If Florida’s information technology industry were serious about increasing the number of high school students learning computer science, this is what they’d do

This is what Key West’s John Padget did when he decided that more Monroe County students should take AP Computer Science A, the highest level widely available high school computer science course:  He rewarded students who passed the course’s exam with a new laptop.

Padget is an engineer and the founder of a private equity firm.  He has served as Superintendent of Schools for Monroe County and Vice Chair of Florida’s State Board of Education.  And he likes simple, direct solutions to educational problems.  He is also founder of Monroe Compute$, an effort that rewards Monroe County students for earning industry certifications in information technology with cash payments.

Florida’s information technology industry wants more of the state’s high school students to take computer science courses.  Two proposals to do so are winding their ways through the state’s Legislature.  One (SB 104) would allow high school students to substitute a computer science class for a foreign language class when applying to the state’s public universities.  The other (HB 265) would start a process that would likely allow students to substitute computer science courses for university admissions requirements in math and science.

Of course, the state universities’ admission requirements in foreign language have very different goals than courses in computing do.  And further undermining math and science in Florida’s high schools when the state is already distressingly mediocre in those subjects makes no sense, especially when earning a bachelor of science degree in computer science requires a fairly high level of achievement in calculus and physics.

So what if Florida’s information technology industry attacked the shortage of high school computer science students the same way that John Padget did?  How much would that cost?

The last AP Computer Science A exam was given in May, 2016.  According to the College Board, 2,688 Florida students took that exam, and 1,182 passed it.  Let’s say the IT industry decided to reward every student who passed that exam with a $1,000 laptop.  And let’s say that the effort was so successful that it doubled the number of students who passed the exam, so that 2,364 students passed.  If every one of those students received a $1,000 laptop, that would cost the industry $2,364,000.

Let’s assume that the industry is so pleased with that result that they do it every year.  That’s a recurring annual cost of $2.3 million.  Chicken feed for folks in that industry.

Instead of that, we are considering undermining foreign language education or further undermining Florida’s already weak high school math and science program.

The state’s information technology industry should step up and take responsibility for increasing the number of graduates in their field.  The bills working their way through the Legislature are just lazy demonstrations of crony capitalism.


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