Only slightly more than half of U.S. schools offer computer science, and even fewer elementary and middle school do. Nationwide, just 6 percent of students take computer science courses.
But in Long Island’s Mineola school district, just outside of New York City, coding lessons begin as early as prekindergarten. They continue through elementary and middle school, and are incorporated into language arts, social science, and other classes.
In high school, every 9th grader must take Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles. The College Board, which operates the AP program, is not aware of any other district in the country with that requirement, a spokesperson for the organization said.
Not every student loves the requirement, but having a compulsory computer science class ensures that a broad range of students gets experience with the subject, district educators say. Students of color, girls, and students from low-income families are woefully underrepresented in computer science courses nationally, research shows.
“I really feel like it’s an equity issue,” Kuri DiFede, a computer science teacher at Mineola High School, said during a recent online Education Week K-12 Essentials Forum. “Not every student grows up thinking that they can be a computer scientist, they don’t necessarily have the role models. Maybe it’s a career that their parents didn’t even know about.”
To be sure, the district doesn’t expect every student to grow up and pursue a career in computer science. But even those who will end up in other professions can benefit from the life lessons embedded in coding, Michael Nagler, the district superintendent, said.
Even a “good coder fails most of the time,” he said. “So the notion that you have to make mistakes in order to to get better and to progress is [an] overarching theme in our district. We welcome mistakes and we say we welcome failure. We use the mantra of failure without defeat. It’s purposeful.”
Watch the video of the full panel discussion above.