Curriculum

Should Cybersecurity Be a Graduation Requirement? This State Thinks So

By Alyson Klein — April 17, 2023 3 min read
Senior Brings Rain Demaray works on a computer during a Senior Seminar Class at New Town High School. The course is aimed at having seniors become Choice Ready, a North Dakota state initiative.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

From sniffing out phishing emails to crafting passwords for online bank accounts, understanding cybersecurity has become part of daily life.

Plus, jobs in cybersecurity offer a fast-growing career path, and expanding the sector is a national security imperative. (The White House recently held an event to draw attention to cybersecurity education.)

Already, almost half of educators surveyed in 2020 by the EdWeek Research Center—41 percent—said high schools in their districts integrate cybersecurity throughout their curriculum, and 18 percent said their high schools offer it as a standalone course.

Now, North Dakota is requiring all students master either cybersecurity or computer science content to graduate. Though at least five other states have made computer science a graduation requirement, the Peace Garden State is the first to add cybersecurity as an option, according to Code.org.

North Dakota is also calling for every school—from the elementary level up through high school—to offer some instruction in both subjects. The move has been in the works for eight years, said Kirsten Baesler, North Dakota’s superintendent of public instruction.

“My goal isn’t to say, ‘hey, I want to be the first,’” Baesler said in an interview. “I want it to be truly about preparing our young people for the world that they live in now.”

Students can meet the high school graduation requirement either through a standalone cybersecurity or computer science course, or a state-approved sequence of classes in which those topics are embedded, Baesler said.

The state’s move will help prepare students for a world in which professionals in all sorts of fields need some knowledge of cybersecurity, said Amy McLaughlin, the cybersecurity director for the Consortium for School Networking, which represents ed-tech leaders in K-12 school districts.

“The technology we use, the data we handle, is the foundation of almost every business process today,” McLaughlin said.

‘We cannot leave it up to chance and choice anymore’

North Dakota began working on a plan to make cybersecurity and computer science a major focus of its K-12 schools back in October 2015, said Baesler, who has been in office for a decade. In 2019, North Dakota adopted computer science and cybersecurity standards.

That same year, the state assembly allowed for a certification in computer science or cybersecurity to be added to teachers’ licenses. That will help North Dakota tackle one of the biggest barriers to expanding computer science and cybersecurity education nationally: a dearth of trained educators in those fields.

Though the state has encouraged schools to expand their computer science and cybersecurity offerings for years, making it a graduation requirement will ensure those efforts reach students from all backgrounds, Baesler said.

For instance, although the state has 14,000 Native American high school students—comprising more than 11 percent of the student population—just a small fraction, 133 students, have taken a computer science or cybersecurity course.

The state decided “this is an important enough skill that we cannot leave it up to chance and choice anymore,” Baesler said.

While she doesn’t expect every student to become a programmer or cybersecurity consultant, Baesler does see an economic upside to training students in her largely rural state for careers in two fast-growing fields in which workers are increasingly permitted to work remotely.

One of Baesler’s favorite data points: The state with the highest number of cybersecurity and computer science jobs is California, home to Silicon Valley. The second most popular location? Remote.

That means students who want to work in computer science or cybersecurity can “stay in North Dakota, earn tremendously strong wages, and build a career in their home community,” Baesler said.

The move is a smart one, though states like North Dakota will need to continue to invest in their broadband infrastructure if they want to attract or retain remote workers in high-paying fields, McLaughlin said.

“This is the door to keeping communities of rural America not just alive, but actually imbuing them with really good-paying jobs,” McLaughlin said. Increasingly, workers are “no longer required to live in a big city to be successful or have a great career.”

Events

Jobs Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
English-Language Learners Webinar English Learners and the Science of Reading: What Works in the Classroom
ELs & emergent bilinguals deserve the best reading instruction! The Reading League & NCEL join forces on best practices. Learn more in our webinar with both organizations.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
Challenging the Stigma: Emotions and STEM
STEM isn't just equations and logic. Join this webinar and discover how emotions fuel innovation, creativity, & problem-solving in STEM!
Content provided by Project Lead The Way

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum Explainer Social Studies and Science Get Short Shrift in Elementary Schools. Why That Matters
Learn why the subjects play a key role in elementary classrooms—and how new policy debates may shift the status quo.
10 min read
Science teacher assists elementary school student in the classroom
iStock / Getty Images Plus
Curriculum Letter to the Editor Finance Education in Schools Must Be More Than Personal
Schools need to teach students to see how their spending impacts others, writes the executive director of the Institute for Humane Education.
1 min read
Education Week opinion letters submissions
Gwen Keraval for Education Week
Curriculum Q&A Why One District Hired Its Students to Review Curricula
Virginia's Hampton City school district pays a cadre of student interns to give feedback on curriculum.
3 min read
Kate Maxlow, director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment at Hampton City Schools, who helped give students a voice in curriculum redesign, works in her office on January 12, 2024.
Kate Maxlow is the director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment in Virginia's Hampton City school district. She worked with students to give them a voice in shaping curriculum.
Sam Mallon/Education Week
Curriculum One School District Just Pulled 1,600 Books From Its Shelves—Including the Dictionary
And the broadening book ban attempts may drive some teachers out of the classroom.
6 min read
Books are displayed at the Banned Book Library at American Stage in St. Petersburg, Fla., Feb. 18, 2023. In Florida, some schools have covered or removed books under a new law that requires an evaluation of reading materials and for districts to publish a searchable list of books where individuals can then challenge specific titles.
Books are displayed at the Banned Book Library at American Stage in St. Petersburg, Fla., Feb. 18, 2023. In Florida, some schools have covered or removed books under a new law that requires an evaluation of reading materials and for districts to publish a searchable list of books where individuals can then challenge specific titles.
Jefferee Woo/Tampa Bay Times via AP