California legislature considers computer science education

The California state legislature is attempting to affect change to computer science education in California, and for all the right reasons.  They’re getting the message that computer science is what drives innovation and economic growth in California, and that the demand for computer science graduates in California far exceeds supply. There are simply not enough students prepared or preparing to join this high tech workforce. They’re also starting to understand that computer science needs to count for something other than an elective course for more schools to offer it and for more students to take it – especially girls and underrepresented students of color.  What they may not quite understand yet is that there aren’t enough teachers prepared to teach computer science in K-12, although one assemblyman spoke of the need for a single subject teaching credential in computer science, so maybe someday we’ll get there … baby steps!

So, it’s been  exciting in Sacramento the last few weeks as the Assembly and Senate Education Committees “passed out” a handful of CS-related bills with flying colors and broad bi-partisan support!  ACCESS (the Alliance for California Computing Education in Students and Schools) was on hand to help provide analysis and information.  Many thanks to Josh Paley, a computer science teacher at Gunn High School in Palo Alto and a CSTA advocacy and leadership team member, who provided substantive testimony on two priority bills (AB 1764 and AB 1539).  Josh provided compelling stories of students who had graduated and gone on to solve important problems using their CS skills.  Amy Hirotaka, State Policy and Advocacy Manager, of Code.org, Andrea Deveau, Executive Director of TechNet, and Barry Brokaw, lobbyist for Microsoft also testified on these bills. It was also exciting to see a wide range of organizations supporting this important discipline.

All of the following CS-related bills passed out of committee, all but one with unanimous approval.  The first seven listed were heard on April 9; AB 1530 was heard on April 21.

1) AB 1764 (Olsen and Buchanan) would allow school districts to award students credit for one mathematics course if they successfully complete one course in computer science approved by the University of California as a “category c” (math) requirement for admissions.  Such credit would only be offered in districts where the school district requires more than two courses in mathematics for graduation, therefore, it does not replace core math requirements.

2) AB 1539 (Hagman) would create computer science standards that provide guidance for teaching computer science in grades 7-12.

3) AB 1540 (Hagman) establishes greater access to concurrent enrollment in community college computer science courses by high school students.

4) AB 1940 (Holden) establishes a pilot grant program to support establishing or expanding AP curriculum in STEM  (including computer science) in high schools with such need (passed with two noes).

5) AB 2110 (Ting) requires computer science curriculum content to be incorporated into curriculum frameworks when next revised.

6) SB1200 (Padilla) would require CSU and request UC to establish a uniform set of academic standards for high school computer science courses, to satisfy the “a-g” subject requirements, as defined, for the area of mathematics (“c”) for purposes of recognition for undergraduate admission at their respective institutions.

7) ACR 108 (Wagner) would designate the week of December 8, 2014, as Computer Science Education Week (passed on consent).

8) AB 1530 (Chau) would encourage the Superintendent of Public Instruction to develop or, as needed, revise a model curriculum on computer science, and to submit the model curriculum to the State Board of Education for adoption (specifically focuses on grades 1-6).

Anyone really interested in hearing the bill presentation, testimony and supporters can see it here:

Senate Education Committee: http://calchannel.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=7&clip_id=2012

Assembly Education Committee: http://calchannel.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=7&clip_id=2019

I’ll plan another update once these bills move further.

Lawmakers call for more computer science in California schools

By , EdSource Today and KQED

Joe Sanbria (seated), 16, gets help from his classmates on the Python programming language at Foshay Technology Academy in Los Angeles. Credit: Lillian Mongeau, EdSource Today

Joe Sanbria (seated), 16, gets help from his classmates with the programming language Python at Foshay Technology Academy in Los Angeles. Credit: Lillian Mongeau

Half a dozen bills before the state Legislature address the growing concern that California students don’t have the computer science skills necessary to thrive in the modern workforce.

Educators and tech industry leaders would like high schools to teach students more than just how to use a computer – the goal now is for students to be able to program one. Computer science shouldn’t be a niche field for the highly educated any longer, advocates say.

