Trends in K-12 Computer Science Education

What's New

The last several years have seen high-profile efforts by districts, states, and not-for-profit organizations to expand Computer Science (CS) education in K–12 schools in the United States. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) led the nation in the expansion of CS education with their CS4ALL initiative in 2013 and later on announcing that computer science would be a graduation requirement starting with the class of 2020. Now, a recent UChicago Consortium study examines the outcomes of those CPS policies. Between 2014 and 2018, the percentage of CPS schools offering CS courses doubled. Expanded access successfully narrowed enrollment differences in CS courses by race but gender gaps actually widened.

Why It Matters

The goal in expanding access to CS courses is to open opportunities for Black, Latino, and female students who have been underrepresented in the growing technology workforce. According to an NPR story, only 3% of Google employees and 9% of Apple employees are Black. Researchers found that differences in rates of enrollment in CS courses by race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status were largely due to differences in access to CS courses. Black students were the least likely overall to enroll in a CS course in part because they were the most likely to attend a school that did not offer CS. Once researchers accounted for differences in access to CS, Black students were the most likely to enroll in a CS course. CPS reports that in the 2019-20 school year, all district run high schools offered CS. This research shows that making CS courses available can help to close the opportunity gap in tech careers among racial groups, but more than increased access will likely be needed to overcome barriers for female students, such as changing narratives about who belongs and succeeds within CS.

There were also trends showing that, even at schools with CS course access, there is still work to be done in diversifying enrollment demographics. Male students were more likely to enroll in CS courses than female students, but, intriguingly, this gap widened after the introduction of the Exploring Computer Science (ECS) curriculum. Even though the ECS curriculum’s implementation increased annual enrollment in CS, it also increased the extant disparities along with it. Therefore, educators and policymakers should take care not to consider just expanding enrollment numbers a victory, as expanding enrollment without ameliorating deeper, more systemic issues just leads to further propagation of those inequalities.