Testing and Lack of Demand Blocking Access to Computer Science, Say Schools

access_to_computer_scienceAccording to the U.S. Department of Labor, the United States will have generated roughly 1.4 million new jobs in computer science by 2020. With all these new jobs opening up, our schools should be at the forefront of educating a new generation of computer scientists. But, according to a new Gallup survey, commissioned by Google, many schools and districts have a rather “ho-hum” attitude – party because they believe the demand from parents is low. The survey also reveals that students from White and/or higher income families are much more likely to have access to computer science courses.

Searching for Computer Science: Access and Barriers in U.S. K-12 Education, is the result of a multi-year effort to better understand the level of exposure students have to compete science. Gallup interviewed more than 1,600 seventh- to 12th grade students and parents, more than 1,000 first- to 12th grade teachers, approximately 10,000 principals and 1, 900 district superintendents.

Many students report that computer science hasn’t been a key part of their education. A small majority (52 percent) say computer science is taught as part of other classes at their school, but only 43 percent say their school sponsors a computer science group or club. One-quarter report having no access to a computer science class or club at school.

Nearly six in 10 students do say their school offers classes dedicated to computer science, but the survey also reveals that students who are Black, Hispanic and/or from lower income households are much less likely to be among this group.

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“Access to computer science classes and clubs is generally lowest for students from lower-income households,” say Brandon Busteed and Susan Sorensen of Gallup. “Inequitable access to computer science education could place these students at a disadvantage as computer technology continues to advance.”

It is parents from lower income households, however, who are more likely to believe that students should learn computer science (76 percent vs 60 percent for wealthier households) and that the subject is even more important than required classes (29 percent vs 13 percent).

Despite parent’s enthusiasm for computer science, only seven percent of principals and six percent of superintendents surveyed say demand for it is high among parents in their school or district, even though they agreed that most students should be required to take a computer science course. In addition, less than half of principals and superintendents surveyed say their school board thinks offering computer science education is important.

Clearly there’s a  disconnect between what parents want and what schools and districts think they want. But the survey also asked principals and superintendents to list the reasons why they didn’t offer computer science. Demand from students and parents wasn’t among the top reasons. The number one reason? It seems to be the answer to everything that’s going wrong in education today. You guessed it: too much testing.

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Still, the Gallup report notes that even with these various barriers still in place, parents and students may be seeing some movement in the near future. And even now, Busteed and Sorensen note, “more students are learning computer science in junior high and high school than ever before.” According to the survey, half of the principals surveyed say opportunities have increased in recent years and a slightly lower percentage expect to see expansion in the next three years.