New studies of computer science education in California high schools found that a greater emphasis on computer science education did not produce the expected ripple effects, nor did it improve or harm students’ math or English skills, based on school-level test results.
However, one downside to increased enrollment in computer science courses may be that students are taking fewer humanities courses such as arts and social studies, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Paul Bruno and Colleen M. Lewis have examined the implications of recent California state policies promoting computer science education and the proliferation of such courses in high schools across the state. Bruno is a professor of educational policy, organization, and leadership, and Lewis is a professor of computer science at Grainger College of Engineering, both located in Illinois.
Using data that schools reported to the California Department of Education from 2003 to 2019, researchers explored the effects on student test scores and curricular tradeoffs of student enrollments in college courses. computer science. This study was published in the journal Educational Administration Quarterly.
In a related project, the couple – who are married and research partners – explored equity and diversity among California computer science teachers and their students. This study was published in Policy Futures in Education.
The Google Computer Science Education research program supported both projects.
California has been at the forefront of a national movement prioritizing technology curricula at the K-12 levels.
In 2018, the state adopted computer standards for K-12 students and the following year implemented a statewide strategic plan to expand access in computer science education.
The proportion of students attending California high schools offering at least one computer science course rose from 45% in 2003 to more than 79% in 2019, the data shows.
“As someone who works in school administration, it raises a lot of questions about how schools — especially high schools — are going to implement this rapid change and deliver these new courses effectively,” Bruno said. “Schools are already struggling to offer all the courses they need for students to graduate and go on to college – and to find enough qualified instructors to teach them, especially in science, technology, of engineering and mathematics.
While school systems often promote computer classes as cultivating skills and abilities that improve student achievement in subjects such as math and reading, researchers found no significant improvement in standardized test scores. at school level in these subjects.
Although they weren’t able to study individual student test scores, a limitation they plan to address in their current work, Bruno and Lewis said test scores aren’t everything. what matters.
“Ultimately, all students deserve the opportunity to understand the computing world around them, which computer science courses provide,” Lewis said. “But in the United States, lower-income students and students who identify as Black, Hispanic, and/or Native are less likely to have access to computer science classes in their high school.”
One of the downsides to the increased enrollment of California high school students in computer science courses has been that their enrollments in humanities and elective courses have declined.
“We’re not able to see why or how schools or students make these kinds of choices, but we think it’s an important consideration,” Bruno said. “If we want students to study more computer science, what are we comfortable with having less in the curriculum?”
Some school districts allow computer science classes to count toward math and foreign language graduation requirements, while other schools have yet to determine how to incorporate them, he said.
As schools add or expand computer science programs, Bruno said it’s important to be aware of the demands on student and school time and resources to ensure these courses are offered in a way that benefits students, teachers and their communities.
“That means thinking carefully about who we need to teach these courses to and how we adjust curricula to make room for them. All of these things are important to thinking about the real costs and benefits of teaching computer science,” Bruno said. .
As school districts across the country grapple with teacher shortages, flexible licensing requirements have allowed California schools to staff their computer science classes with faculty members with a wide range of degrees and backgrounds. experience, such as math, science or vocational education.
Yet as a profession, computer science education is disproportionately white and male.
And Bruno and Lewis found significant racial and gender disparities among computer science students and teachers. Black, Hispanic, and Native American youth were often less likely to attend schools offering computer classes than their Asian or white peers. But even when they had similar access to those courses, all black, Hispanic, and Native American girls and boys were underrepresented in computer science enrollment — disparities the researchers say are influenced by the relative scarcity of faculty. IT professionals who are women or racial and ethnic minority people.
“Effective and equitable IT implementation requires more than enrolling an ever-increasing number of students in an ever-increasing number of courses,” Lewis said. “Going forward, it will be increasingly important to develop better measures of the quality of computer science teachers that can be used to assess both the average strength of these teachers and the prevalence of gaps in the quality of teaching between different groups of students.”