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Prioritizing Computer Science in California Schools

Niu Gao, Courtney Lee March 6, 2018
Students in a computer lab

More than half of the fastest-growing and highest-paying jobs nationwide require computer science (CS) knowledge. To help students acquire the skills they need to thrive in a technology-driven world, many states have added computer science to the roster of courses that satisfy high school graduation requirements. California has a way to go before it can join these states.

Currently, California has no statewide CS requirement. Individual school districts can allow CS course credit to substitute for math, science, or some other graduation requirement. In some districts, such as San Francisco Unified, CS classes can satisfy the “college preparatory elective” requirement but can’t replace classes in core subject areas.

In 23 other states and the District of Columbia, CS courses can count toward high school math requirements; nine of these other states also allow CS classes to count toward science requirements. For example, one of three required science courses may be a CS class, as long as the other two cover traditional science subjects. Half of the states that include CS in their high school graduation requirements require three years of math, while the other half require four years. Moreover, these states require students to complete foundational coursework in math and science before they can take CS courses that count toward high school graduation.

Before California can add CS to its high school graduation requirements, it needs to make several other changes. To ensure that students have the foundational knowledge required to do CS coursework, the state must increase the number of required math and science classes—its current requirement of two years in each subject is among the lowest in the nation.

California also needs to increase the number of rigorous CS courses taught statewide. Statewide CS course offerings are low and most courses are not rigorous enough to prepare students for college and beyond. During the 2016–17 school year, fewer than half (49%) of K–12 schools offered computer education courses. Furthermore, most courses do not meet the University of California or the California State University entrance requirements.

Finally, the state needs to dedicate funding to teacher professional development. Currently, schools and districts struggle to find qualified CS teachers. From 2000 to 2016, the number of computer education teachers remained around 3,000, while the number of teachers in other subject areas has grown substantially.

California can improve and broaden computer science education in its K–12 schools. But the experience of other states underlines the need for a multi-pronged effort.

 

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