“I’m not saying every child should become a programmer, but I do think it’s important for every child to have some basic level of skill in computer science,” said Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto.

If all six bills become law, the California State Board of Education would be tasked with developing computer science standards for grades 1 to 12 and the state higher education systems would be asked to create guidelines for courses they’d be willing to accept for admission credit. (See the chart below for a list of the bills.)

One of the bills, introduced by Olsen and Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, would allow school districts to offer students a third year of math credit for a computer science course, which is currently considered an elective.

High school students applying to California State University or University of California schools only need one elective credit to meet admission requirements. By allowing computer science to count as a math credit, more students might take the courses, Olsen said.

“Right now there is a disincentive for schools to offer computer science (courses) and a disincentive for students to take them,” Olsen said.

Currently, most high schools in the state don’t offer high-level computer science courses. Only a tiny fraction of California’s 1.9 million high school students take an AP computer science exam. Last year, 4,964 exams were administered in the state, according to the College Board.* The new laws could significantly boost the number of courses offered.

Foshay Technology Academy, a public high school in central Los Angeles, is ahead of the game. The school requires students to take three years of computer science, which includes computer programming.

“When we first started in 10th grade, we started making our own websites (using) HTML,” a Web-based programming language, said Darryl Beason, a junior at the school. “It really captured me. It’s like another way to express yourself.”

Beason, 16, has become one of the fastest coders in his class, according to his teacher, Leslie Aaronson. She tells Darryl and all her students that if they pursue a computer science career, they can make good money. Entry-level computer programmers can earn $50,000 to $80,000 a year in California, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Some of Aaronson’s students have absorbed this message and set their sights on a computer science or engineering degree. Ana Hernandez, 16, plans to study civil engineering. She says learning the logic behind the language of coding makes her confident she can take on the kinds of complex problems she anticipates she’ll encounter as an engineer. Not all of Aaronson’s students are so focused. And many, like Darryl, who wants to be a singer, have no interest in a tech career.

But whatever fields they pursue, Aaronson believes her students are learning useful skills. Though most full-time programming jobs require a bachelor’s degree, basic freelance programming work can pay $30 an hour, Aaronson said.

Darryl Beason, 16, standing, helps two classmates make a computer program to warn drivers that they're speeding. Credit: Lillian Mongeau, EdSource

Darryl Beason, 16, standing, helps two classmates with a computer program to warn drivers that they’re speeding. Credit: Lillian Mongeau

Chris Stephenson, executive director of the Computer Science Teachers Association, cautioned that even with better course offerings, most high school students won’t graduate with enough knowledge to launch right into a full-time computer science career.

“We have a mythology of kids coming out of high school and starting a company like Microsoft out of their garage,” Stephenson said. “The chance of that happening is slim to none. Pretty much, you need a bachelor’s degree.”

However, for students who enter college with a solid grounding in programming, the job opportunities upon graduation should be plentiful, Stephenson said. Industry leaders expect to add 1.4 million new jobs by 2020, according to the nonprofit CODE.org, which advocates for more computer programming classes in schools.

The types of jobs that require a computer science background are multiplying too, Stephenson said. Jobs in the traditional sciences, like biology, now include computer modeling and data analysis, she said. And jobs in new tech fields, like Internet commerce, are becoming more plentiful every year.

“And then there’s the jobs we haven’t even imagined yet,” Stephenson said.

As Stephenson’s organization has campaigned to increase computer science offerings, she said there has been some pushback from administrators worried about how they’ll fit new courses into an already crowded curriculum. There has been much less opposition, especially in recent years, to the idea that children need to learn the basics of computer science, she said.

Even if a student never programs a single computer outside of class, computer science is a worthwhile academic pursuit, said Shuchi Grover, a doctoral candidate in the learning sciences and technology design program at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education. Grover compared the analytical thinking skills students develop while learning programming to what they might learn while doing an experiment in science class.

