Make good on California’s commitment to equity — fund computer science classrooms

JULIE FLAPAN AND ALLISON SCOTT, EDSOURCE, June 1, 2021

This past year, we have focused on supporting remote learning, keeping students safe and providing access to the broadband and devices necessary to participate in schooling.

As in-person instruction returns, however, let’s imagine a future where students are no longer just downloading apps, but learning to design them.

We need to invest in teachers so that we can equip them with the tools, curricula and resources to provide quality and equitable computer science education to all California students.

The pandemic has severely affected our education system — lack of access to broadband and high-quality instruction further widened systemic inequality, impairing students’ academic growth and sense of well-being. These challenges disproportionately have affected students of color and low-income students.

We must recover from losses experienced during the pandemic while rebuilding and re-imagining a more equitable future. California’s workforce of tomorrow needs to be prepared for our increasingly digitized and technology-driven economy — and it’s not.

Despite the increasing importance of computer science as a foundational preparation for college, careers and civic engagement, data shows that almost two-thirds of California high schools lack computer science courses. Schools serving predominantly low-income students are four times less likely to offer advanced placement computer science courses. Female students comprise 50% of California’s high school population but less than 30% of students enrolled in computer science.

To address these gaps, a multistakeholder coalition has formed around a common goal to ensure all students have access to high-quality computer science education. These courses are imperative to build students’ critical-thinking and problem-solving skills so they can create their own technological future.

The good news is that California’s leadership is stepping up to support students and teachers. Gov. Gavin Newsom has long championed computer science education and the role education plays in securing California’s future in the global economy.

In his proposed state budget for 2021-22, the governor doubled down on quality computer science education — including $15 million to certify and train more than 6,000 teachers in computer science, funding for a full-time position at the California Department of Education to coordinate computer science statewide and additional money to support the Educator Workforce Investment Grant, which provides professional learning opportunities for computer science teachers.

Additionally, California’s share of federal Covid-relief funds can be allocated to support computer science education, including teacher professional development, devices and other learning resources. There is no application required to receive this funding, and eligible school leaders and local education agencies will receive 50% of their allocated funds now, with the remaining allocation in August, if the funds are used correctly and in a timely manner.

But, we have to act fast. Newsom’s budget proposal has the potential to address inequities in education, while proactively investing in the preparation of a computationally literate future workforce. The new funding equips our teachers and schools to tackle this divide head-on — improving and supporting computer science education so our students aren’t left even further behind.

Now that funding is available, what’s next? Here are three ways you can help ensure these funds are allocated toward advancing access and equity in computer science:

  • Contact your local legislative representatives and let them know you support computer science education equity in your schools and want to see it in the final budget.
  • Ask local education agencies — county offices of education, school districts and charter schools — to request the funds and allocate them to computer science classrooms.
  • Encourage school leaders to support teachers with professional learning opportunities found at  Summer of CS and from the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA).

These new funds allow us to address past inequities while also preparing our teachers and students for a more just future. Whether we build computer science pathways toward graduation or integrate computer science in elementary schools, these funds will support the equitable expansion of computer science.

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Julie Flapan is the director of the Computer Science Equity Project at UCLA Center XAllison Scott is the chief executive officer at Kapor Foundation. They are co-directors of the Computer Science for California Coalition (CSforCA).

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