Iowa, Arkansas, Colorado governors talk computer science education

DES MOINES — Gov. Kim Reynolds’ Iowa Future Ready Summit on Tuesday highlighted steps the state is taking to better train its students for the workforce, but whether young people will use those skills in Iowa jobs — rather than out-of-state — remains to be seen.

“The worst thing is you train all these kids, and then they want to live in Colorado,” said John Hickenlooper, Colorado’s governor. “And some do.”

Reynolds, Hickenlooper, and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson discussed the expansion of computer science education in their respective states during a panel at the summit moderated by Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise.

One way to convince young Iowans to stay in-state is to create partnerships with schools and businesses, Reynolds said, so students have learning opportunities out in their communities.

“If you form those partnerships and start to develop opportunities for juniors, seniors, college kids, not only does it help them see the opportunities that exist in communities all across the state, but it means economic development,” she said. “We’re providing them opportunities to find out their passion, what they’re interested in. We’re allowing them to see the phenomenal opportunities that exist right in their community.

Advances in technology itself, Arkansas’ Hutchinson said, could allow for more students to stay close to home.

“We’re not training them to send them to Colorado or Silicon Valley,” Hutchinson said. “You can run the world from the front porch in Harrison, Ark.”


But Iowa, and other states, have long struggled to entice its young people to remain in the state. That “brain drain” contributes to more than 4,000 computing jobs remaining unfilled in Iowa.

Reynolds said a bill signed into law by her predecessor, Gov. Terry Branstad, encouraged every Iowa school to offer computer science by the 2019-20 school year.

About 70 percent of Iowa middle and high schools have a computer science course, Reynolds said.

Wise noted, though, that only 14 percent of 2017 high school graduates took at least one rigorous course in computer science.

“There is great momentum that we’re seeing taking place in the state of Iowa,” Reynolds said, adding she hopes to catch up to Arkansas and Colorado. “We’re a competitive state, and I let them know right off the bat, we’re on their tail.”

In Arkansas, Hutchinson said he believes his work to expand computer science education will have long-lasting impact. Since 2015 Arkansas has invested $7.5 million in computer science education, he said, and trained 2,000 teachers.

Colorado has taken a similar approach to Iowa by providing schools with voluntary academic standards in computer science. Hickenlooper said he expects computer science education “almost certainly” will eventually be mandatory in Colorado schools.

“If we don’t give kids the tools to navigate the future economy, (it’s) government malpractice,” Hickenlooper said.

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