access to the computer science training required in the current economy. In 2016, just 780 students took Advanced Placement (AP) computer science exams in Colorado. Only 148 of those students were female, only 92 were Hispanic or Latino, and only 14 students were black.

Needless to say, time is of the essence.

The tech industry needs a capable and diverse pipeline of employees to fuel 21st century jobs, however the need is currently outpacing supply. To power the global economy and support strong communities, we need to bridge the skills gap and build a diverse talent pipeline for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

This isn't about having students choose one career path over another, or pushing every student to become a computer scientist. It is about equipping our children with professional and life skills that will allow them to solve problems now and in the future.

Computer science skills are fast becoming a necessary competency as advancements in automation and artificial intelligence redefine the workforce. This legislation will help ensure that Colorado's students are acquiring an education that is transferable to an unknown future. It supports the growth of an entrepreneurial mindset, contributes to greater self-reliance, and prepares graduates to lead the changes technology will bring, rather than be displaced by them.

I applaud House Speaker Crisanta Duran and Senate President Kevin Grantham for sponsoring this legislation. And I was happy to see it pass both chambers, demonstrating its broad, bipartisan support. This collaborative spirit defines our state and it is only by working together that we will improve education innovation and opportunities for our students.

I urge state leadership to stand with both chambers and sign HB-1184 into law. Our communities, employers, educators and, most importantly, our students, all serve to benefit.

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Roberta Robinette is president of AT&T Colorado. She serves on Colorado Succeeds Board of Trustees.

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