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Tomlinson: Del. Rose's education bills would help students learn meaningful skills for employment

The final day of Maryland’s 90-day 2019 Legislative Session is less than five weeks away. On Monday, April 8, the General Assembly will adjourn Sine die or “without day” from Latin, meaning the body will suspend with no set day to reconvene. Before the gavel falls on the last day at midnight, several education bills will be heard and debated.

While most of the conversations surrounding education in Annapolis have been about the Kirwan Commission and their high-priced, pie-in-the-sky recommendations, there are several education-related bills that have been introduced in the House of Delegates by one of Carroll County’s own, Del. April Rose. Although not as high-profile as the wish list produced by the Kirwan Commission, Del. Rose’s bills would improve the lives of students and bring Maryland’s public education into the 21st century.

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Del. Rose’s first bill, House Bill 985, would allow students to satisfy one science credit by completing a computer science or computer programming course. Presently, Maryland regulations regarding high school graduation mandate that students complete three credits of science. This means that if HB985 were to pass, little Johnny, who has no interest in becoming a biologist, can skip Biology II, or even Earth and Space Sciences, and instead complete a computer course for his third science credit. A student taking a semester in computer science or computer programming could learn the seeds of a skill that could flower into a career.

The second, HB1211 would allow “a student to satisfy a state or county middle or high school foreign language requirement by completing a course in a computer programming language.” Currently, in order to walk across the graduation stage, Maryland high school students must complete two credits of either a world language (which includes American sign language), or as an alternative, two credits of advanced technology education, or the completion of a state-approved career and technology program. If HB1211 is passed by the General Assembly and receives the governor’s signature, little Suzie can skip Spanish II or French II, and instead take a computer programming language course. The course could cover popular computer programming languages such as JavaScript, Java or Python.

Science and foreign language are worthy of study, but for most of us, the information we learned in advanced courses we were required to take, e.g., Chemistry II or German II, went in one ear and out the other. Substituting these classes for computer-related courses makes perfect sense in 2019, as these skills are necessary in every aspect of our daily lives.

Another bill that Del. Rose introduced in Annapolis this year is HB1134 which would allow local school systems to start offering an elective course in the “Fundamentals of Construction.” According to the Associated General Contractors of America, more than 7 million people in the United States work in the construction field, with 164,100 of them calling Maryland home. At the present moment, construction unemployment is at a record low and the average salary for those in the construction industry in our state is $65,100 which is 14 percent more than what the average private-sector employee makes in Maryland.

An introductory course in construction could inspire a student to pursue a career path they never considered until then. Students can enter the construction workforce immediately after graduation or go to college to earn a degree in construction management or engineering. Board of Education member Kenny Kiler told me, “I have spent my entire life in construction, and it is getting harder to attract young adults to our industry. I think that authorizing, not mandating, an elective course in the basics of construction would benefit the students of not just Carroll County, but the entire state.”

Not every high school graduate should attend a college or university and obtain a four-year degree in something like Popular Culture (offered at Bowling Green State University). Instead of drilling into kids’ heads that college is the be-all and end-all, high school teachers and guidance counselors should spend more time promoting high-paying jobs in fields that do not require four-year degrees. Whether it be computer programming or construction, there are occupations in both of these fields that do not require four-year degrees. Individuals can enter these industries by applying after high school graduation or by waiting until they graduate from a two-year technical institute. With Americans owing $1.5 trillion in student loan debt and the average student owing an average of $37,172, finding a career that does not require attending a university looks more and more attractive. Giving children the option and incentive to take classes in computer programming or construction could help students decide their post-graduation plans.

Del. Rose recently said, “I strongly feel that these bills would provide more opportunities for our students to take classes that will actually assist them in learning practical, useable skills to equip them for success in the workforce.” Del. Rose’s bills will be heard in Annapolis on March 8 and I hope to see all three of them move forward. These bills will offer fresh courses that will give students the opportunity to explore new fields that could lead to rewarding careers.

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