Computer science has gained some serious traction since the pandemic. Advocates argue that education in the field produces outstanding academics.
In July, hundreds of innovators in the tech industry, including Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, signed a joint message addressed to governors and education leaders across the U.S. The letter was a call to action to make computer science education accessible to every student: “Together we urge you, for the sake of our students, our economy, and our country, to work together to update the K-12 curriculum for every student in every school to have the opportunity to learn computer science,” the letter reads.
Fortunately, education in the field has indeed grown significantly. Yet, increasing availability doesn’t mean there will be increased enrollment among students. The only exception is for schools that require computer science to graduate. However, in schools that offer CS courses, enrollment is not reflective of the student population.
The bottom line is that policy matters in addressing disparities among those who have access to CS.
That’s based on the most recent State of Computer Science Education report released last week by the Code.org Advocacy Coalition, Computer Science Teachers Association, and the Expanding Computing Education Pathways Alliance. According to the report, more than half of high schools (53%) across the country offer CS courses. But disparities still exist in access and participation, particularly among historically underrepresented groups.
For example, the report highlights that girls make up just 32% of high school CS students across the U.S.
Computer science and learning loss
The report addresses the need for computer science education in order to combat pandemic-related learning loss, noting, “Computer science content both engages students academically and provides them with the foundational skills and knowledge they need to be successful in other subject areas.”
“Multiple studies demonstrate that learning computer science correlates with stronger outcomes for students in math, science, and reading. As schools find ways to address students’ educational needs, computer science should be a crucial component of helping students develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills.”
Jhone Ebert, Nevada’s state superintendent of public instruction, was quoted in the report for the state’s successes in promoting computer science education. Nevada adopted Code.org’s policy recommendations, which include requiring CS to graduate. “I am thrilled that Nevada is continuing to be a national leader in computer science education,” she said. “Every student learning computer science is a foundational piece of what we’ve done to ensure their success.”
One student said the enjoyed the challenge of CS education, although she never anticipated she would ever take a course. “I never would have taken the computer science class if I didn’t have to, but now I really like coding and problem solving,” said Addison McCune, a seventh-grade Nevada student. “I was the first student ever at my school to finish all of the python lessons. I like the challenge.”
Disparities by demographic
Setting aside its proven academic benefits, computer science still lacks participation from traditionally underserved student groups.
Here is a breakdown of participation in high school CS:
Enrollment by race/ethnicity
- White: 48%
- Hispanic/Latina/Latino/Latinx: 20%
- Black/African American: 16%
- Asian: 11%
- Two or more races: 4%
- Native American/Alaskan: 1%
- Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander: 0.3%
Enrollment by subgroup:
- Economically disadvantaged students: 36%
- Students under IDEA: 8%
- English language learners: 6%
- Students with 504 plans: 5%
Overall, 76% of U.S. high school students attend a school that offers CS education, yet only 5.6% of students are enrolled in a course.
“State and national organizations continue to approach these disparities through policy advocacy, teacher professional development, and research,” the report reads. “Greater effort is underway in data dissemination and utilization, thus allowing states to build sustainable strategies to address the needs of all students.”