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Calif. Study: High-Minority High Schools Offer Little Computer Science

By Liana Loewus — May 08, 2015 2 min read
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Computer science courses are often inaccessible for black, Hispanic, Native American, and low-income high school students in California, according to a new study.

The report, released yesterday by the nonprofit Level Playing Field Institute, confirms other recent research on computer science and underrepresented students. For instance, last year not a single black student took the Advanced Placement computer science exam in 12 states, and no Hispanic students took it in six states.

The authors of Path Not Found: Disparities in Computer Science Course Access in California High Schools point out that California public school students’ enrollment in computer science courses is lackluster overall. Sixty-five percent of public high schools in the state offer no computer science courses. Just 13 percent offer the AP computer science course.

And 10 of the state’s largest 20 districts do not offer computer science at all.

But the numbers are most dismal at low-income and majority-minority schools, the study found, using data from the California education department.

Schools with the highest percentage of underrepresented students of color (i.e., black, Hispanic, and Native American students) are about half as likely to offer computer science courses as those with the lowest percentages of underrepresented students of color.

And, likewise, those schools with highest percentages of underrepresented students of color offer AP computer science at a rate that is 12 times lower than those with the lowest.

The numbers are similar for schools with the highest percentage of low-income students: They offer computer science at half the rate of those with the lowest percentage of low-income students. They offer AP computer science at a rate 11 times lower.

For schools with a significant percentage of English-learners (more than about 1 in 10), just 31 percent offer computer science. But 39 percent of schools with a low percentage of English-learners offer such courses.

None of it is very flattering news. But at a webinar yesterday on the results, Claire Shorall, a computer science teacher at Castlemont High School in Oakland, offered some levity.

Her district is 87 percent free-and-reduced lunch (a measure of poverty) and about 90 percent black and Latino. But as a result of student advocacy, the school now has AP computer science. “Students were asking to code, and rightfully asking to code in school,” she said.

Eighteen students took the course, and nine of the 14 seniors plan to make computer science their major at university, she said. “It’s been so empowering.”

Julie Flapan, the executive director of the Alliance for California Computing Education for Students and Schools, an advocacy group, said more work is needed at the state level to institute programs and policies that make computer science more accessible—so that getting it in schools is not reliant on individual teachers like Ms. Shorall. “Public and elected officials are listening and beginning to understand that computer science is foundational learning for all students,” she said.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.