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Major Investments in U.S. CS Education on the Long Road to CS for All

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Professor Mark Guzdial

Credit: University of Michigan

CSEdCon was held at the beginning of November, a major event celebrating the progress in the United States towards giving all students access to high-quality computing education. I wasn’t there, but watched the Twitter feed at #CSEdCon. Here are a couple of the major highlights of the event for me.

2021 State of CS Education Report, CSTA, and ECEP collaborated on the 2021 State of Computer Science Education: Accelerating Action through Advocacy (Full report available here). The report provides an overview of the whole country, and detailed statistics on each state. Some of the big news:

  • As of this year, the majority of U.S. high schools offer foundational computer science. It’s up to 51%, from 47% last year. Access isn’t evenly distributed; computer science is more often offered at schools that are suburban and that have more students at or above statewide average income levels.
  • Across 37 states for which they have data, only 4.7% of high school students are enrolled in CS classes.
  • Sometimes when I’ve described statistics like these, the response has been, "I’m guessing that it’s all about where CS is offered. My school has a waitlist for computer science classes!" This year, each state’s report tells us what percentage of the state’s high school students have a CS class offered in their school. In my state, Michigan, 72% of high school students attend a school that offers CS. We don’t know what percentage of students take CS in Michigan, but it’s likely less than the 4.7% national average. In Georgia, 84% of high schools are in a school that offers CS, but only 3.3% of students are enrolled.

More states are publishing dashboards where you can dig into the CS education data on the state. California, Texas, and Maryland all have dashboards that I find fascinating. The Texas dashboard shows the growth of CS access over time, and how it’s different for different race/ethnicity, gender, economic disadvantage, and disability groups. For example, 6% of male students are taking CS in Texas, and 2.3% of female students. About 5% of California students are enrolled in computer science classes. Maryland’s has the greatest participation of this set: 12% of high school students in Maryland are enrolled in computer science, and 26% of 2021 graduates will have had a course in computer science.

$20M USD private funding to grow CS teacher preparation

The biggest news of the conference was $20 million USD in gifts to four universities to grow computer science teacher preparation (see the announcement from CS for All).  Gifts of $5 million USD were given to each of Georgia State University (press release here), California State University, Domínguez Hills (press release here), University of Florida (press release here), and the University of Texas at El Paso.

In 2018, I was part of a group that wrote a report on finding a home for computer science in Schools of Education. The report is available here. The results were pretty dismal. There were few CS education programs available in Schools of Education, and with education enrollments declining, the odds of growing CS Ed in schools seemed slim. When I went to the CUE.NEXT workshop in Washington DC in January 2020, Education faculty were saying that their colleagues saw CS as a fad that would soon go away.

I was so excited to read about such large grants going to four universities that do have CS Education in their Schools of Education. I particularly like that the CS for All announcement emphasizes that these are to "endow sustainable CS teacher preparation." Those first two words are pretty important.

It’s going to be a long road to CS for All

In 2016, then-President Barack Obama announced the goal of "CS for All." The idea is that CS is a fundamental skill, a 21st century literacy. All our students need to have an opportunity to take a high-quality course in computer science.

It’s an important goal. It’s not going to happen anytime soon.

The numbers are going in the right direction. Every year, more schools are offering CS, and more students are taking CS. But the numbers are rising slowly. Most groups of high school students in Texas are increasing their participation in computer science classes by 2-4% per decade, according to their dashboard. Access is uneven, as seen by comparing the California, Georgia, and Texas enrollment numbers to the Maryland numbers.

Right now, we’re just talking about the basic binary choices of computer science education. Does a school offer CS? Does a student take computer science? We’re not yet talking about the quality of those offerings, or whether students come away with the belief that they can succeed in computing.

We need to be creating an infrastructure for growing CS education over decades. We need more programs to prepare future CS teachers, but we also need to recognize that we’re likely going to need to invent new methods and approaches to teach computing. What we have now has been developed for a slim and mostly homogeneous percentage of the population. We need to grow more graduate programs in CS Education research so that we continue to invent, evaluate, and study how to grow CS education.

Mark Guzdial is professor of electrical engineering and computer science in the College of Engineering, and professor of information in the School of Information, of the University of Michigan.


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