California can’t afford to skimp on computer science education

By Susan Bonilla, Special to CALmatters

I confess that I used carbon paper and white-out when I typed my college essays. So I may be the least likely champion of computer science education.

However, I have come to understand that computer science standards don’t promote excessive screen time for kids, or turn our schools into coding boot camps for the tech industry. Rather, they help children become problem solvers and creative thinkers for the 21st Century.

I am a former English teacher, and the mother of two daughters who are teachers now. In 2016 when I served in the Assembly, I saw the need for an implementation plan for computer science standards.

Initially, I wondered if the idea of setting computer science standards would add to the work of teachers. Yet it became clear that we could not afford to leave millions of children without the skills they need to lead successful lives.

That’s why I authored the bill to develop a computer science education implementation plan, with support from then Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, business leaders, and many computer science advocates.

Computer science is an essential 21st Century skill for college, careers and civic participation. Yet many California students lack access to meaningful opportunities to learn computer science.

If we are committed to closing the academic achievement gap, we must close the growing computer science access gap for all students.

According to the Kapor Center, over 75 percent of schools in California with the highest percentage of low-income students offer no computer science coursework. This is a disheartening and alarming statistic in 2019, but it does not need to define our future.

This week represents a significant turning point for education. The State Board of Education will be presented with recommendations on the statewide computer science implementation plan. Additionally, legislators have introduced bills to bolster the implementation process and expand access to computer science coursework in California.

Students who lack access to learning computer science standards will be at a significant disadvantage now and in the years to come as technology increasingly impacts our economy and workforce.

A recent ReadyNation report, “Connecting Classrooms to STEM Careers,” concludes that STEM occupations in sectors like computer science and healthcare will continue to drive our economy—growing by as much as 20 to 37 percent nationwide by 2022—and adding about one million new STEM jobs.

Computer science education will prepare our students to become the innovators and inventors of the future, instead of leaving them as the consumers of technology that others will create.

The implementation planning team relied upon many experts in the field of computer science education to design a realistic implementation plan that can be creatively rolled out in K-12 classrooms.

The plan proposes a well-resourced infrastructure of support for teachers and students to ensure that every student in California is prepared to encounter the challenges of an increasingly complex world.

I’ve had the privilege of participating in this effort to transform an idea into legislation and now into a workable plan.

Before computer science education becomes a reality for many children in California, the state must lead the way. I urge the State Board of Education to accept the recommendations. Doing so will achieve a significant step toward more equitable education in California.

Susan Bonilla, a former Assemblywoman from Contra Costa County, is the California state director of the Council for a Strong America, a nonprofit that advocates for children, and served on the state’s Computer Science Strategic Implementation Plan Panel, [email protected] She wrote this commentary for CALmatters.

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