Ana Hernandez, 16, codes a "loop" during her computer programming class at Foshay Technology Academy in Los Angeles. Credit: Lillian Mongeau, EdSource Today

Ana Hernandez, 16, codes a “loop” during her computer programming class at Foshay Technology Academy in Los Angeles. Credit: Lillian Mongeau

“Not everybody goes on to become a scientist, yet science is seen as needed to understand how the world works,” Grover said. “But so much of the world is digital now.”

Even if the bills currently before the Legislature pass this spring – the Assembly bills are expected to be heard by the education committee in early April – California would have a long way to go before schools across the state were equipped to offer new courses. Credentialed teachers with up-to-date knowledge of programming are hard to find and some schools do not have the necessary equipment to teach a relevant programming course, said Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills.

Hagman introduced two of the six computer science bills – one to create standards for grades 7 to 12 and another to allow high school students to earn community college credit – after hearing from tech industry leaders that they were having trouble finding qualified applicants.

“I believe it’s a nonpartisan issue,” Hagman said. “I think it’s about getting students prepared to become employed when (they) get out of high school or college.”

Computer Science Bills

Six bills before the state Legislature would make computer science a more significant part of the K-12 curriculum in California.

Source: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/

Bill:   Offered by:                          Bill description:

AB 1764

Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto

Bill would authorize school boards to award students a third year of math credit for satisfactory completion of a computer science course.

AB 1530

Ed Chau, D-Monteray Park

Bill would add computer science to the required course of study for grades 1 to 6.

AB 1539

Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills

Bill would require California Board of Education to adopt computer science standards for grades 7 to 12.

AB 1540

Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills

Bill would allow high school students to earn computer science credit through a local community college.

AB 2110

Phil Ting, D-San Francisco

Bill would require California Board of Education to include computer science content in existing curriculum frameworks.

SB 1200

Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima

Bill would ask that the governing boards of the public higher education systems establish academic standards for high school computer science courses that would be accepted at colleges and universities.

See full article here.

*Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the correct number of AP exams, which is 4,964, administered in 2013 in California high schools. The state has more than 1.9 million high school students.

Going deeper

Nonprofit organizations like Code.org and Computing in the Core are pushing for policy change like the ones California lawmakers are suggesting
Detailed data on AP Computer Science pass rates for students by race and gender
An EdSurge op-ed by Stanford’s Shuchi Grover on the importance of teaching the analytical thinking behind programming

 

Handing out iPads to students isn’t enough

Schools need to focus on what makes computers work, not just on how to use them.

By Jane Margolis and Marcelo M. Suárez-OrozcoImage

Student gets help as she and her teacher explore the possibilities with
their new LAUSD-provided iPads. (Los Angeles Times / August 27, 2013)

Computer science is driving innovation across all fields, so it makes sense that the Los Angeles Board of Education wants to provide its students with access to the latest technology. Students who develop expertise in computer science will have automatic career advantages. But is the district taking the right steps?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that computing occupations are among the fastest-growing job categories in the United States and that such jobs pay about 75% more than the national median annual salary. Unfortunately, only a narrow band of students — predominantly white and Asian males — is developing the necessary skills to step into these high-paying jobs in computer science. Latinos, African Americans and girls of all ethnic backgrounds are being left behind. In 2013, 29,555 students took the Advanced Placement computer science exam, but only 18% were female, 4% African American and 3% Mexican American.

At many schools, especially those with high numbers of low-income African American and Latino students, meaningful computer courses simply aren’t offered. Data gathered by Code.org, a nonprofit organization trying to expand computer science education, suggests that 9 out of 10 K-12 schools nationwide do not even offer computer-programming courses.

Instead, skills such as keyboarding and Internet research are being dressed up as “computer science.” The focus tends to be on how to use computers rather than on what makes them work. Students may become adept at surfing the Web and at word processing, but they aren’t developing the critical thinking skills essential to creating the software and hardware that power computers.

