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Computer Science is Growing in K-12 Schools, but Access Isn't the Same as Participation

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Computer science is more prevalent in schools than ever before, but there are differences when it comes to who has access to, and who enrolls in, computer courses.

That’s according to the latest State of Computer Science Education report released last week by the Code.org Advocacy Coalition, Computer Science Teachers Association, and Expanding Computing Education Pathways Alliance.

More than half of the nation’s high schools (53% to be exact) offer computer science, but gaps in access and participation have become apparent among traditionally underrepresented groups. For example, girls make up only one-third of computer science high school students across the country.

Previous research has noted that schools that serve wealthy communities are more likely to offer computer science than schools with fewer resources. But this new study points out that even in schools where coding courses are offered, participation can be unequal.

Looking ahead to a technology-driven future

The report advocates computer science as part of the solution to pandemic-related learning loss and touts its high level of involvement. And these days, with demand for a tech-savvy workforce on the rise, computing skills could be a potential career booster for a student, the report argues.

Jhone Ebert, director of public education in Nevada, says computer science is more than coding. Students learn how to problem solve, communicate and bounce back from failure.

“Coding is one of those areas that is as much an art as it is a skill,” says Ebert. “If you have students working on content, they want to learn. They fail, but they learn something new from that failure.”

Nevada is one of several states that has adopted all nine of Code.org’s policy recommendations. This includes recently making computer science a graduation requirement. Computer Science is offered in all grades from kindergarten through high school.

Addison McCune, a seventh grader from Nevada, said in her report: “I was the first student in my school to complete all the Python lessons. I like a challenge.”

About 95% of Silver State students have access to computer science, but only 3.5% are enrolled in computer science classes, according to the report. Ebert expects that percentage to increase as students take required computer science classes in high school.

“Some people equate computer science with technology, but there is something magical behind the curtain,” says Ebert. “The truth is, everything we do, whether it’s music or artwork, involves coding. Everyone can participate.”

Bridging Barriers to Access

According to the report, white high school students make up 48% of high school students nationwide and 48% of 9-12 computer science students, as far as who attends. Latinos make up 27% of students and 20% of computer science participants.

Black students make up 15% of high school students and 16% of computer science students, while Asian students make up 5% of high school students and 11% of computer science students.

This disparity is most pronounced among economically disadvantaged students, who make up 52% ​​of high school students, but only 36 students are enrolled in computer science classes.

The report found that participation disparities were lowest in the K-8 class. Elementary school girls make up nearly half of computer science students, but that percentage drops to 44% in middle school and 32% in high school.

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