Push is on to beef up computer science in K-12

Push is on to beef up computer science in K-12

(Calif.) Several bills aimed at increasing both the number of computer science courses and students taking them appear to be sailing along in the Legislature with bi-partisan support.

AB 1764, which  would allow an approved computer science course to count for high school mathematics credit, passed out of the Assembly on a 74-0 vote Monday. A second bill – AB 1530, which encourages the state’s public schools superintendent to develop model curriculum on computer science – was read for the second time and is expected to be  up for approval sometime this month.

“I think we’ve come up with a relatively elegant solution to encouraging high schools to create more computer courses for their students,” Democratic Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, a co-author of AB 1764, told her colleagues on the floor Monday.

“We are taking courses that are already approved by the University of California system,” she said, “and we’re going to allow districts the option of including those courses toward graduation requirements if they require three or more years of math. We believe this will greatly expand opportunities for children and also encourage school districts to work with both the UC and those in the technology area to create higher-level computer courses.”

The push to expose students to the broad field of computer programming comes as education in the U.S. adapts to 21st Century technology and the global economy on which it thrives. It is part of an overall attempt to better prepare pupils for jobs in the global marketplace since data has shown that American students now lag behind those in other countries in terms of the numbers being qualified for high-tech jobs.

By allowing computer science to count for a high school mathematics credit,  Buchanan said AB 1764 provides “an essential incentive for more students to take computer science courses while in high school” and to gain knowledge and skills needed to pursue computer science as a career in college. The bill is co-authored by Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto.

In addition, the bill recognizes the overlap between higher level mathematics courses and rigorous computer science courses and “encourages districts to construct computer science courses that allow students to re-think traditional mathematics and explore meaningful computer science curriculum,” according to a staff analysis.

A UCLA  study on the status of California’s K-12 computer science education reported declining enrollments and participation in computing courses – for the 2008-09 school year.  California Department of  Education  data showed that fewer than 10 percent  of  students in grades 7 through 12 had taken a  computing course.

In 2010, according to In Need of Repair: The State of K-12 Computer Science Education in California, just 2,793 of the state’s students took the Advanced Placement Computer Science exam. By comparison, 22,163 took AP European History, 16,302 students took AP Environmental Science, and 2,138 students took AP Chinese Language and Culture.

Of concern, noted researchers, only 33 of the students who took AP Computer Science were self-identified as black and 230 as Latino.

“Due to the sad state of K-12 computer science education, California is  at risk of losing its competitive advantage to other states, like Texas and Georgia, or to other countries such as Israel, Ireland, India, China and eastern European countries, where investment and development of K-12 computer science education have taken priority,” the report’s authors wrote.

Lawmakers also considered AB 1530, authored by Assemblyman Ed Chau, D-Arcadia.  If adopted, encourages the state schools superintendent to create specific content standards around computer science, and also that computer science curriculum content be incorporated into curriculum frameworks for other core subjects, including math and language arts.Two other computer tech bills pending in the Legislature:

AB 1539, Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills, would require the Superintendent of Public Instruction, in consultation with the California State Board of Education, to convene a group of experts to develop computer science standards for grades seven to 12. The SBE is required to adopt computer science standards by July 1, 2015, pursuant to recommendations made by a group of computer science experts. This bill authorizes, but does not mandate, school districts to use the content standards to develop computer science programs and course assessments.

AB 2110, Assemblyman Phillip Ting, D-San Francisco, would require the SBE to incorporate computer science curriculum content into the mathematics, science, history-social science, and language arts curriculum frameworks, as it deems appropriate, when those frameworks are next revised. AB 2110 would require the SBE to consult classroom instructors to ensure the age-appropriateness of instructional material. This bill would require the SSPI to identify and post on the CDE Internet Web site professional development resources for teaching computer science curriculum content.