STEM Beats - computer science

Is CS for All Really a Sinister Plot Against Tech Workers?

September 26, 2017

If we are to believe Ben Tarnoff of The Guardian, he has uncovered a nefarious plot. The broad national effort to bring computer science classes to every American high school is, per Tarnoff, a cynical ploy to depress wages in the tech sector. Can Tarnoff be right? Can equity really be so unjust?

Let’s consider the alternative. If we keep rationing skills and opportunity by sticking with the status quo, the benefits of our innovation economy will continue to bypass millions of Americans. That would be sinister, indeed.

Tarnoff’s case rests on the faulty conviction that coding jobs are scarce. “Teaching millions of kids to code won’t make them all middle-class,” he claims. “Rather, it will proletarianize the profession by flooding the market and forcing wages down – and that’s precisely the point.”

To support his argument, Tarnoff turns to a four-year-old study claiming that the United States produces too many computer scientists as it is. That study was roundly discredited soon after it was released, and computing jobs have only gained steam since then.

Tech wages are rising, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that jobs in computing will grow by 12.5 percent between 2014 and 2024 (almost twice as fast as all jobs), and unemployment in computer occupations stands at a vanishingly small 2.4 percent

If anything, these figures probably minimize the demand for computer science skills. Our research has found that the BLS typically counts only half of the Americans who use complex computing skills in their work. Why? Traditional job titles have not kept up with the tech revolution.

Some 3.8 million Americans in careers we don’t normally associate with technology write computer code, develop software, or maintain computer networks on the job. For example, many ad agency jobs now require computer science degrees.

Computing across the economy

These jobs are out of reach for millions of poor and minority youth whose schools do not even offer computer science courses. Computer Science for All aims to upend that status quo. 

To Tarnoff’s credit, he implicitly backs away from his own argument near the end of his article. After impugning initiatives like code.org for their base motives, he writes:

Everyone should have the opportunity to learn how to code. Coding can be a rewarding, even pleasurable, experience, and it’s useful for performing all sorts of tasks. More broadly, an understanding of how code works is critical for basic digital literacy – something that is swiftly becoming a requirement for informed citizenship in an increasingly technologized world.

Amen! So why, then, should we deplore the effort to bring computer science into all high schools?

It’s preposterous to think that educators, tech companies, state leaders, President Obama, and now the Trump Administration have all signed on to a conspiracy to cheat America’s tech workforce. But let’s pretend for a moment that they have.

If so, Jorge Luis Borges’s famous dictum on art should give us comfort: “Nothing is more secondary than the author’s intentions.” If the road to a better future is paved with bad intentions, then so be it.

Tags: computer science, jobs & workforce

K-12 Engineering and Technology Classes Have Hit the Big Time

August 29, 2017

K-12 engineering and technology have gone mainstream. A new poll from Phi Delta Kappa shows that "technology and engineering classes" top the list of Americans' priorities for school school quality.

Results: aspects of school quality

This is a startling finding. Not long ago, teaching engineering or technology classes in grade school or high school was an exotic idea. Neither subject fit easily into most school curricula, and few states' academic standards acknowledged either. Engineering was the stuff of college, and computer science seemed to atrophy within high schools as rapidly as it overtook the world beyond them.

The polling results crown years of effort. Pioneering initiatives such as Engineering is Elementary and Project Lead the Way have exposed millions of K-12 students to engineering. Computer science has seen a more recent resurgence, fueled by efforts of organizations such as Microsoft, Oracle, and Code.org. The Next Generation Science Standards, which most states have either adopted or adapted, have enshrined engineering and technology in states' formal expectations for what their students should know and be able to do. We at CTEq joined with these and other advocates to make the case for careers in engineering and computing.

And now the obligatory disclaimer: We still have far to go to deliver on Americans' new vision of school quality. Computer science classes remain scarce, and most students still go through school without learning much about engineering. Even so, the nation has made big gains in a relatively short time.

And now public opinion is on our side.

Tags: engineering, technology, computer science

Eye-Popping Gains in Computer Science!

August 2, 2017

All too often, stories about education reform start with herculean efforts and end with anemic results. Fortunately, the story of at least one large national reform movement is poised to have a happier ending. The push to expand computer science in K-12 is already yielding impressive results.

According to early data from The College Board via Code.org, the numbers of high schoolers taking any Computer Science AP more than doubled between 2016 and 2017. The numbers for girls and students of color grew even faster--135 percent and 170 percent, respectively. The College Board's new test--AP Computer Science Principles--contributed most of those gains. 

AP CS Exams chart
Source: Code.org

Girls rose from roughly 18 percent to 27 percent of all test takers from 2013 to 2017, and students of color advanced from 12 to 20 percent over the same period. If we keep to this pace, we can close the gaps in gender and race/ethnicity in just over a decade. For ed reform veterans who are used to the snail's pace of change in education, those numbers are eye-popping.