This is especially unfortunate since there is a growing shortage of computer scientists nationwide. The National Center for Women and Information Technology projects that the number of U.S. college graduates in computing between 2010 and 2020 will meet less than one-third of the demand for them. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that more jobs will be created in computing than in all other science and technology fields combined.

If K-12 schools aren’t teaching the necessary skills, where will those workers come from? A great majority of today’s computer scientists started down their career paths because of “preparatory privilege.” They came from families that could provide parental knowledge, guidance, summer camp opportunities, in-home computers, software, even private tutoring. But for many students in the L.A. Unified School District — some 80% of whom live below the poverty line — that kind of extracurricular enrichment simply isn’t available.

The United States has a choice to make. It can continue on its current course, in which case it will need to import even more computer scientists from overseas, or it can provide meaningful computer education to its own students, including the children of immigrants already here.

Six years ago a partnership between UCLA and LAUSD was forged to help bring computer science to a wider range of students, specifically to children of color and girls. A rigorous, yearlong course, “Exploring Computer Science,” was developed and is now being offered to more than 2,000 students in more than 30 Los Angeles high schools, as well as at public schools in Chicago and Washington, and it will soon be in New York. But we must do much better.

LAUSD has begun rolling out one of the largest and most ambitious technological interventions in American education, aimed at eventually providing electronic tablets (or in some upper grades, possibly, laptops) to every student.

But is purchasing iPads really the magic bullet? The tablets are certain to engage students, which is a start. But part of their appeal is their ease of use. They are designed to be extremely user-friendly, which means students don’t have to understand much about a computer’s workings to use one.

A primary goal of any technology initiative should be to teach higher-order computational skills to every student. If LAUSD’s huge investment — in the neighborhood of $1 billion — is going to provide students with more than fancy textbooks, the district will have to focus on innovative curriculum development and teacher professional development. Students need to learn how to create and produce with technology, not just passively benefit from and consume what has been created by others.

LAUSD should be applauded for wanting to make technology available to every child. But it will be crucial to make sure it is teaching the right skills. It will take a coalition of school districts, philanthropic visionaries, researchers and community organizations to get this right. We must build on the many available resources in Los Angeles to help strengthen access to computer science education for all kids.

Jane Margolis is a senior researcher at UCLA and the author of “Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race, and Computing.” Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco, a professor and dean of education at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, is the coauthor of “Educating the Whole Child for the Whole World.”

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times

See full article here.

With shortage of computer science classes, students in Bell code after school

by Annie Gilbertson, Southern California Public Radio

Girls Coding

(Annie Gilbertson, KPCC)

These Bell High School students meet after school twice a week to practice basic coding and cyber security. The high school canceled it Computer Science course this year.

CyberPatriot is possibly the geekiest high school club in history. Sponsored by the Air Force Association, a dozen teens from the city of Bell meet after school to learn to code.

Like most of the club members, senior Erika Aguiluz aspires to become a computer scientist. Aguiluz said if it weren’t for the couple of hours she’s spent coding after school, she may not have considered the career.

“You grow up in your community: you are kind of blinded to the whole world,” said Aguiluz. “For all you know, there could be green people out there.”

Half of this group is young women and everyone is Latino – faces rarely seen in a high tech world dominated by white and Asian men.

This club is the only way students at Bell High can learn code. The school used to have a computer science course, but it was cut this year. District officials would not say why.

It exemplifies the lack of computer science education at the Los Angeles Unified School district. Only one in every 10 high schools in the district offer an AP computer science course –  and all of those are in the whiter, wealthier northern and western parts of the district.

Even in those schools that offer the elective, enrollment can be low – just three Van Nuys students took Grant High’s course last semester.

Yet by the time today’s freshman graduate high school, California will have 1.1 million jobs in science, technology, engineering and math – commonly called STEM – and 49 percent of them will be in computing, according to technology advocates.

To try to meet the need, the district plans to expand an introductory course, Exploring Computer Science, from 35 to 45 of the district’s 103 high schools next year, said Todd Ullah, who oversees STEM education at L.A. Unified.

He said unlike AP computer science, teaching the introductory class does not require much special training.

