In summary

California needs to provide high quality computer science education to our students, especially to girls, students of color, and students in low-income and rural communities.

By Julie Flapan and Allison Scott, Special to CalMatters

Most kids like to play on their phone, but few know how to program one. Although they are avid consumers of technology, most students in California don’t have the opportunity to learn computer science in order to become creators of it.

In particular, students of color, girls and students in low-income and rural communities do not receive the same high-quality computer science education as students in more affluent districts. To change this, California needs to provide high quality teaching and learning opportunities in our schools.

Currently, access to computer science classes that will prepare students for the modern workforce are not equally distributed. A recent report from the Kapor Center found that only 3 percent of California’s 1.9 million high school students are enrolled in computer science classes. 

Although student enrollment in the new AP Computer Science Principles course has tripled, there are still large equity gaps affecting girls, low-income students, students of color and rural students. Last year’s College Board data revealed that while 60 percent of California’s students are Latinx and African American, they make up only 24 percent of AP Computer Science test takers. Only 39 black girls and 453 Latinx girls took AP Computer Science A in 2018.

Without access to rigorous computer science courses, both our students and the economy will be at a disadvantage. More than 1.7 million people are currently employed in California’s tech workforce and more than 50,000 new tech jobs are created each year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that more than 71% of the open jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers are in computing occupations, but only 8 percent of the workforce is qualified to fill these jobs. 

The good news is that our state leaders are working hard to ensure equity is central to statewide efforts to expand computer science education in our schools. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget proposal and series of legislation reflects his commitment to invest in our state’s teaching workforce, and fulfills his promise to provide high quality computer science instruction to every student in California. 

The California Legislature has introduced several bills that are critical to expanding access to computer science education. State Sen. Lena Gonzalez introduced Senate Bill 1193, which ensures the Computer Science Strategic Plan continues to provide a roadmap for building system-wide capacity. Assemblymember Marc Berman’s bill, Assembly Bill 2274, would bolster data tracking and reporting, telling us where computer science is and isn’t being taught in California, and which students are taking it.

The vast majority of California voters surveyed believe it is important for schools to put a greater emphasis on computer programming and coding, and 85 percent of respondents believe more courses should be offered on these topics. However, this can’t be done without increasing the number of qualified teachers. Assembly Bill 1967, introduced  by Assemblymember Luz Rivas, allows computer science to join the ranks of the existing traditional California Subject Matter Projects — such as math, science and English — while providing the necessary professional support and resources for teachers in this new discipline. 

In addition, Assembly Bill 1932, introduced by Assemblymembers Sharon Quirk-Silva and Patrick O’Donnell, would provide incentive grants for teachers, and Berman’s Assembly Bill 2309 would provide incentives for schools of education to prepare teachers in computer science. 

Expanding access to K-12 computer science education will supply and diversify a workforce that is prepared for the future tech-driven economy, but first we have to prioritize resources and opportunities for those who don’t have it. 

We applaud our state’s leaders — Newsom, State Superintendent Tony Thurmond, the State Board of Education, and the Legislature — for coming together to build a solid foundation to ensure we are providing high-quality, equitable and scalable computer science teaching and learning opportunities in all of California’s schools. 

The passage of these bills and the state’s investment in computer science education will enable our students to go beyond being passive users of technology and learn to be the creators and innovators of tomorrow.


Julie Flapan is the director of the Computer Science Equity Project at UCLA Center X, Allison Scott is the chief research officer at the Kapor Center, They are co-directors of the Computer Science for California Coalition

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