Their lives swirl in technology, but the nation’s high school students spend little time studying the computer science that is the basis of it all. Few are taught to write lines of code, and few take classes that delve into the workings of the Internet or explain how to create an app. In a world that went digital long ago, computer science is not a staple of U.S. education, and some schools do not even offer a course on the subject, including 10 of 27 high schools in Virginia’s Fairfax County and six of 25 in Maryland’s Montgomery County. “It’s shocking how little there is,” said Rebecca Dovi, who has taught computer science for 17 years in Virginia schools and is an advocate for more courses statewide. Even when schools offer classes, she said, there are relatively few of them. “You might have one person teaching it in a school of 1,400 kids.” Though computer science can lead to high-paying technology jobs and boost skills for a variety of fields, many students get little exposure to the subject in class. Across the Washington region’s school systems, fewer than one in 10 high school students took computer science this academic year, according to district data. But, slowly, that might be starting to change. Spurred in part by national initiatives, some local districts are urging more students to take computer science courses and trying to address a glaring gender and racial disparity. By next school year, school leaders expect more computer science courses in Montgomery high schools, more enrollment in courses in Virginia’s Loudoun County and more schools offering classes in the District. And Charles County, Md., with 26,500 students, has committed to bring such learning into every grade starting in the fall, in partnership with the nonprofit Code.org, which works to increase access to computer science in schools. “We really believe the skills they will get from coding will help them in whatever career they choose,” said Charles County Superintendent Kimberly Hill, who pointed out that such learning requires logic and “habits of the mind” that have broader uses. Computer science is not just for math whizzes and budding techies, she said. “Typically it’s male. Typically it’s white male,” Hill said, adding that it begs the questions: “Where are all the girls? Where are all the African American and Hispanic kids?” Under the county’s new plan, she said, the thinking is, “You can learn how to code, like you can learn how to read and learn how to write.” Among the reasons many schools do not have computer science: It is not a priority core subject, and computer science teachers can be hard to find, with some drawn to higher-paying tech jobs. While an increasing number of states allow the courses to count as a math or science credit, they are usually not a requirement and are sometimes viewed by students as boring or intimidating. Many parents mistake the computers they see in schools — and the seeming ease with which teenagers manage their devices — as a signs of computer science understanding. “These skills are as fundamental as algebra,” said Marie desJardins, a computer science professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County who is leading a project to train 100 computer science teachers in Maryland and the District over a three-year period. During the next decade, about 70 percent of new jobs in science, technology, engineering and math fields will be for computing professionals, desJardins said. “There is not a field right now that computer science doesn’t contribute to or support,” said Chris Stephenson, executive director of the Computer Science Teachers Association. Still, she said, “most kids don’t have a chance to get introduced to this content in high school, and the kids that are least likely to have these opportunities are in high-poverty, high-minority schools.” Hoping to reach more students, especially girls and minorities, Montgomery’s school leaders also have signed on with Code.org. Ten county high schools are slated to offer more-engaging courses that go beyond programming, with inquiry-based learning and topics such as the Internet and human-computer interaction. “As a school system and a nation, we’re stuck in a box where computer science is not what we teach kids; it’s just something that you learn maybe later,” said Pat Yongpradit, a former Montgomery teacher who is director of education at Code.org. Code.org has brought widespread attention to the learning gap, first with a video early last year that went viral — “What Most Schools Don’t Teach” — and then in December with a week-long “Hour of Code” campaign that drew in millions of people worldwide. The organization has partnered with an increasing number of school systems nationally — 32 as of this month — providing professional development for teachers and new curricular materials. Read more here.
Yesterday the California Assembly Committee on Education unanimously passed Bill 1764. This bill would encourage districts to expand computer science courses in high schools and its passage at the critical committee level is the result of the hard work of many individuals. AB 1764 would allow school districts to award students credit for one mathematics course if they successfully complete one course in computer science approved by the University of California and/or the California State University as a “C” requirement. Such credit would only be offered in districts where the school district requires more than two courses in mathematics for graduation. AB 1764 was jointly proposed by Kristin Olsen (Assemblymember 12th District) and Joan Buchanan (Assemblymember, 16th District) and both Buchanan and Olsen spoke eloquently about the importance of computer science in preparing students for future opportunities and meeting the needs of California’s innovative industries. They also thanked the members of the committee for recognizing the need to better prepare students for the demands of the workforce. Representatives from many organizations were on hand to support the bill, including Andrea Deveau from TechNet, Amy Hirotaka from Code.org, Robyn Hines from Microsoft, and Jullie Flapan from Alliance for California Computing Education for Students and Schools (ACCESS). The star of the day, however, was Josh Paley. Josh is a teacher from Gunn High School and one of the founding leaders of the CSTA Silicon Valley Chapter (among many other volunteer duties). Josh spoke passionately about the importance of making computer science courses both available and attractive to high school students. He also gave examples of many of his students who have gone on to innovative jobs as researchers, scientists, and entrepreneurs. Speaking on behalf of the bill, Josh noted: “This legislation should not only encourage young people to move toward good, open jobs, but great jobs that drive innovation.” Having been approved by the Education Committee, 1764 will undergo some minor edits and a significant number of additional Assembly members will be added as coauthors. It will then go to the Assembly floor and then (if it passes) to the Senate Rules Committee for a committee assignment (possibly the Senate Education Committee). There is a long trip ahead for this bill but key support from the Assembly Committee on Education and all of the individuals and organizations working on behalf of computer science education in California have given it an excellent beginning. See more here.