Female and minority participation in the College Board’s computer science principles exam grew by record numbers in 2018, but minority students still account for only 20 percent of those taking the test, and female students make up about 27 percent.

To address those gaps and related challenges, a coalition of 10 national organizations recently committed to helping local education leaders develop custom computer science offerings for K-12 students, including the option to incorporate computer science lessons across classes and grade levels.

The need for participation

The participation gaps in computer science education are generated by a lack of early exposure to computer science across all socio-economic demographics, as well as shortages in computer science instructors and advocates at school and district levels.

Computer science is often wrongly thought of as a course exclusively focused on computer coding. In fact, computer science also teaches computational thinking — the process of breaking down large problems or data sets, recognizing patterns, reorganizing information and testing potential solutions.

Critical for success

“From scientists to farmers, everyone is inundated with valuable information these days, and that’s only increasing,” says Dr. Bernard A. Harris, Jr., CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) and a history-making astronaut. “Computational thinking is critical to successfully processing all that information, and outside of work, the ability to break down seemingly large problems contributes to personal and civic well-being.”

In addition to NMSI, the coalition includes Beauty and Joy of Computing, Bootstrap, Exploring Computer Science, MIT App Inventor, Mobile CSP, NCWIT Counselors for Computing, Project GUTS, ScratchED and UTeach Computer Science.

“By helping schools incorporate computer science across courses and grade levels, we are increasing students’ opportunities to develop these skills within the context of the math, science, arts and language courses they already are taking,” says Emmanuel Schanzer of Bootstrap. “Education research confirms that students and teachers excel when classwork is tied to familiar experiences. This approach supports that type of learning.”

“We signed onto this coalition because we’re confident that incorporating computer science across classes and grade levels is the right approach to improving access and because we’re confident in the CRP model,” says Kimberly Hughes, director of the UTeach Institute, which houses UTeach Computer Science.

The collaborative work kicks off in 2019 with training for teachers in three San Antonio school districts. The supporting organizations will take feedback from the launch sites to evolve their efforts.