How did increased attention to computer science impact other subjects in California?

Dive Brief:

  • More students signing up for high school computer science classes in California did not boost or decrease their development of math or English language arts skills, but it did affect enrollment in humanities classes, which saw a decline, according to the Illinois News Bureau.
  • California has been pushing to expand K-12 computer science education since adopting new standards in 2018. As of 2019, more than 79% of high schools offered these courses – up from 45% in 2003. That expansion appears to come at the expense, however, of students signing up for humanities and elective classes, according to researchers from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
  • Researchers say districts should focus on ensuring these courses do not come at the expense of those in other subject areas, and that they should also be looking to staff classes with qualified educators.

Dive Insight:

While K-12 students appear eager to take computer science courses, just 51% of high schools offer computer science as part of their overall curriculum, according to the 2021 State of Computer Science Education, jointly released by the Code.org Advocacy Coalition, Computer Science Teachers Association and the Expanding Computing Education Pathways Alliance. That’s up from 35% of schools that offered computer science education in 2018.

Finding educators to teach these classes can be a challenge, as many districts face teacher shortages – particularly in specialized fields. Schools that hire educators for specialized courses may also need these educators to pull double duty and cover other classes. That may mean offering fewer sections for a subject like computer science, despite student demand.

Schools could choose to restrict who could sign up for these classes, reducing demand by offering them as electives or to students in higher grades. Districts could also look outside their schools for other ways to offer these opportunities.

Local businesses may offer training opportunities, and there may be higher education options in the community where K-12 students may be able to take these classes as well. Aligning with industry stakeholders at the local or state level could also help influence educational funding and budgets.

Stakeholders should likewise be mindful of data that shows English language learners, students with disabilities, and economically disadvantaged students are underrepresented in high school computer science courses. Hispanic / Latino students are also 1.4 times less likely than White and Asian students to enroll in these courses.

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