“Who ever is really interested in this, whether it’s a Math, Science, English or Social Studies teacher, can teach a few classes of this with the right professional development,” Ullah said.

He said the district is also adding Data Science to its course catalog next school year. The pilot is scheduled to run at 10 schools.

Certainly computer science instruction at the district is better than it used to be.

“Especially in schools with high numbers of kids of color, what was called computer science was often just typing and keyboarding, the most basic, rudimentary skills,” said Jane Margolis, a UCLA senior education researcher who has spent over 10 years examining computer science offerings at L.A. Unified.

She has gathered course offerings, syllabuses and paid visits to the classrooms for her 2008 book Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race, and Computing. She said the district’s more than $1 billion proposal to equip every student and teacher with a tablet won’t do much to close the digital divide.

“We saw some schools that were aglow with technology, that were filled with computers,” Margolis said. “We identified that these schools were technology rich but curriculum poor.”

One solution would be to allow the computer science classes to count as higher level math or science course work like the Washington state legislature did last year. Most computer science classes at L.A. Unified are electives and can’t at the moment be used to fill those requirements.

That’s a big push for the Irvine-based Alliance for California Computing Education for Students and Schools, which wants computer science to get the same credit weight as more standard math and science work, such as Algebra II.

“Computer science has become a real foundational skill in terms of critical thinking, in terms of algorithms, in terms of creativity and innovation,” said Julie Flapan, the nonprofit group’s executive director.

Ullah said long term, L.A. Unified is looking to offer a progression of computer science courses, rather than one-off electives.

One of the problems with expanding courses is a shortage of teachers. Computer science is listed by the U.S. Department of Education as a teacher shortage area for California.

Ullah said the few computer science professionals  he has seen join the teaching ranks do so to address inequity – they seek to spread their knowledge to under-severed communities where the skill can be a ticket out of poverty.

“It’s just a matter of finding them,” he said.

LAUSD-APCS half

See original article here.

Want To Get Girls And Minorities Into Coding? Stop Making Computer Science An Elective

By Jessica Leber, FastCo.Exist

White males are most likely to take computer science classes in high school because they have mostly white male role models to look up to. Maybe it’s time to start giving incentives for everyone to take the subject.

3023167-poster-p-girls

With this week’s star-studded “Hour of Code” and Computer Science Education Week, hundreds of thousands of schools around the country are introducing children to computer science and working to get them interested in a field that is almost guaranteed to be in high demand when they hit the job market.

But there’s just one snag: Computer science may not help them graduate high school and or even help them meet the minimum requirements established to attend public colleges and universities in tech-centric states like California. Neither a core math or science subject officially, computer science falls in an awkward middle ground that has kept it an “elective” at the high school level in most states.

The issue, which has become the focus of national advocacy efforts, is about more than just about graduation requirements. That computer sciences is an elective means that perversely, despite the national “skill gap,” it’s often among the courses removed from the curriculum when schools face budget cuts. In California, fewer than 200 high schools offer AP Computer Science out of more than 1,300 schools, says UC Irvine informatics professor and computer science education advocate Debra Richardson.

It’s also an equality issue. Besides the privilege of having it at their school, students who take computer science also often have what’s called “preparatory privilege,” says Julie Flapan, the executive director of Alliance for California Computer Education for Students and Schools, or ACCESS. It may be that they have savvier, English-speaking parents, or come from upper-class districts with better career guidance. Often, it may be that they are male and white, because these demographics describe the role models and norms today. One study by the Computer Science Teachers Association found that the most important factor in whether young women and students of color choose to take computer science is if it counts towards a high school graduation requirement.

Organizations around the country, from the national coalition Code.org to state-focused groups like ACCESS are now aiming to change this with a mix of lobbying, organizing, and public-awareness raising, like the Hour of Code effort. ACCESS is first focusing its work on getting the University of California and California State University systems to count computer science towards one of the core admissions requirements for high school graduates applying to enroll (see their online petition here). Today, about 15 states have acted to include computer science classes as an option among their core high school graduation requirements, but most have made this change within the last two years. Most recently, the Chicago public school system added computer science to its core high school curriculum.

