Best Practices
September 30, 2014

Microsoft's TEALS Programs Brings Computer Science Instruction to Schools

The United States is facing an acute talent shortage in the Computer Science (CS) field that must be addressed in order to remain at the forefront of innovation. According to the National Science Foundation, only 2.4% of U.S. college students graduate with a CS degree—not nearly enough to fill the increasing number of job openings in the various industries where such a degree might be required, such as the technology and manufacturing industries.

A significant barrier is the lack of CS teachers, which prevents high schools from offering CS, as schools cannot compete financially with industry employers for the limited number of graduates in the field. CS skills are highly valued by employers across industries, yet the vast majority of American high school students do not have the opportunity to acquire these skills in school.

Microsoft’s Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program began in 2009 as an employee-driven effort to place software engineers as volunteer teachers in local high schools. Targeting inner-city and rural schools, as well as populations of students underrepresented in the technology sector, Microsoft recruits and accepts applications from schools that need TEALS in order to offer CS classes. In order to increase the pool of engineering volunteers and to make this an industry-wide initiative, Microsoft regularly initiates partnerships with other technology companies.

TEALS recruits engineers, internally and in the partner companies, to team-teach with fellow employees for the following school year. TEALS trains the volunteers over several months on curriculum delivery and classroom management, with the help of external educators. The volunteers are then mentored throughout the school year to ensure they are supported and effective in the classroom.

A key component to success is a strong partnership with the school. Classes take place during first period so that they can be integrated into the regular school day without disrupting the engineers’ work schedules. In addition, the school must commit its intent to build a sustainable CS program that can continue after three years of full-time support from TEALS, including a classroom teacher learning the CS curriculum from the TEALS team. So far, 85% of TEALS schools are on track to sustain their own CS program after TEALS intervention.

In the 2009-10 school year, TEALS began with one school, one volunteer, and 12 students. The program has grown exponentially since. In the 2013-14 school year, TEALS was in 70 schools in 12 states, with 280 volunteers and 3,300 students.

“With TEALS’ fast and continuing growth, we’ve learned that close partnerships across the industry are necessary to achieve the goal of access to CS in all American high schools. Existing partnerships show that we can engage engineers in this structure in a highly effective way, and we’ll continue to build this into an industry-wide initiative.”

One final key is that the program has been designed and implemented with curriculum that is supported by educators and CS industry leaders alike, enabling a collaborative and supportive relationship between schools and industry to solve the problem.

Microsoft is a finalist for the “Best Commitment to Education” award through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Corporate Citizenship Center. Be there when the winners are named on November 20 by registering to attend the Chamber Foundation’s Citizens Awards Celebration. For more information about TEALS, visit the program website.