LITTLE ROCK – As most people know, computer science education has been one of my top priorities since I ran for governor in 2014.
In my second month as governor, I signed a law that required every high school to offer a class in computer science. Arkansas was the first state in the nation to do this, and we allocated $5 million every two years to train educators to teach coding and to provide technical support.
Every so often, someone asks me why I say that Arkansas is leading the nation in computer science education. I’m glad they ask because that is not just the boast of a proud governor.
That is the opinion of national organizations such as Wired magazine and Code.org.
Education Week noted that our emphasis on teacher training sets us apart from other states. Mark R. Nelson, the executive director of the Computer Science Teachers Association, told the magazine he didn’t know “of any other state that has done more than Arkansas. They have a really strong, multifaceted plan that is well thought out. … The state is far better off than anyone else.”
Enthusiasm for coding exceeded my expectations, and our numbers back up our reputation. When I became governor, only 1,100 students in the entire state were enrolled in a computer science class.
This school year, the number rose to more than 8,000, an increase of 620 percent. The number of girls enrolled in computer science has increased from 223 in 2014 to almost 2,500 this year. That is an increase of over 1,000 percent during the last four years.
As part of my computer science initiative, I have visited with hundreds of students and teachers at 72 high schools around the state on my coding tour. This week I completed the eighth tour.
At Buffalo Island, students have developed software that will detect CO2 emissions from soil. At West Memphis, a 6-year-old showed me a watch he has programmed. At Kirby, they are developing a robot that will help stop an active shooter at school. Another school developed software that matches students with scholarships.
These students are tackling problems with coding. That’s what this is all about.
Our teachers are stepping up as well, such as the French teacher in Manila who teaches computer science because she saw the need. And the assistant football coach in Beebe who answered the call from his principal to make the switch.
As part of the celebration of our success, this week we named the Computer Science Educator of the Year in a news conference at the capitol. The four finalists are Carl Frank of the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences, and the Arts; Josefina Perez, Springdale High School; Brenda Qualls, Bryant High School; and Kimberly Raup, Conway High School.
Arkansas’s first Computer Science Educator of the Year is Karma Turner of Lake Hamilton High School. Karma taught math for 21 years. In 2016, she taught her first coding class. Now she teaches computer science levels one through four.
Like the state at large, you can see Karma’s success in her numbers. This school year, 95 students were enrolled in her classes; 140 have signed up for next year.
When people ask me why I say we are leading the nation in computer science education, I can point them to the students in the classroom.
However you look at it, computer science education in Arkansas is leading the way to a bright future.