Technology companies, visionary state leaders, and organizations like The College Board and Code.org have fueled this growth through their full-throated advocacy and support. Employers raised a hue and a cry about computer science in schools and joined other advocates in urging states to guarantee computer science classes every high school. The College Board created Computer Science Principles to introduce students to "the underlying principles of computation," and organizations like Code.org have helped prepare students for the test through new courses and teacher training.

CTEq just included two such courses in STEMworks, our honor roll of programs that stand up to rigorous review. Code.org's AP Computer Science Principles course "introduces students to the foundational concepts of computer science and challenges them to explore how computing and technology can impact the world." 

Computer Science Discoveries, also from Code.org, targets seventh- to ninth-graders, empowering them "to develop digital and physical projects using creativity and problem solving in a fun, collaborative environment." Both courses are filling a vacuum in our nation's middle and high schools, where computer science courses have been as rare as hen's teeth, even as the tech revolution has raged just beyond their walls.

Indeed, last year, CTEq released grim data on access to computer science classes by race and ethnicity::

Race determines access to computer science classes

Given the new data on AP participation, we have high hopes that these numbers will change for the better:

Of course, that won't be the whole story. CS advocates have a monumental task ahead of them, even as they expand access: They must train thousands more teachers to teach the new courses, and those teachers need to lift their students over the AP tests' high bar.

No easy task, but we're off to a good start.

Tags: computer science, women & girls, minorities

The High Stakes of Diversity for Washington State

May 18, 2017

Washington State may have a bright future if it maintains its dominance in the tech sector, but that could be a tall order. Lack of diversity in the STEM workforce could be the state’s Achilles heel, and that challenge has its roots in K-12.

It should surprise no one that STEM jobs pay in a state with companies like Microsoft and Boeing call home. STEM jobs in Washington State may well grow 15 percent in the coming decade, and the state’s STEM wage premium is enormous:

Washington State STEM Earnings

Unfortunately, people of color are least likely to reap these rewards. Notice for example, who earns degrees and certificates in computing or engineering:

WAshington State diversity of computing credentials

WAshington state diversity of engineering credentials

The green line in each chart represents minorities as a percentage of the college-aged population. The blue line represents the percentage of degrees and certificates that went to minorities. The wider the space between the two lines, the less well represented minorities are.

If you squint, you might seem some improvement in the last half-decade or so, but the gaps remain enormous. Black, Latino, and American Indian Washingtonians at state colleges and universities are still much less likely than their white or Asian peers to receive credentials in STEM.

The problem starts early, and it might get worse. For example, science scores for white eighth-graders in the state have climbed steadily since 2009, while those of black and Latino students have languished:

WAshington State science scores

Math scores follow similar trends, and black students fare the worst.

One possible reason: Underrepresented students of color seem to have less access to STEM learning opportunities. Teachers of African American students are less likely to say they have the resources they need to teach science:

Washington State resources to teach science

Access to lab equipment and supplies is also very uneven, and again students of color get the short end of the stick:

Washington State lab supplies

Even those students of color who have the potential to succeed on Advanced Placement tests in STEM often don’t take them:

Washington State Students who could thrive in AP don't take tests

Many may attend schools that don’t offer AP classes or their equivalents.

These disadvantages can add up over time and exacerbate the gaps. In Washington State, Blacks and Hispanics hold only seven percent of computing jobs and five percent of engineering jobs, even though they make up 15 percent of the state’s working-age population. For a state that will need all the STEM talent it can get, such inequities can be devastating.

Fortunately, STEM advocates in organizations like WashingtonSTEM have worked with state leaders to put STEM education at the forefront. The state has embraced robust new science standards. It aims to increase students’ access to computer science education. It is bringing STEM into early childhood education. It will take time for policies like these to affect the workforce, but they are a vital down-payment on the state’s prosperitys.  

To learn more about STEM in Washington State, check out our STEM Vital Signs page, or download our data presentation on the state.

Tags: computer science, engineering, diversity, jobs & workforce

Quick take: New Jersey's Computer Science Challenge

March 23, 2017

The impending talent shortage in computer science has been in the news for some time now. New Jersey could face a particularly sharp challenge.

A Quick look at our Vital Signs for the state reveals some troubling trends. No other state has seen a steeper decline in the number of degrees and certificates awardedn in computer science and related fields:

Declining degrees in computer science

This trend is perplexing, because demand for computing talent in the state remains robust. According to Economic Modeling Specialiststs, International, the state boasts one of the highest concentrations of computing jobs in the nation [1], and prospects for future growth look robust:

New Jersey STEM job growth

These conflicting trends do not bode well for New Jersey. That said, there may be glimmers of hope. The state is among the growing number that allows high schoolers to count computer science credits towards graduation requirements, and charts like the ones we share here will surely push state advocates to go even farther. After all, grim realities can be very compelling.

To dig into more data on STEM education in New Jersey, check out our New Jersey PowerPoint presentation.

[1] EMSI ranks the state eighth on this measure.

Tags: computer science

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