May 26, 2016

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California needs a plan on computer science classes

By
Andrea Deveau
Sacramento Bee

Silicon Valley is known for launching new ideas with high intensity and on a massive scale. So it’s no surprise that with the support of the technology industry, computer science education is expanding at lightning speed.

But scaling up without a clear strategy could have unintended consequences. That’s why we’re calling on California to develop a comprehensive plan for computer science education across the state.

With support from Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Assembly Bill 2329 would establish a diverse advisory panel to develop such a strategic plan. The bill is to be heard Friday by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Computer science is not just about access to technology. It is about students learning critical thinking, collaboration and creative problem solving. These are 21st-century skills that prepare students for college, careers and civic participation, and they should be available to students of all backgrounds. Computer science helps prepare students for careers – not only in the tech industry, but in nearly every field.

By 2018, more than half of all science and technology jobs are projected to be in computer-science-related fields. Yet only one in four high schools offers computer science, and in many schools, girls and students of color are woefully underrepresented.

Across the country, there’s a sense of urgency to expand computer science education. Large urban school districts, including Chicago, New York and Oakland, have unveiled ambitious plans to integrate computer science in K-12 education. States including Arkansas and Idaho are allowing students to count computer science toward high school graduation requirements.

California has the opportunity to lead the nation in developing a comprehensive plan for computer science education, but it must ensure access for all. We have to be careful not to exacerbate the inequalities that exist in our schools today. We already know that schools serving low-income students and students of color have unequal access to well-prepared teachers, rigorous curriculum and technology.

That’s why California needs a statewide strategic plan that considers who can teach computer science and with what credentials; how to increase the pool of teachers; what computer science standards drive instruction; and how to encourage students to take computer science.

We know these issues require engagement from multiple stakeholders, including parents, teachers, students, advocates, policymakers and leaders from state and local government. AB 2329 would provide a strategic plan to accomplish these goals and would position California for any future competitive federal grants.

As we get on the fast track to integrating computer science into California’s schools, let’s ensure our plan is sustainable and equitable.

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