In a year of constant challenges for teachers, advocates of computer science education are giving some good news. This year marks a tipping point for these technology-focused programs, with 51 percent of high schools across the country now offering at least one computer science class.
Is accordingly 2021 State of Computer Science Report released last week by the Code.org Advocacy Coalition, the Computer Science Teachers Association, and the Expanding Computing Education Pathways Alliance. The figure is based on data from public secondary schools in 37 states, the first for the report.
Katie Hendrickson, president of the Code.org Advocacy Coalition and the group’s director of state government operations, says, “This is a tremendous year for K-12 to grow computer science education. “We are happy that more than half of the schools have finally offered it. This means that half of the schools do not offer it. Students studying in those schools do not even get a chance to take the course if they want to. ”
The group has issued nine state-level policy recommendations aimed at expanding computer science offerings in schools. Recommendations range from clearly defining computer science to funding teacher training and measuring computer science according to students’ degree requirements.
The data shows that those policies are working, says Hendrickson, and states that have adopted many of them appear to be growing computer science programs. She turned her attention to South Carolina, which makes computer science a part of her high school graduation requirements, for example. Hendrickson says 21 percent of students in the state are enrolled in tech courses, compared to the 5 percent national average.
“We want to celebrate all the momentum we’ve seen for computer science education over the last year, but we really need to accelerate policy adoption and implementation efforts so that we’re still scaling evenly and making sure,” says Hendrixon. Admission rates in low-resource schools are about the same as those of more privileged schools. ”
The effects of the epidemic
Hendrixon says the epidemic has affected computer science in schools, such as diverting funds for those programs. But the reach and enrollment in CS across the country is increasing.
Over the past year, Illinois, Mississippi and Oklahoma have joined the other 20 states that all high schools must offer computer science classes. Thirty-one states have adopted policies in support of computer science education and funding during that period.
When the epidemic forced schools to go online, it also increased the number of students using computers and the Internet at home. The percentage of middle and high schools with data 1: 1 device strategies reached 90 percent, an increase of 24 points. So some offered computer science courses to young students and expanded their offerings to include data science or cyber security in higher grades.
“Schools that were facing all these other challenges, but many still preferred computer science and considered it important and vital for students to get those opportunities,” says Hendrixon. “I think in the next few years, we’re going to see people use those tools for the first time to start teaching computer science.”
As the computer science offer grows, so does the need to ensure that it is accessible to students from all backgrounds.
“Equity is an important part to consider in the development and implementation of the policies we recommend,” says Hendrixon. “[Leaders] Make sure they are scaling the schools with the least resources. “
Those efforts include ensuring that counselors know how to guide students to enroll in computer science and that all students feel supported.
When representation is considered, the report shows that economically disadvantaged students are under-represented in CS courses. And so are Latino students. According to statistics, in 36 states, 31 percent of computer science students are girls.
While Native American and black students were the least likely to attend a computer science school, their enrollment in computer science classes was equal to their total population.
Hendrickson says that just as K-12 students have a foundation in subjects like biology and mathematics, they also need an introduction to technology in the world in which they are growing up.
If students take a single course in computer science, Hendrickson says, “they are broken by the stereotype of a computer programmer sitting in their basement and staring at their screen all day.” Instead, she adds, students experience the creativity and teamwork that goes into programming, and basic courses increase the likelihood that students will choose her as their head in college.
“It just opens their eyes to a chance and see how they can change the world with computer science,” she says, “so it helps them find a place for themselves.”