High school computer science offerings see gains, still need improvement

As crucial as technology is in day-to-day life in 2021, only 51 percent of high schools offer computer science courses in the United States. That is still a significant increase from 35 percent in 2018, according to the report, “2021 State of Computer Science Education: Accelerating Action Through Advocacy.” 

A collaboration of Code.org Advocacy Coalition, Computer Science Teachers Association and the Expanding Computing Education Pathways Alliance, the annual report, in its fifth year, gives updates on national and state computer education policy, access and participation. 

While the uptick in offerings shows progress by education leaders, policymakers and advocates, the fact that nearly half of high schools do not offer a single computer science class is “inadequate,” the organizations wrote. 

Disparities in who has access to the subject have also been revealed via new data. 

California computer science education  

California adopted K–12 computer science standards in 2018 and the State Board of Education adopted the Computer Science Strategic Implementation plan the following year. In 2020, California began allocating state funding for K-12 professional learning related to computer science. 

In 2021, lawmakers appropriated $20 million for teacher training, including $5 million from Assembly Bill 128 and $15 million from AB 130. AB 128 funds are for professional learning for K-12 educators while AB 130 grants can be used to prepare teachers to get a supplementary authorization for computer science. With AB 130, grant applicants from rural schools and those serving English learners, foster youth or children eligible for free or reduced-price lunch are given priority. 

“By prioritizing schools with high populations of underrepresented students and providing teachers with financial incentives, California is creating new opportunities for teachers and students,” the report states. 

Statewide, 75 percent of California high schoolers attended a school with computer science instruction in 2021 and urban and suburban students had more access to foundational computer science coursework than those in towns or rural areas.  

Advanced placement courses 

In 2020, Asian students had the most participation in advanced placement computer science courses by race/ethnicity at 43 percent, though they only make up 12 percent of the student population. White students had the next highest participation rate at 25 percent. Though Hispanic/Latino students make up 54 percent of the student population in California, just 24 percent participated in AP computer science.  

Students who identify as two or more races, Black/African American, Native American/Alaskan and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students had the least participation in the advanced computer classes at 6 percent, 2 percent, 0.4 percent and 0.2 percent, respectively.  

By gender, while female students make up 51 percent of student population, only 32 percent participated in the advanced placement coursework compared to 68 percent of male students. 

Improving offerings in the U.S.  

While California is making efforts to further support computer science education, there are still 49 percent of high school students in the country without access to the subject. In addition, when computer science is offered, participation isn’t often reflective of the student population, the report found. 

Although many students returned to campuses in fall 2021, distance and hybrid learning during the onset of the pandemic highlighted challenges with internet access in certain regions and widened already existing opportunity gaps. 

Student groups including those who are economically disadvantaged, Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino were the most likely to experienced disruptions during distance learning because of broadband issues or lack of access to a device. 

“It is more important than ever that computer science becomes a sustained part of the education system,” the report states. “In spring 2020, 18 percent of surveyed K–12 computer science teachers reported temporary suspension of computer science instruction, disproportionately affecting high-poverty schools, rural schools, and schools serving large populations of Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino/Latina/Latinx, and Native American students. Yet computer science has been shown to support the development of problem solving, creativity, mathematical abilities/skills, mathematics, metacognition, spatial skills, reasoning skills, and improvements in reading, writing, mathematics, and science test scores. Increasingly, computer science is recognized as a core literacy for students, alongside reading, writing, and mathematics.” 

Those who can influence policy can help ensure more equitable access to computer science courses by analyzing district and school data, trends and recommendations outlined in the report.  

Code.org offered nine policy recommendations to help make computer science fundamental. They include: creating a state plan for K-12 computer science; defining computer science and establishing rigorous K–12 computer science standards; allocating funding for computer science teacher professional learning; implementing clear certification pathways for computer science teachers; creating preservice programs in computer science at higher education institutions; establishing computer science supervisor positions in education agencies; requiring that all high schools offer computer science; allowing a computer science credit to satisfy a core graduation requirement; and allowing computer science to satisfy a higher education admission requirement. 

View the report here: https://bit.ly/3qRIOkw