AUSTIN, Texas — The University of Texas at Austin is celebrating a milestone after helping 600 Texas teachers earn a computer science teaching certification. The program, called WeTeach_CS, was formed in 2015 with the goal of preparing in-service educators to teach computer science.
“STEM and computer science careers are the fastest-growing careers in the country and can be ladders of economic opportunity not just for students, but for entire families,” said Carol Fletcher, director of Expanding Pathways in Computing at UT Austin’s Texas Advanced Computing Center. “Regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic status, every student deserves an opportunity to learn computer science skills.”
In 2014, Fletcher took an inventory of computer science education in Texas, finding that only 25 teachers statewide had graduated from a pre-service teacher preparation program. Recognizing that the best way to quickly increase the number of computer science educators was to focus on training in-service teachers, Fletcher in her initial outreach sent an email blast to math and science teachers in Texas. Teachers were invited to participate in a project in partnership with Oracle Academy called Keep Calm and Java On, consisting of free online coursework to learn Java programming.
Fletcher’s hope was to recruit 20 teachers. Two weeks after her initial outreach, she received more than 100 applications for participation and realized that an untapped market of potential teachers was available. Leveraging U.S. Department of Education funding, WeTeach_CS began piloting in-person professional development that focused specifically on the competencies addressed on the Texas teacher computer science certification exam. Once again, demand was high, with some teachers traveling more than 1,000 miles round trip to participate. This led to the creation of the WeTeach_CS team’s signature online course, Foundations of Computer Science for Teachers. The Foundations course allowed the program to reach potential educators in every corner of the state.
In 2015, James Hovey of Martin High School in the Arlington Independent School District (ISD) became the first to earn a computer science teaching certification with the help of WeTeach_CS. In July, Eybar Vasquez-Nevarez of Clint ISD Early College Academy, a school in a small town outside of El Paso, became the 600th.
“Research shows that rural districts are less likely to offer computer science courses than urban and suburban districts, so assisting teachers in bringing education to students in rural districts is a high priority for UT Austin,” Fletcher said.
With the support of organizations such as the U.S. Department of Education, Microsoft, Beyond100k and the Siegel Family Endowment, WeTeach_CS created the Certification Incentive Program, which provides a $1,000 stipend to any Texas educator who earns a computer science teaching certification.
WeTeach_CS has served teachers from the state’s largest school districts like Houston ISD, with nearly 200,000 students, to the smallest ones like Terlingua, which has just 98. Since 2015, Texas educators from 469 schools and 251 districts have achieved computer science certification with the help of WeTeach_CS. Due to the success of this program in Texas, WeTeach_CS now partners with other states to help them grow their CS teacher workforce.
“We want WeTeach_CS to be a one-stop shop for educators looking to develop robust and inclusive K-12 CS programs,” Fletcher said. “Every Texas student deserves nothing less.”
For more information, read TACC’s profile on WeTeach_CS’s 600th certified teacher, Vasquez-Nevarez.