Not everyone believes that computer science should count, however. Raising the number of courses required to graduate high school can reduce graduation rates, which some education advocates oppose. Yet simply adding computer science as an additional option to fulfill existing requirements might mean students take one fewer traditional classes, such as physics or calculus–a fact that’s difficult for some science and math teachers to swallow (though Flapan says the math community is more open). States like Washington have gone with this latter approach, however: “There’s a way of easing into this. It’s not taking anything away. It’s just saying that if a student does take it, it should count for something. Computer science is a rigorous course,” says Richardson.

There are also efforts to teach high-level computer science in ways that appeal to a broader audience. The current Advanced Placement Computer Science course is really a skill-based programming course, but right now a new AP course–Computer Science Principles–is being piloted that would take a much broader approach. Students would survey topics in the fields, from human computer interaction and algorithms to software engineering and big data. The first AP exam for this course is planned for 2016.

“The goal is to get kids excited about computer science and how much it can actually change the world,” says Richardson, who has chaired Computer Science Education week and a number of other initiatives.

“There are a lot of people who may look at math, for example, and say, why am I doing this? What’s the purpose? The same feeling can come from a straight coding course. Whereas if you really understand the big picture of computer science, there’s much broader appeal.”

See full article here.

Hundreds of Teens Attend Computer Science Education Day at Cal

By Theresa Harrington, Contra Costa Times (CA)

BERKELEY — Hundreds of high school students from throughout the Bay Area got firsthand practice programming computers during UC Berkeley’s annual Computer Science Education Day on Tuesday, and just maybe, they’ll be inspired to major in computer science.

CAL COMPUTER SCIENCE DAY/METRO                   CAL COMPUTER SCIENCE DAY/METRO

(Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group)

“We are a new generation and we all use computers for basically everything,” said Brandon Ye, a 16-year-old junior at California High in San Ramon, after learning the Snap visual, drag-and-drop programming language. “This could give us a new understanding. Like, when you post something on Facebook, why does it show up like that? It feels empowering.”

Still, he said it was a bit difficult to get the hang of it at first.  “It’s like learning a new language,” he said. “We’re learning about how it works. It’s like learning grammar — where does the noun go?”

The university started in 2010 hosting daylong activities to introduce high school students to programming, said computer science instructor Dan Garcia, who helped found the university program. He got students thinking about how to win and lose at Tic Tac Toe during a presentation about crafting games.

Jennifer Parra, 14, a geometry student from Downtown College Prep Charter High in San Jose, said she especially enjoyed learning the Tic Tac Toe strategies.  “It gives us brain knowledge,” she said. “Computers are a big part of our daily lives. This is actually pretty fun.”

Aside from the fun programming activities, her classmate Tiffany Nguyen, 14, said she enjoyed the chance to visit a university.  “I thought it was a really cool experience because you get to go to college,” Nguyen said.

The programming day at UC Berkeley is part of the larger international Computer Science Education Week, all of which is a push to get youngsters interested in computer science careers. For example, in many K-12 schools this week students will participate in an hourlong interactive tutorial on computer programming called the Hour of Code.

Garcia said outreach to high schools is helping to interest teens in computer programming before they get to college. For the first time ever last year, more than half of the students in UC Berkeley’s introductory computer science course were women, he said proudly.

Yet, many high schools don’t offer computer science and those that do often see more boys than girls taking the classes. Andrew Doolittle, who teaches computer science at Arroyo High in San Lorenzo, said he has drummed up interest in his classes by asking his students to explain what they are learning to their classmates in advanced math classes just before it’s time to register for next year’s courses.

As a result, Doolittle said interest in computer science at Arroyo has doubled, with his program growing from one advanced placement course and one introductory course last year to two sections of each this year.

More than half of the freshmen at UC Berkeley take an intro to computer science class, even though they won’t all major in it, said David Culler, chairman of the Electronic Engineering and Computer Science Department.

