The Patch | By Tony Cantu (Patch Staff) - January 27, 2017 3:54 am ET

"WeTeach CS" enables Texas teachers to teach computer science at a time when only 2 percent of high school grads complete such classes.

AUSTIN, TX — A University of Texas at Austin program offering teachers certification to teach computer science has been fortified with a new $5 million grant from the Texas Education Agency, officials said.

The university's WeTeach_CS program, a project of the College of Education’s Center for STEM Education, secured the grant from the TEA, enabling it to increase its teacher education initiatives preparing Texas teachers to become certified in computer science. The program provides intensive and sustained K-12 professional development for Texas computer science teachers and already is responsible for a dramatic increase in the number of certified computer science teachers in Texas in tandem with the national CS for All initiative, university officials said.

In 2015-16, the program trained 1,352 Texas educators and helped 177 teachers receive their CS certification, university officials added.

The grant monies come at a critical time. Only 2 percent of Texas high school graduates completed a computer science class in 2015, even though 60 percent of today’s science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs are in computing, according to the Texas Education Agency (TEA), officials noted. One of the main reasons for this shortcoming is that few Texas teachers are certified to teach computer science.

The upshot: In 2014-15, pre-service teacher preparation programs produced only 14 computer science teachers in the entire state.

“TEA’s previous support of WeTeach_CS has already been transformative for districts across the spectrum — from giant urban districts like Houston and Dallas to remote rural districts like Presidio and Iraan-Sheffield,” said Carol Fletcher, director of WeTeach_CS. “In the Houston Independent School District, for example, the number of certified computer science teachers has grown from eight to 29 since 2015 as a result of the HISD-WeTeach_CS partnership. In 2015, the number of students in the district who were enrolled in advanced computer science courses was 151. In 2016, they had 1,042.”

About half of the grant will be used to fund 29 computer science collaborative efforts throughout the state to provide direct training and support for teachers in their region, according to university officials. The collaborative arrangements, which will be the largest state network of computer science teacher professional development in the country, are modeled on the Center for STEM Education’s Texas Regional Collaboratives for Excellence in Science and Math Teaching, a statewide network of 57 pre-K-16 partnerships that provide professional development to pre-K-12 science and math teachers, university officials said.

That program has developed the capacity of approximately 46,000 teachers of science and mathematics, according to school officials.

The grant also will fund pilot teacher externship projects connecting Texas educators to industry experiences in STEM fields to deepen teacher knowledge about the trends, skills and opportunities in industries that will enrich instruction and bring relevance to student learning.
"TEA is thrilled to partner with UT on these initiatives,” said Penny Schwinn, the TEA’s deputy commissioner of academics. “We believe deeply in Texas educators and know that this investment in their collaboration with industry partners will not only enrich their ongoing professional learning, but significantly impact the achievement of their students."

Manuel Justiz, dean of the College of Education, added: "The Texas Education Agency’s investment in WeTeach_CS ensures that Texas will lead the nation in K-12 computer science education. We are confident that the work we are doing will truly change lives.”

 

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