“I truly believe that the future of California depends on preparing students for the global economy driven by technology. You see where the world is going, and we urgently need to make it happen,” said Allison Scott, principal executive officer of the Kapor Foundation, an Oakland-based organization that advocates for equity in the technology sector.
Scott was among those at a conference in Oakland this week aimed at expanding computer science education in the country. While some states — such as Arkansas, Maryland and South Carolina — are close to offering computer science to all students, California is far behind. According to a 2022 report by Code.org (PDF), only 40% of California high schools offer computer science classes, well below the national average of 53%.
California’s low-income students, rural students and students of color are less likely to access computer science classes, putting them at a disadvantage in the job market, according to in a 2021 report (PDF) by the Kapor Center and Computer Science for California.
Slow signs of progress
The state has made some progress in the past few years since adopting its sweeping Computer Science Strategic Implementation Plan and curriculum standards in 2018. More students are taking and passing Advanced Placement computer science exams, and those schools are gradually adding computer science curriculum as a stand-alone class or integrated with math, science or other courses. The University of California now accepts computer science as a third- or fourth-year math or science major, rather than as an elective. And some districts, like Oakland Unified and San Francisco Unified, have greatly expanded their computer science offerings, thanks to a grant from the Salesforce Foundation.
To help solve the computer science teacher shortage, Gov. Gavin Newsom this month signed Assembly Bill 1251, which creates a commission to look at ways to streamline the process of becoming a computer science teacher. The current process is so difficult, some say, that it keeps quality teachers out of the classroom, especially in rural and low-income areas.
Currently, there are three ways to teach computer science in California. One is to earn a career and technical education credential, which requires work experience but no post-graduate coursework. Another is to hold a credential in mathematics, business or industrial technology. The third is to get a credential in any subject and then add an additional 20 units in computer science. Due to the confusion of requirements, funding and curriculum, schools struggle to find the right teachers to teach specific classes.
“The goal is to make sure we have well-prepared computer science teachers for all students so they can participate in the world around them. We’re making progress, but we have a ways to go,” Julie said. Flapan, director of UCLA’s Computer Science Equity Project.The new law should help clear up confusion, which could potentially lead to the creation of a computer science credential.