“The demand for computer science courses has tripled in the last three to four years,” he said. “About 70 percent of job growth in the next 10 years will be in computer-related fields. But all the other jobs will also have elements of it.”

Garcia’s introductory course is a prototype for a new advanced placement computer science course promoted by the National Science Foundation through its CS 10K campaign, which aims to get the curriculum into 10,000 high schools, Culler said.

Josiah Harper, a 16-year-old junior at Arroyo, said he became interested in computer programming because he wanted to find out how video games work.  “It’s definitely something I enjoy,” he said. “It’s just fun to create things I had in my mind and see it come out on the computer. It’s cool.”

MORE INFORMATION
Details about UC Berkeley’s Computer Science Education Day are available by visitinghttp://csedday.berkeley.edu.
Additional information about Computer Science Education Week is at http://csedweek.org.
To find out about the National Science Foundation’s CS 10K campaign, visithttp://cs10kcommunity.org.

Technology training key to innovation

By Debra J. Richardson and Julie Flapan, Orange County Register

Have you ever seen a toddler with a smartphone swiping their little fingers across the screen as if they were born knowing exactly how to use it? Or heard a teenager’s quip: “There’s an app for that”? As these cyber-native kids mature, they will require far less instruction on how to use technology and more education that prepares them to be the creators of it.

Computers are everywhere – in our pockets, on our TV screens, in our cars, in the movies. They’re a critical piece of our infrastructure from power grids to financial markets. And all of these computers have one thing in common: they depend on software to tell them what to do.

But who is writing this software and who is creating new technologies?

Considering how fast our world is being transformed by technology, you might expect the number of students studying computer science in K-12 education today to be at an all time high. That is not the case. Fewer students are studying computer science, and fewer schools are teaching it, than a decade ago. The problem begins in our middle and high schools. Last year in Orange County, Advanced Placement Computer Science was offered at only 15 of 69 public high schools.

The picture is far worse for students underrepresented in technology – female students and students of color. Of all California AP Computer Science test takers in 2010-11, only 21 percent were female, less than 1 percent were African-American and only 8 percent were Latino – despite the fact that Latinos make up the majority of California’s public school students.

Although California’s economic foundation depends on an educated workforce in computing, our education system is not prepared to meet the demand. California will require a total of 1.1 million STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) jobs in 2018 and 49 percent will be in computing occupations. Yet from 2000-01 to 2010-11, while California high school enrollment increased 16 percent, the number of schools offering computer science courses fell 35 percent.

Computer science is increasingly foundational knowledge for the 21st century; technology companies and businesses in virtually every sector are competing for computing talent. Yet thousands of jobs are going unfilled without the right skill sets. Our schools need to do more to prepare students to meet this demand.

In California, computer science courses are treated as electives. Given academic demands, students cannot afford the time to take an elective computer science course.

One positive change would be to allow rigorous computer science courses to satisfy a high school math or science graduation requirement. To support this change, we need to train more teachers in computer science, and encourage professional development within their field.

Making this change could have considerable impact. In states where computer science courses count toward graduation requirements, courses are 50 percent larger with much higher rates of participation by underserved students than states that treat computer science as an elective.

Education and business leaders, parents and elected officials can do more to ensure that all students – including girls, low-income students and students of color – obtain the 21st century skills required to be career and college ready.

This week, Dec. 9-15, is Computer Science Education Week. Over 30,000 students in Orange County will join a national effort, participating in the Hour of Code to demystify the subject of computer science and inspiring them to learn more.

Working with students at a young age will spark their interest in computer science and coding. Our children should not just know how to swipe their fingers on an iPad and play video games – they should know how to create them. And one day, our students will be the ones to say, “I created an app for that.”

Debra J. Richardson is founding dean of the Bren School of Information and Computer Science and professor of Informatics at UC Irvine. Julie Flapan is executive director of the Alliance for California Computing Education for Students and Schools at www.access-ca.org.

See full article here.