The state’s public schools chief is worried that Washington students aren’t learning enough about computers and technology.
Under a proposal from state superintendent Randy Dorn, school districts would have to report to his office how their students are meeting technology literacy requirements — whether it’s through a test, a culminating project or computer-oriented coursework.
The Legislature already has established technology literacy as one of the state’s essential learning requirements, but Dorn said students right now aren’t necessarily being asked to show they’ve mastered those skills.
Dorn said he wants to ensure that students leave high school familiar with computer programs such as Microsoft Word, Powerpoint and Excel — not just Facebook and Twitter.
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“We’re talking about the use of technology in the real world, other than social media,” said Dorn, who leads the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. “I believe this now is a part of the state’s responsibility.”
Dorn’s computer literacy bill is part of a larger discussion in the Legislature about ensuring that students are prepared to succeed in a world that is increasingly reliant on technology, said Sen. Steve Litzow, who chairs the Senate Committee on Early Learning and K-12 Education.
“In this day and age, to be job-eligible or be hired, you have to be technologically literate,” said Litzow, R-Mercer Island. “Technology needs to be embedded into everything.”
“What you’re seeing is, ‘How do we starting weaving technology into schools?’ Because that’s where the world is right now.” Litzow said.
Dorn’s legislation had a hearing last week before a House committee, and Litzow’s committee advanced a Senate version of it Thursday.
Another proposal in the House would explore a different approach to getting students more fluent in technology: letting computer science classes meet the world language requirements for college admissions.
Right now, to qualify for admission to the state’s four-year universities, students must complete two years of a world language such as Spanish, French or American Sign Language.
Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Tumwater, wants the state’s universities and Dorn’s office to discuss how to let two years of studying a computer programming language count toward those requirements. The Washington Student Achievement Council would also be part of the conversation.
Together, the agencies would have to submit a report to the Legislature in November. The report would outline what must be done at the high school level to let students substitute computer programming coursework for language classes when they apply to state universities.
“The most universal language on this planet is math, and computer programming is just a math derivative,” Reykdal said during a hearing for House Bill 1445.
A representative for University of Washington faculty members said Reykdal’s idea, if pursued, would put Washington’s university admissions requirements out of line with others around the country.
A UW student lobbyist also said he had concerns about limiting the scope of students’ education at an early age.
At the most basic level, however, Dorn said the push to improve computer literacy for high school students is complicated by the state’s limited funding of classroom technology.
In OSPI’s budget request, Dorn has asked the Legislature to increase per-pupil technology funding for school districts throughout the state. He’s asking the state to provide about $140 million more for school computers in the next two years.
But Litzow said that could be a tough sell in a year lawmakers are struggling to pay for more pressing education obligations. The Legislature has been ordered by the state Supreme Court to fully fund basic education by 2018, which officials estimate will require between $2.5 billion and $4 billion in new spending.
“We’re trying to get the basics done first,” Litzow said.
Dorn said the state is essentially pushing the costs of classroom technology onto local districts.
Last February, technology levies valued at millions of dollars were approved in the Tacoma, Puyallup, Bethel, Sumner, University Place, White River and Dieringer school districts.