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The Best Jobs Require Data Science Skills. Schools Need to Do Better at Providing Them.

One in every four job postings seeks candidates with the data skills that companies need — and those jobs pay better. Schools should refocus their efforts.

Data analysis
When you hear the phrase “data science,” you might envision caffeine-stoked coding wizards building the next Instagram or ground-breaking AI app. In reality, an ever-increasing number of employers are seeking candidates with a different kind of data science skills, the ones these companies need every day to manage and grow their businesses. But despite this growing demand, our schools are coming up short in graduating students with the specific skills these employers are looking for.

According to a recent report from my organization, ExcelinEd, and the Burning Glass Institute, nearly 1 in 4 U.S. job postings today ask for at least some data science skills. The report shows that this growing demand is leading to higher wages, with employers paying up to 14 percent more for candidates with certain data science skills.

ExcelinEd also published an interactive map of the report’s findings, showing the current demand for candidates with data science skills in each state. One of the biggest takeaways: The demand for data science is not going away, with data-intensive jobs remaining the fastest-growing careers since 2011.

The new report highlights that learning data science skills increases the likelihood of someone being hired, regardless of their profession or industry. For example, 29 percent of job postings for agricultural inspectors list at least one data science skill as a requirement. One in 10 production clerk job listings ask for some skills related to analyzing trends and predictions.

Data science draws upon tools and methods K-12 students learn from mathematics, statistics and computer science classes. These introductory skills include basic problem-solving and teaching students how to collect, analyze, interpret, model and visualize data.

But while demand for data science skills is high, our schools face significant challenges for students to learn these introductory skills in K-12. In a national assessment, student scores in data analysis, statistics and probability have been declining for the past 10 years and are falling faster than in any other math content area.

School systems across the country need to refocus efforts on helping students learn introductory data skills in K-8, creating opportunities for high school students to grow these skills with a more advanced curriculum. With these introductory skills, high school math courses could combine lessons in math, statistics, computer science and the use of technology that correlate to the fastest-growing, well-paying careers of today and tomorrow.

Some states are ahead of the curve. Utah, for example, is piloting a high school data science course. Now, 25 percent of the state’s school districts are prepared to teach data science in high school. West Virginia is adopting new high school mathematics standards that include crucial skills like exploring, analyzing, visualizing and communicating data. Policymakers in other states have plenty of ways they can improve their implementation of a data science curriculum.

The data proves that states offering more data science learning opportunities would provide their students with the tools they need to meet the demand of today’s local job markets. Policymakers can help students and spur economic growth in their states by engaging in a dialog about data science.

Lowell Matthews Jr. is a senior policy adviser for ExcelinEd, an education policy nonprofit.

Governing’s opinion columns reflect the views of their authors and not necessarily those of Governing’s editors or management.
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