California’s economy depends on its information technology sector. From Silicon Beach in the south to Silicon Valley in the north, California is known as a world leader driving the digital age. In fact, California expects an average of more than 20,000 computing job openings each year for the next five years.
Although our economic foundation depends on an educated workforce in computing, our education system is not prepared to meet the demand. Fully 71% of the projected California STEM workforce need in 2018 will be in computing (followed by 16% in traditional engineering, and only 7% in physical sciences, 4% in life sciences, and 2% in mathematics). Yet from 2000-01 to 2010-11, while California high school enrollment increased 16%, the number of schools offering computer science courses fell 35% and the total sections offered fell 43%.
It is more than just STEM fields that are being transformed by computer science; virtually every sector is competing for computing talent as new career opportunities are being created. Computing professionals are solving challenging problems in the sciences, business, entertainment, and the humanities.
Too few K-12 students have access to high quality computer science education in California, and there is a disturbing lack of access for diverse populations. Of all California AP Computer Science test takers in 2010-11, only 21% were female, less than 1% were African-American and only 8% were Latino (despite the fact that Latinos make up the majority of California’s public school students). This lack of access to “privileged knowledge” is what education researchers have described as a major social justice issue for the 21st Century. To address this disparity, LAUSD, in partnership with UC-Los Angeles, offers an introductory course—Exploring Computer Science (ECS), while UC-San Diego and UC-Berkeley have both piloted a new AP course—Computer Science Principles (CSP). Both ECS and CSP are gradually spreading throughout California high schools and scaling up as national models.
Too often, schools most impacted by budget cuts – especially those serving low-income students of color – have narrowed the curriculum at the expense of computer science. This is most startling at a time when national, state, and local policymakers are seeking to expand the capacity and quality of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. Our schools need to provide all students the 21st century skills required to be career and college ready. This requires both resources and the public will to prioritize computer science and make it count toward graduation.
Research and industry surveys make clear that early exposure to computer science has long-term effects and often influence students’ future career choices. The benefits of computer science education go beyond the skills and knowledge acquired in the classroom; it opens students’ eyes to career possibilities in fields they didn’t even know existed, both inside and outside the information technology sector.