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Communications of the ACM


Broadening Access to Computing Education State By State

Broadening Access to Computing Education State by State, illustration

Credit: Andrij Borys Associates / Shutterstock

Arkansas, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City have made headlines with their announcements to make computer science available in every school to every student. That is a challenging goal. Actually making computing education available to everyone involves many policy decisions. Changing schools in the U.S. is difficult because education is largely a state prerogative. Standards, teacher certification, curricula, and graduation requirements are determined within individual states and territories, not by the federal government. Many states delegate the decisions down to cities, counties, or individual districts or schools, making the decision making even more distributed. Charter schools, magnet schools, virtual schools, homeschooling, school choice, and funding disparities among districts further complicate assuring broad and equitable access to computing education.

Reaching everyone through formal education pathways. If we want to give everyone access to computing education, we need to begin to do it through formal education pathways, for example, primary or elementary school, middle school, high school, community colleges, and universities. Informal computing education is unlikely to reach everyone. The formal computing education pathways are our best chance to broaden participation in computing. Female students and underrepresented minorities are less likely to seek out afterschool computing clubs or summer computing camps—some will, but we will not reach everyone that way. Making computer science available in public school systems requires that states and districts create policies that address several questions: Where do you teach computing? Do you integrate computing into existing mathematics or science classes? Do you teach separate computer science classes? The answers are likely to be different at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels.


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