California needs more equitable access to computer science education, report says

Home to a robust technology industry that helps fuel the state’s economy, computer science (CS) education in K-12 schools is crucial to set the foundation for future workforce needs.

According to “The California Computer Science Access Report,” published in September by the Kapor Center and CSforCA, while there has been progress toward ensuring students are learning skills necessary for the digital age, more equitable access to CS education is still needed — especially for young women and Black, Indigenous and Latino students.

During the 2018–19 academic year, 42 percent of high schools in the state offered a CS course — up three percentage points from 2016. California is behind the national average of 47 percent and is behind 34 other states in the percentage of high schools offering one or more CS class.

With 34 percent of California schools having a core CS course, just 14 percent and 13 percent offered a specialized course or advanced placement course, respectively.

High schools in Santa Clara County, located in Silicon Valley, lead the state with 66 percent offering at least one CS course in 2018–19. In comparison, high schoolers in Colusa, Mariposa, Modoc, San Benito and Sierra counties did not have access to any CS courses, according to the report.

Meanwhile, rural schools were two times less likely than those in urban areas to offer a CS course and schools serving low-income communities were three times less likely to have core CS classes and two times less likely to have advanced placement offerings than those serving high-income communities. And while 52 percent of schools serving greater numbers of white and Asian students had CS courses, just 34 percent of schools serving larger proportions of Black, Indigenous, Latino and Pacific Islander students offered such courses.

Changes to policy will be necessary to ensure all students have equitable access to CS courses that will prepare them for the future of technology.

“As computational skills are anticipated to grow in demand, a stronger statewide strategy will be required to rapidly expand access to relevant coursework and provide all California students with the opportunity to succeed,” the report states. “Communities that have been historically marginalized and excluded from technology careers are at most risk of falling further behind and statewide policies must include strategies to effectively expand access to schools serving rural and low-income communities and those with greater proportions of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Pacific Islander students to truly ensure access for all students.”

Suggested policies to expand access include:

  • Developing incentive structures to recruit, prepare, retain and diversify computer science educators
  • Building comprehensive teacher education for those preservice and in-service and trainings in line with equity-focused computing education framework
  • Engaging strategic partners to further connect K-12 learning goals with the state’s computer science strategic plan, ensuring students are prepared for a tech-centric future
  • Integrating computational competencies as well as learning goals in requirements for high school graduation and across subject areas to engage more learners

View the report here.