The Case for Computer Science Accessibility – Harvard Political Review

Few educational topics have experienced a boom in popularity like computer science. Unlike math, english, or history, CS is relatively new, though that novelty hasn’t hindered its rapid growth. The rapid growth of CS is well demonstrated within the walls of Harvard College. Harvard’s introductory computer science course enrollment consistently surpasses all or most other courses offered by enrollment numbers. In 2019, CS50’s 735 enrollees beat out the numbers of other popular courses across long-standing subjects such as economics and statistics.
Now, with the expansion of computer accessibility and workforce applications, CS skills are desperately needed across a variety of fields. In response to this demand, many American high schools have adopted a newfound emphasis on CS education. During the three-year period leading up to 2021, the percentage of U.S. high schools offering a CS class surged to reach an all-time high of 51%. Accordingly, every U.S. state should follow suit and ensure that all public and private high schools offer at least one CS class.  
Why is it important that students have access to computer science education? Instituting CS education has the potential to address various geographic, economic, and racial disparities across the country. Largely rural, “flyover” states often struggle to fill technology positions compared to technology hubs such as California. In my home state of Nebraska, policymakers have devoted significant attention to reducing “brain drain,” or the loss of college-educated individuals from the region. 
As shortages of workers with technology-oriented training persist across the U.S., CS education serves as a valuable means for policymakers to attract and retain talent. Key disparities also exist in the accessibility of CS, which further highlight why all high schools should offer at least one CS course. Suburban school districts offer CS courses at higher rates than rural and urban ones, and Black/African American, Native American/Alaskan, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander high school students are all less likely to attend a school with a foundational CS course. The tech industry reflects this lack of diversity in workplaces. 
For these reasons and others, teaching CS should and does hold striking public support. Just over two-thirds of American parents feel that it is important for their child to learn CS, and a significant majority of teachers, principals, and superintendents working in public school districts believe that teaching CS is just as or more important than other academic areas. Clearly, then, a meaningful share of stakeholders in our educational system support the teaching of CS alongside other core academic subjects. 
I was pleasantly surprised by how my own introductory high school CS course shaped my future paths. The basic coding and computer knowledge that I developed from Swift Playground lessons laid the groundwork for my later web- and app-building projects. Quite importantly, the way of thinking taught by programming education also enhanced my understanding of other subjects.
My experience is not a unique one. High school CS classes have been shown in various studies to improve math skills, enhance creativity, and even increase college enrollment. Not only are there educational benefits of CS, but high-paying careers within and outside of the technology industry continually require an understanding of CS. Computer and programming knowledge is now fundamental whether producing a Broadway musical, practicing law, enhancing patient care, creating art, or running a company. 
The numerous economic and educational benefits of learning CS should incentivize elected officials to further promote this CS education within their respective states. One way in which elected officials could effectively address our increasingly technology-focused world is by supporting CS educational initiatives, and that starts with ensuring that all students who desire to learn CS are able to do so. 
One state that has experienced great success with promoting CS for high school graduates is Arkansas. Arkansas’s efforts to promote CS education include training CS educators, connecting CS to the academic standards of other subjects across all grade levels, and ensuring that all high school students are able to take a CS course. Arkansas’s expansion of CS education has attracted technology giants such as Facebook and Microsoft to assist in making CS educational opportunities for Arkansas students. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson views the state’s ambitious CS education as a success, saying, “Of all the big-ticket items we’ve dealt with since I’ve been governor, this relatively small-ticket item may have the greatest long-term impact.” 
As a result of these measures, Arkansas has achieved a nearly nine-fold increase in CS course enrollment and a nearly 13-fold increase in the number of women enrolled in a CS course. Due to the success of its CS-focused initiatives, the state recently mandated that all high school graduates take one CS course beginning in the 2022-2023 school year. 
Other states have enacted similar CS high school graduation requirements as Arkansas, including South Carolina, Nevada, and Nebraska. As of December 2021, 23 states had mandated that all high schools provide students with the opportunity to take a CS course. 
Although CS education certainly holds significant support, not all are on board. During recent debates, Nebraska senators including Sen. Steve Erdman, who represents a predominantly-rural district in the western part of the state, voiced concern before the passage of Nebraska’s Computer Science and Technology Education Act. Specifically, Senator Erdman cited teacher shortages as a potential barrier to the implementation of this act, which will require all graduating high schoolers to complete at least one five-credit course in CS and technology. The lack of CS-focused educational professionals poses a nationwide barrier to CS education at the high school level. 
Accordingly, to best implement CS education, states should take additional measures both before and after ensuring that CS is offered in all high schools. In order to prepare states for offering CS courses in all high schools, grade-level-wide curricula such as the K-12 Computer Science Framework could be implemented. A recent report also explains how states may boost their effectiveness in spreading CS knowledge by taking actions such as implementing statewide plans, allocating funding towards CS education, and developing CS instructional programs for educators.  
The abundance of free, high-quality instructional material additionally makes CS classes possible in any school district in which students may access computers. In large part due to pandemic-related virtual learning, the percentage of middle and high school districts in which each student has access to their own device has reached 90%, making CS education all the more accessible. No-cost websites and resources such as, Khan Academy, Scratch, Codecademy, MIT App Inventor, and Swift Playgrounds allow students of all ages and skill levels to learn common programming practices. 
The many existing coding resources make it more than possible for our educational system to empower America’s youth to learn computer science. When students don’t learn CS, barriers will be created: barriers to benefits in other academic subjects, careers, useful skill sets in an increasingly technology-oriented world, and new ways of thinking. States can now choose to leave these barriers standing, or to use the power of code to break them down.
Image by Ilya Pavlov is licensed under the Unsplash License.
© 2022 Harvard Political Review. All rights reserved.


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