Joanne Jacobs
Sixth-grade students at Pomeroy Elementary School in Milpitas work on their assignments on desktop computers.

California has implemented a number of new policies in recent years to promote computer science education, but it still has a way to go, according to a report released by the Code.org Advocacy Coalition Thursday.

“2018 The State of Computer Science Education, Policy and Implementation,” outlines how well states have executed policies meant to increase the number of computer science classes taught at schools over the last 18 months.

The coalition, which promotes computer science education, is made up of more than 40 industry, nonprofit and advocacy organizations. The report has been released annually for three years.

“California is sort of in the middle of the pack,” said Alexis Harrigan, director of state government affairs at Code.org. “I would like to see California leading. Given the amazing innovation, I’m surprised that California isn’t leading the country.”

The study looks at nine policies designed by the coalition to increase access to computer science classes for all students.

California has employed four of the nine policies, including implementing K-12 computer science standards; offering computer science teacher certification; accepting computer science as a core admission requirement at colleges and universities; and allowing computer science to count toward a core graduation requirement.

States that adopt any one of the nine policies show an increase in the percentage of high schools that teach computer science, according to the study.

Harrigan said she is enthusiastic about the progress California has made, particularly the adoption of California’s computer science standards by the State Board of Education on Sept. 7. The standards, while not mandatory, are expected to increase the number of computer science classes taught in California classrooms.

“We at Code.org are really excited about the standards,” Harrigan said. “I think what makes it significant is that California is the largest state to have ever done K-12 computer science standards.”

Harrigan said that while she would have preferred mandatory standards, it is a step in the right direction.

The four recommended policies California does not employ includes a requirement that all high schools offer computer science, that there be a state-level computer science supervisor, that there be state-approved computer science teacher preparation at colleges and that there be state-level funding for K-12 computer science professional development for teachers.

California is working on completing another of the recommended policies – a state strategic planThe State Board of Education heard recommendations from the California Computer Science Strategic Implementation Plan Panel at its September meeting. The panel was created to make sure teachers are prepared, schools have enough resources and the state’s new computer science standards are implemented fairly and effectively.

Among its recommendations is that the state adopt a teacher certification pathway for computer science. Although California does offer state computer science certification for teachers, there is no existing credential program at universities and colleges, according to Harrigan.

Instead, teachers who want a computer science credential generally have to take professional development courses from county offices of education or through their school districts, she said.

The California Computer Science Strategic Implementation Plan Panel also is recommending the state adopt a high school graduation requirement that includes computer science, that California expand scholarship eligibility and loan forgiveness for computer science teachers in school districts with large numbers of low-income students and that state legislators consider approving funding to help schools implement the new computer science standards during the first eight years.

The California Department of Education is expected to turn those recommendations into an implementation plan, which the board is scheduled to consider for adoption in March 2019.

Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, chairman of the California State Assembly Committee on Education, could not comment on the report or its recommendations on Wednesday. O’Donnell has not seen the report and has not had a chance to consider the proposals, said Sophia Kwong Kim, O’Donnell’s chief of staff.

California data shows that 32 percent of its high schools offered computer science classes over the last year, roughly the average of the 24 states surveyed, according to  the “K-12 Computer Access Report,” a partnership between Code.org and the Computer Science Teachers Association. By comparison, 78 percent of high schools in Rhode Island, 63 percent of the high schools in Arkansas and 51 percent of the high schools in Indiana taught computer science that year.

Among those surveyed, the states with the lowest numbers of schools that taught computer science are Louisiana, 16 percent; Mississippi, 18 percent; and Florida, 19 percent.

The “K-12 Computer Science Access Report,” included in the report released by the Code.org Advocacy Coalition Thursday, was launched in Sept. 2017 and did not collect data in previous years.

Offering students access to computer science courses  is an equity issue, Harrigan said. Computing is the number one source of new jobs in the U.S., with 500,000 open jobs nationwide, according to the report. California alone has 70,000 open computing jobs, Harrigan said. The  average salary for a computing job is $110,000, while the average statewide salary is $56,000.

“Computer science is one of the best ways to support our students who want to graduate from high school and college with high-paying jobs,” she said.

Harrigan said computing jobs are generally open for months and often have to be filled by people from outside California — often people in the U.S. on immigrant visas.

“That is one of the most common stories. You have students who are underemployed and don’t have opportunity, and businesses have to import talent from other countries and other states,” Harrigan said.

Despite the need for people to fill those jobs, U.S. schools often don’t provide computer science classes for all students, according the report. Of 24 states surveyed, only 35 percent of high schools in the U.S. teach computer science.

In California, like most states, schools in rural areas, schools with a high number of underrepresented minorities and schools with a higher number of students from low-income families have fewer computer science classes, according to the research.

“We cannot let a generation of students — particularly those from underrepresented backgrounds — leave the K-12 system without some exposure to computer science,” the report states. “Pursuing an access agenda to K-12 computer science provides policymakers a rare opportunity to address equity, workforce, and education issues on a bipartisan basis. We must continue the bipartisan support and momentum we have seen for this critical subject.”

 

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  1. el 3 months ago3 months ago

    Computer science jobs are typically open for months for the same reason superintendent jobs are typically open for months - not necessarily because there's no one who will apply but because a "best fit" is desired around an existing team or task, and so the hiring side moves a bit slowly. (I approve of teaching more kids computer science and making it accessible at the high school level, very much so, but it's easy sometimes … Read More

    Computer science jobs are typically open for months for the same reason superintendent jobs are typically open for months – not necessarily because there’s no one who will apply but because a “best fit” is desired around an existing team or task, and so the hiring side moves a bit slowly.

    (I approve of teaching more kids computer science and making it accessible at the high school level, very much so, but it’s easy sometimes for those statistics to create some misleading assumptions.)

    That said, a knowledge of coding is probably going to be useful in just about any job as computers and automation become part of just about everything people do. One question would be what classes will be dropped as graduation (or A-G) requirements and replaced with computer science, because it’s not like kids aren’t already busy.

    A real problem remains, if we’re in a world where your average computer science graduate is worth $110k a year, how we’re going to get people to teach that skill – which requires not only computer science skills but also skills in pedagogy and classroom management – for far less money, and with no possibility of stock options. On the plus side, it’s an area where online classrooms might help guide local teachers who don’t have the subject matter knowledge. The most important skill for a software professional to have, it turns out, is the ability to teach yourself through online resources, particularly in a world where the dominant computer language or development environment is likely to have been written after you graduated from college (no matter how recently that was).