Schools expanded the availability of core computer science classes this year faster than at any other time in the past five years, but persistent gaps in access to these courses persist, Code.org’s annual State of Computer Science Education report concludes. sciences.
Overall, 57.5 percent of high schools offered core computer science courses, a jump of 4.5 percentage points from last year, the largest since 2018. But only 5.8 percent of high school students are enrolled in these courses in the 35 states for which data are available. This rate is similar to the rate a year ago.
There are also access gaps by race, gender, English language learner and special education status, geography and income, Code.org found. For example, 89 percent of Asian students and 82 percent of white students can take basic computer science courses, while 67 percent of Native American students have such access.
Bridging these gaps is especially important as AI-powered tools – already a force in other industries such as healthcare and business – become even more widespread, the report said..
“Studying fundamental concepts in computer science gives students a deeper insight into how AI systems work, which benefits those building technologies that use AI and those who need to make decisions about AI in their personal life,” the report said. “Basic Computer Science and AI Literacy will lead to more diverse, critical creators and users of AI.”
Other equity gaps in access to core computer science courses highlighted in the Code.org study include:
- White, black and Native Hawaiian students are disproportionately represented in computer science classes relative to their overall share of the high school population, Code.org found. Asian students are overrepresented. However, Hispanic students and Native American/Alaskan students are underrepresented. In fact, Hispanic students are 1.4 times less likely to enroll in computer science classes than their white and Asian peers.
- The percentage of high school females participating in computer science majors nationally has held at about 31 percent over the past three years. In fact, men are twice as likely to take basic computer science courses as women, Code.org reported.
- Special education students — defined as those who receive support under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act — make up about 15 percent of the student population but only 10 percent of those in core computer science classes in the 33 states where data are available.
- While more than half of students — 52 percent — are considered economically disadvantaged, just over a third of students in core computer science classes — 34 percent — meet that definition, according to data from 33 states analyzed by code.org.
- Suburban schools are more likely than urban and rural schools to offer core computer science courses. More than two-thirds of suburban schools offer the courses, compared to 55 percent of urban and rural schools.
With access, “students become computer science advocates”
The report outlines how policymakers and educators can help fill these gaps. One important step is for states to make computer science a graduation requirement. It’s something eight states have done so far: Arkansas, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Tennessee.
Additionally, while Maryland and Mississippi have not created a specific computer science requirement, taking computer science courses is the primary way to fulfill an existing graduation requirement.
The computer science degree requirement appears to matter in Arkansas when it comes to gender. The state adopted the requirement in 2021 for the class of 2026. This year, 43 percent of the state’s 9th grade females were enrolled in a core computer science class, 12 percentage points higher than the national average for all females in high school .
“We are excited to see an increase in the number of high school students completing multiple computer science courses before graduation,” said Kelly Griffin, director of computer science studies at the Arkansas Department of Education, in a statement cited in the report. “These students develop a strong foundation that can be used in current and future careers.”
States could also require all schools to offer computer science classes, the report recommends. For example, although Georgia’s requirement that all high schools offer computer science instruction won’t go into effect until the 2024-25 school year, the state is already seeing signs of progress.
Seventy-one percent of Georgia high schools now offer computer science majors. There is increased representation in these courses from female students, Latino students, special education students and English language learners, although equity gaps remain, the report said.
Introducing computer science courses in high school is a key first step in building a workforce where these skills are likely to have great value, the report concludes.
“When there is exposure and access, students’ confidence to pursue opportunities beyond their K–12 computer science education becomes a reality because students have become computer science advocates,” said Maria Camarena, computer science teacher at Los Angeles Unified School District , in a statement included in the report.