Computer science teachers need better pay to avert crisis – Buckeye Institute

This opinion piece was first published by Crain’s Cleveland Business.
Ohio currently ranks in the bottom half of the country in nearly every relevant computer science metric. That abysmal showing must change — and quickly — to give today's students a fighting chance as tomorrow's employees in the 21st century economy.
Businesses across the state need employees with computer skills, and the significant gap between available computer-skilled workers and employer demand is only expected to widen over the next decade. To help meet that demand and prepare students for the digital workplace, Ohio elementary and secondary schools need to dramatically improve their computer science curricula.
Studies show that computer science classes help with creative, cognitive thinking and complement math and science coursework. Reforming policy so students can more easily access computer science education would help them perform better in traditional school subjects like math, while preparing them for the jobs of the future that will require computer science skills.
Fortunately, the State Committee on Computer Science recently released 10 recommendations for improving Ohio's computer skills training and education. Among other proposals, the committee suggests requiring high school students to complete at least one computer science course before graduating, changing occupational licensing laws for computer science teachers, and directing education funds to support more computer classes.
All commendable. And if adopted, these recommended steps would improve upon the status quo and further improve on Ohio's revised model curriculum for computer science — which was recently updated to help students apply the skills learned in the classroom to jobs in the workforce.
Unfortunately, the State Committee on Computer Science stopped short of proposing the one change that might improve Ohio's K-12 computer programs the most: attracting more computer science teachers statewide by allowing schools to pay them more.
Collective bargaining agreements negotiated between teachers' unions and local school districts determine teacher pay in Ohio public schools. Those agreements — designed to ensure fair compensation for teachers — have instead contributed to a computer science teacher shortage by preventing computer science teachers from being compensated relative to their private-sector value and employment alternatives.
Akron Public Schools, for example, has already been bitten by the teacher shortage bug across many subject areas and has turned to long-term substitute teachers and social media campaigns to fill the void. These shortages will only become more acute as more students are required to take computer science before graduating.
But better pay will yield more qualified computer science teachers, and a model for allowing higher pay already exists under state law. Ohio currently authorizes school districts to increase compensation for some teachers when local school boards determine that the teachers' subject area suffers a shortage.
Instead of waiting for individual local school districts to recognize the computer science teacher shortage, Ohio lawmakers should proactively expand this authority statewide. Acknowledging a statewide computer science teacher shortage and allowing all public school districts to raise salaries for computer science teachers as needed would help attract and retain more qualified teachers, avert a looming crisis in the classroom, and better prepare Ohio students for successful careers in the digital age.
Taking bold preemptive action now to help our schools hire the teachers they need to teach will help our businesses hire employees with the knowledge and skills they need to do the job. Computer science in school today really will determine the Ohio we have tomorrow.
Kolas is an economic policy analyst with the Buckeye Institute’s Economic Research Center.
Founded in 1989, The Buckeye Institute is an 
independent research and educational 
institution—a think tank—whose mission is to 
advance free-market public policy in the states.
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