Ensuring our nation's security: The case for computer science education

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Last month, state, industry and education leaders in the United States injected a breath of fresh air into our political system. Amid escalating polarization between presidential candidates, 28 bipartisan governors and 77 leading CEOs and educators from across the country asked Congress to fund K-12 computer science education. And now bipartisan congressional leaders are getting behind this issue with over 135 Republican and Democrats coming together to ask the Appropriations Committee to prioritize K-12 computer science education funding.

So why are these leaders rallying behind this cause and bringing together diverse areas of the country from New York City to Little Rock? Because these communities and these leaders realize that not only prosperity in the United States, but also security, increasingly depends upon our citizens knowing how to meaningfully participate in the digital age.

Cyber warfare against the United States is on the rise with numerous countries attempting to gain access into our computer networks, government and private. These attacks can occur countless times every hour from sources worldwide. Clearly, the defenses required to repel these attacks are immense and constantly evolving.

However, recent reports show that the United States is not providing the resources or opportunity for citizens to adequately fill the increasing demand for cybersecurity careers.

This reality is jeopardizing the cybersecurity of our country, putting our national defense, businesses, and personal information at increased risk.

In the most egregious of many recent examples, last year China engaged in a successful cyber attack on the Office of Personnel Management. These attacks are unlikely to subside.

Economically, the stakes are equally high. Investment in K-12 computer science education is essential to ensuring our future workforce is equipped with the skills needed to fill critical U.S. jobs and keep America competitive for decades to come.

Here at home, computing occupations are now the largest source of all new wages, accounting for more than 500,000 currently unfilled computing jobs in the U.S.

Nevertheless, last year our colleges and universities produced fewer than 50,000 computer science graduates. This isn't likely to change without a robust emphasis on computer science in our K-12 educational system.

Currently only 1 out of 4 U.S. schools teach meaningful computer science. And even though the number of students taking advanced placement (AP) computer science has almost doubled in the past two years, less than 10 percent of high schools in the United States teach it. Among the small fraction of U.S. students who take AP computer science, only 20 percent are female and even fewer are Black or Hispanic.

Our international competitors on innovation, talent and trade increasingly recognize the value of computer science education. Just recently Japan announced a new policy that will ensure that every student will learn computer science within the next five years. Germany is considering a similar proposal. The United Kingdom and Australia have already made computer science a compulsory part of education.

Code.org has partnered with more than 120 school districts across the United States - including the largest in the U.S. - and has 25 regional partners that are on the front lines of this grassroots-led movement.

Recently Code.org brought together 400 teacher leaders from across the country for preparation on how to prepare the next wave of teachers across the country. These districts, local partners and teachers will train about 30,000 teachers next year. And Code.org isn't the only organization working toward scaling computer science – numerous organizations such as the National Math and Science Initiative and Project Lead the Way are also bringing computer science to local communities across the United States. These seed investments are largely supported by private industry.

These privately supported programs are a great start. However, our computer science education deficit is significant and the cost of not preparing our workforce for current threats and the future economy is immense. School districts seeking to add or increase their computer science education curriculum should be able to count on the federal government as a financial partner in this endeavor.

A relatively small investment in our future will bolster our national security, spur business investments in our communities and keep the United States as a leader in computer science.

When computing is the largest and fastest-growing source of all new wages in the US, the return on this investment is immense.  And with our national security at stake, the alternative is not an option we can afford.

Our initiative is bipartisan, the need is real and the benefits are tangible.

Congress should act now.