Cantwell Provision Improves Computer Science Education for Underserved Communities, Awaits President’s Signature

Legislation advances models for teaching and learning computer science in rural and low-income classrooms

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) hailed the news that a program she introduced, which supports computer science education for underrepresented populations in STEM fields, has passed both chambers of Congress as part of the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act. The bill now heads to the president for his signature into law.

Cantwell’s provision focuses on students in low-income, rural, and tribal communities that have been largely left out of the expanding and dynamic field of computer science.

The legislation creates a grant program at the National Science Foundation (NSF) to promote research on computer science teaching models, tools, and materials, with a focus on instruction for low-income, rural, and tribal students. The program also emphasizes preparing incoming teachers to integrate computer science and computational thinking into their classrooms in innovative ways.

“The workforce in Washington state and across the nation is increasingly dependent on technology skills.  We need to significantly increase the number of teachers who can provide students with the computing skills necessary to compete in the 21st century,” said Cantwell. “The economy’s future success depends on delivering educational opportunities in computer science based on proven strategies. Research funded through this program will enable educators to teach this critical subject more effectively and bring new skills to underserved communities.”

Computing jobs are growing in every industry and in every state. There are currently more than 20,000 open computing jobs in Washington state, and more than 500,000 nationwide. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates there will be 4.4 million jobs in computer and information technology occupations by 2024. Despite the clear need for a workforce with coding and programming skills, students in 75% of our nation’s schools graduate high school with no computer science education.

The provision will support research to develop, pilot, fully implement, or test:

  • Instructional materials and high-quality learning opportunities for teaching computer science, with an emphasis on improving inclusion of groups underrepresented in STEM disciplines;
  • Models for the preparation of new teachers who will teach computer science;
  • Scalable models of professional development and ongoing support for teachers, and;
  • Tools and models for teaching and learning aimed at supporting student success and inclusion in computing across diverse populations, particularly poor, rural, and tribal populations.

Another Cantwell-authored provision instructs the NSF to evaluate its own efforts to reach populations underrepresented in STEM fields and submit its findings in a report to Congress on a biennial basis, along with recommendations for how to improve inclusion of these populations.

Cantwell’s advocacy for computer science and other STEM-related education is rooted in her belief that STEM skills are essential for the competitiveness of the American workforce. She was an original cosponsor of the original authorization of this bill, the America COMPETES Act, when it was first introduced in 2007. She also guided its reauthorization through the Senate in 2010.