In Digital Age, Computer Science Education in U.S. Called 'Bleak'

Susan Hall

Amid the attention surrounding China's lead in international test results, some interesting reports about science and technology education also are making news.


On the test, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), 15-year-olds in the United States improved to the average among industrialized nations in science, remained average in reading and were still below average in math.


Meanwhile, a report from the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) finds "scant" computer science education in most elementary and secondary school classrooms and the number of Advanced Placement courses in computer science has declined in the past five years.


Carnegie Mellon's Mark Stehlik, co-author of the report, is quoted saying:

Some states and some schools are offering some really excellent courses, but overall, the picture is pretty bleak.

The report "Running on Empty: The Failure to Teach K-12 Computer Science in the Digital Age," finds that the courses that do exist tend to focus on how to operate a computer and run available applications rather than deeper concepts, such as computational problem-solving that could be the basis for innovation. It says 14 states have set no standards for upper-level computer science education.


It found that from 2005 to 2009, the number of secondary schools offering introductory computer science courses dropped 17 percent and the number offering Advanced Placement (AP) computer science courses dropped 35 percent.


Meanwhile, a 25-year longitudinal study of America's top-performing students by Jonathan Wai of Duke University and a team of Vanderbilt University researchers concludes that students who receive early and strong "doses" of both STEM courses (science, technology, engineering, math) and related enrichment are more likely to take that path to a career.


According to Education Week, the differentiator tended to be the quantity, richness and intensity -or "dose"-of STEM-related activities students had access to during their school years, more so than a natural interest or talent for it. And this held true for girls as well as boys.


The article quotes Wai saying:

You don't have to have access to everything in order to have a high dose. What matters is that the student is intellectually engaged and stimulated. I do think we should allow students to go at their own pace, to take advanced courses if they want to, and to have as much access to these educational opportunities as they want and are ready for.

To that end, the College Board is creating a new AP computer science course, an attempt to make it more appealing to students. According to The Computing Community Consortium Blog:

In 2008, approximately 15,000 high school students took the AP Computer Science whereas approximately seven times as many students took AP Statistics, 10 times as many took AP Biology, and 15 times as many took AP Calculus AB. Perhaps not surprisingly, the number of students arriving at college and indicating an intention to major in a computing discipline is only a few percent and only 0.3 percent for women.

Part of the initiative is to add computer science teachers to 10,000 U.S. high schools by 2015.


The ACM, CSTA and the Computing Research Association, as well as corporations such as Microsoft and Google, have formed a non-partisan advocacy coalition, Computing in the Core, to advocate for stronger K-12 computer science education. It's also pushing the Computer Science Education Act introduced by U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., which would offer federal grants to states to improve computer science programs.

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Dec 8, 2010 10:35 AM Paul Ingevaldson Paul Ingevaldson  says:

Susan,  I just had an article published on this issue.  I thought you would enjoy it.


Post a comment





(Maximum characters: 1200). You have 1200 characters left.



Subscribe to our Newsletters

Sign up now and get the best business technology insights direct to your inbox.