Access to and Understanding of Computer Science Education are Issues in US High Schools
Administrators Say Opportunities for Learning Computer Science Vary Widely
New York, NY – January 6, 2015 – A new survey released today by the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), in collaboration with Oracle Academy, finds that while interest in computer science is on the rise, there are still issues with access to and understanding of computer science (CS) education in high schools.
CSTA-Oracle Academy 2014 U.S. High School CS Survey: The State of Computer Science in U.S. High Schools: an Administrator’s Perspective surveyed more than 500 high school principals and vice principals from May-September 2014.* The survey sought to identify CS education opportunities being provided in high schools, determine how broadly CS is being offered in the US, and determine the different ways CS is being defined. Schools in 47 states participated with the most administrators’ responses coming from California, Pennsylvania and New York.The online survey, conducted by the Computer Science Teachers Association and Oracle Academy, asked administrators about computer science opportunities being offered at their schools.
The survey results showed that administrators are not completely aware of the content covered in computer science classes versus other courses. CSTA and Oracle Academy perceive the results as problematic for many reasons, including that CS often gets grouped with unrelated courses and classes. Participants applied the term “computer science” to a vast array of topics and courses. This broad use of “computer science” to encompass curriculum and courses that would not be considered “computer science” at a college/university or professional level indicates a need for educational community consensus on a common definition of computer science in K-12 education.
Additionally, the survey found that the academic departments chiefly responsible for teaching computer science are Career & Technology and Business. As for how the course fits into a student’s transcript, schools count a CS class as a requirement in math, science, or technology.
The survey found that of the 73% of respondents whose school offers computer science, an overwhelming majority count these credits toward those required for graduation. However, only 39% reported that they count a CS class towards a requirement in math, science, or technology. More often, schools are counting CS courses as electives. This becomes problematic because electives are often culturally and academically regarded as filler classes in a student’s schedule. A CS course that “counts” drives demand from students and builds the case for these courses to be required.
The top content areas covered in computer science courses were listed as:
- Problem solving 65%
- Ethical 57%
- Social issues 57%
- Graphics 57%
- Web development 51%
- Algorithms 35%
- Testing 35%
- Debugging 35%
Each of these content areas are core to computer science and, in particular, programming.
One of the most important findings from the study suggests that better-funded schools are offering CS to their students at a far higher rate than low-income schools. Of the 27% of schools where the majority of students qualify for free or reduced lunch, 63% offer computer science courses. Of the 44% of schools where the majority of students do not qualify for free lunch, 84% offer computer science courses. This means that in lower income schools, 37% percent offer no computer science whatsoever, versus only 16% percent in higher income schools.
“Access to good computer science education is a defining 21st century issue,” said Oracle Academy Vice President Alison Derbenwick Miller. “We must come together as a community to bring better understanding and access to all students to help them develop the knowledge and expertise required for in-demand careers today and into the future. We are pleased to have worked with CSTA on this very important survey.”
“We are grateful to Oracle Academy for supporting this survey as the findings create a much clearer picture of CS education in US high schools than we’ve had to date,” said Lissa Clayborn, Acting Executive Director, CSTA. “At the local community, state, and national levels, this data can help inform continued and more thoughtful discussions about curriculum pathways, course design, funding for CS courses, come to a shared definition and help to solve the puzzle of teacher certification and other education policy issues.”
*[UPDATE: More than 20,000 people received the survey, for a response rate of 2.5 percent. Respondents came from 47 states.]
To review the complete results from this survey, as well as previous CSTA High School surveys, please visit http://csta.acm.org/Research/sub/HighSchoolSurveys.html.
Media Contact: Stacey Finkel