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Should computer science count as math credit? Gov. says no
Source: Diana Alba Soular




Gov. Susana Martinez has vetoed a bill that would allow a computer science class to count as one of a high school student's math or science requirements to earn a diploma.

Proponents of the measure argued it would help New Mexico students prep themselves for a computer science career, a field predicted to have a major shortage of graduates in the coming years.

The proposed law change, Senate Bill 134, cleared both the House and the Senate with little opposition, but hit a roadblock Tuesday at Martinez's desk.

State law already requires a student to complete four units of math, one of which must be Algebra 2 or higher, and three units of science, two of which must include laboratory work, according to state documents. The proposed change would have allowed a computer science class to count for one of the required math or science classes.

State Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Las Cruces, said it had wide support throughout the legislative process, including from the state education department, industry and business groups and lawmakers. The veto was "frustrating" because the proposal had strong backing, he said.

"We were given no reason why that bill was vetoed," he said. "The joke was it hit legislative bingo, because you had all these groups supporting it that don't normally agree on things."

SB 134 passed the Senate with a 33-4 vote and cleared the House with a 67-0 vote, according to the state Legislature's website.

Enrico Pontelli, interim dean of the New Mexico State University College of Arts and Sciences, was among a group of educators supporting the legislation. He said the bill was backed by the Computer Science Teacher Association's New Mexico chapter as part of a national push to educate more students in the field of computer science.

"Computer science is a growing discipline," said Pontelli, who holds a Ph.D. in computer science. "It's becoming a critical skill."

AP computer science classes are taught at only half a dozen high schools across the state, though some additional schools teach non-AP courses, according to Pontelli. Even in schools that have the classes, a problem is that students may not see the incentive in taking them if they don't fulfill a state requirement toward graduation, he said.

"The question is: How many students want to take those courses, if they don't count?" he said.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted a big shortage of computer science graduates in coming years. In 2020, some 1.4 million jobs are expected to exist in the field, but there will be "only 400,000 computer science graduates with the skills to apply for those jobs," according to an Obama administration website.

Many other science fields, such as astronomy and biology, rely on computing, so even if a student doesn't major in computer science, the coursework has a benefit, Pontelli said. Plus, computer science teaches a problem-solving mindset, he said.

A number of other states have begun allowing high school students to take a computer science class as a substitute for a math, science or foreign language credit, according to an analysis accompanying the bill.

With just days remaining in the 2017 legislative session, the computer-science legislation may be effectively dead for this year, McCamley said.

Still, Pontelli said the proponents of the bill will try again in future years.

"We're not giving up. We are going to move forward," he said.



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