BY STATE SENATOR LARRY TEAGUE –
LITTLE ROCK – As Arkansas schools begin a new school year, at least 1,300 high school students are starting classes in how to program and code computers, the governor announced.
In October, educators will have a more complete picture of how many students have enrolled in computer coding classes. They expect the number to exceed 1,300.
Also, 130 teachers have completed courses that prepare them to teach computer science courses and 87 schools have applied for state grants to pay for professional development programs that will prepare even more teachers in computer coding.
This is the first year of the governor’s initiative to expand and improve computer science offerings throughout Arkansas. He has set a goal of encouraging 6,000 students to enroll in computer science classes within four years.
Earlier this year the legislature approved Act 187, to require all public high schools and charter high schools to offer at least one course in computer science, beginning in the 2015-2016 school year. The act also creates a 15-member task force of educators, science teachers and people with expertise in computers. Its responsibility will be to ensure that computer courses are up to date and of the highest caliber.
The governor said that eventually he wants computer courses available not just in high school but in all levels, from kindergarten through grade 12. He pointed out that in July the task force created by Act 187 had voted to develop a computer science curriculum for all grades.
According to the coordinator at the state Education Department who is leading the effort to implement computer science classes, even young students in elementary classes can learn logic and the thought processes that they will need to program computers in high school.
Computer science is a staple of the STEM curricula that schools are emphasizing more and more. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Common Core changes
In other back-to-school news, the governor asked the Board of Education to change the name of the Common Core standards. Educators are revising math and English standards that were adopted in 2010.
Education officials expect the process of changing Common Core standards to continue through this school year. If the process goes as planned, the public will be allowed to comment during the year and the state Board will vote on recommended changes in July of 2016.
Last month the Board voted to change the national standardized testing company that Arkansas schools will use to measure how well students are achieving Common Core standards. Arkansas schools will drop the PARCC tests and instead give students ACT and ACT Aspire tests, beginning this school year.
Arkansas Dental School?
Arkansas students who want to become dentists must earn their degrees in other states. The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences has set up a Center for Dental Education, which operates a dental clinic, hosts dental students on rotation from other states and post graduate training program for new dentists.
The chancellor of UAMS said in a recent interview that it would be three years before a dental school is ready to enroll students.