Credit: Alison Yin / EdSource

In California, we know the value of technology. Thanks largely to the world’s largest tech companies right in our backyards, California leads the nation in overall economic output. Technology has made our state one of the world’s leading hubs of innovation and creativity, across multiple industries.

Headshot of Allison Scott

Allison Scott

Yet, when we shift our view from tech’s present to its future, the Golden State’s outlook isn’t so robust.

Today, our kids aren’t learning the computer science knowledge and skills they will need to succeed in the future tech-driven workforce.

Just three percent of California’s 1.9 million high school students took a computer science course in 2017. This is one of the startling findings of a recent Kapor Center study of K-12 computer science education in California’s schools. The study took a comprehensive look at computer science access, enrollment and equity in statewide classrooms.

While computer science course availability has grown, almost two-thirds of our state’s schools still lack any computer science curriculum. Only a small fraction of students learn computer science in school at all. And the picture only worsens when considering socioeconomic status, gender, race, ethnicity, and geography.

Headshot of David Gordon

David Gordon

Low-income schools are four times less likely to offer Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science courses. While female students comprise 50 percent of California’s high school population, they make up just 29 percent of the students taking introductory CS courses.

Sixty percent of California’s high schoolers are students of color, but they comprise just 16 percent of students taking the Computer Science AP exam. Shockingly, Black students comprise just one percent.  Equally concerning, African-American and Latinx students pass AP Computer Science exams at rates lower than white students.

But we are seeing some positive trends, too. The number of high schools offering computer science courses has grown steadily and student enrollment in these courses has nearly doubled over the last three years. Reports show kids are also learning. Seventy percent of high school students who take AP Computer Science courses pass them. Significantly, when girls take AP computer science courses, they’re just as successful as boys. Plus, we have seen progress over the past five years where the number of high school introductory Computer Science classes in the greater Sacramento region has increased 760 percent.

Yet overall, far too few students are enjoying these successes. Our state seriously lags in allowing students to learn computational thinking, tech literacy and programming skills. If we want to keep California leading the high-tech revolution and ensure tech-fueled prosperity is widely shared, the Kapor Center study concludes our state must improve access to fundamental computer knowledge and literacy for students, better align K-12 education with post-secondary education and the needs of the tech workplace and ensure much more equitable access to computer science education for kids from low-income households and for students of color.

The Sacramento County Office of Education recently received more than $1 million in Strong Workforce Funding from the California Community Colleges to help teachers — working in all subject areas — infuse computer science into their courses. A newly created Computer Science Hub at the county office of education will focus on supporting districts as they implement computer science standards, courses and pathways.

In addition, from June 17-21, Sacramento County Office of Education and the Computer Science for California coalition co-hosted the “Summer of CS,”  a week-long intensive computer science professional development opportunity where hundreds of K-12 teachers, school counselors and administrators from across the state received training to become ambassadors for equitable computer science education.

We urge our policymakers and fellow educators across the state to invest in professional development like this, because we must ensure that all students have the opportunity to learn computer science skills.  We must also prioritize funding, access to technology infrastructure and developing initiatives to support computer science education in the most underserved schools and districts.

As technology’s role continues to grow in our state, national and global economy, accessible computer science education is a critical foundation for broadening participation in the tech workforce. Let’s make sure we prepare every student in California to succeed.

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Allison Scott is the Chief Research Officer at the Kapor Center, an Oakland, California nonprofit that focuses on equity and access in technology. David W. Gordon is the Sacramento County Superintendent of Schools.

The opinions expressed in this commentary represent those of the authors. EdSource welcomes commentaries representing diverse points of view. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.

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  1. Tomeko Smith 3 months ago3 months ago

    I am a certified AP computer science teacher with a certification to teach computer science in more than five states. I was told by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing that there is no certification for CS. How do we expect to educate kids in CS when we do not have a state certification program?

  2. el 3 months ago3 months ago

    I'm certainly in favor of getting kids more exposure to CS topics, but I think we need to ask ourselves, what are we going to pull from the curriculum to make room for it? Like a library's bookshelves, we're going to need to prioritize and make choices. The new material is essential, but we have to intentionally make room for it, and not just shove it in around the corners. The other thing we need to … Read More

    I’m certainly in favor of getting kids more exposure to CS topics, but I think we need to ask ourselves, what are we going to pull from the curriculum to make room for it? Like a library’s bookshelves, we’re going to need to prioritize and make choices. The new material is essential, but we have to intentionally make room for it, and not just shove it in around the corners.

    The other thing we need to own as part of all of these efforts is a recognition that full time IT is now an essential part of every school site – and we are not funded to do that. It’s not something that can be done part-time by a teacher or a handy student when most classrooms and the office are depending on the technology working all day, every day. No business would try to support a site with a network of hundreds of full-time computer based workers without multiple dedicated IT staffers.

    Also: IT is not Computer Science though they are of course related and they are both useful and marketable skill groups.

    Teachers with enough experience to have written and completed working code projects, let alone those trained in the fundamentals of computer science theory, are pretty rare. There’s potentially a reservoir of older tech workers who might be interested in a career change, but the costs to transition are significant – in getting the credential, in learning the skills of classroom management, and in pension eligibility – on top of the market salary. There’s a lot to do if we want to make this a point of universal, high quality access.