Our K-12 Students Cannot Wait Any Longer For Computer Science Education

A veteran superintendent makes a plea to open up a vital future pathway. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Alberto Carvalho

I have over 30 years of experience teaching and supporting educators as a principal and superintendent. My takeaway, a lesson I learned early, is that a strong, high-performing education system is vital to a robust national infrastructure. In fact, our education system is the centerpiece of our democracy and our nation’s future. Our school districts have a moral obligation to prioritize the academic and social emotional development of our children, ensuring they thrive after graduating as global citizens. Our success looks like every student graduating ready for the world, ready to develop solutions as the next generation of innovators equipped to uncover the secrets of our universe and answer questions to our most pressing global issues.

Largest Driver of New Wages

My fellow superintendents and I often discuss our districts’ need for technology education, specifically for computer science courses. Computing jobs are the largest driver of new wages in the nation and projected to grow at twice the rate of jobs in other fields. That statistic is particularly noteworthy for underrepresented student constituency groups—young people who dream of tech jobs that propel them into the middle class but who lack the connections to secure employment.

Our children need instruction that opens doors to high-paying, high-demand jobs in emerging tech fields, and curricula that meet future workforce demands.

‘Our children need instruction that opens doors to high-paying, high-demand jobs in emerging tech fields, and curricula that meet future workforce demands.’

But today only 51% of U.S. public high schools offer computer science courses. We must increase access to computer science curricula for the stability of our economy and the security of our nation, and this will require strong leadership and engagement from elected officials, superintendents and educators at every leadership level.

A Coalition of 600 CEOs

That’s why last month a coalition of more than 600 CEOs and nonprofit leaders called on states to ensure that every K-12 student is provided the chance to learn computer science. Signees include tech companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google and Amazon; retailers and manufacturers like Nike, Starbucks and Walgreens; our nation’s teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association; and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

I signed the letter because the demand for students with computer science skills continues to outpace the supply, an issue particularly impactful for students in Los Angeles—a region hosting dozens of tech giants. According to Code.org, there were nearly 700,000 computing jobs open in the U.S. in 2021, but fewer than 80,000 computer science students graduated into the workforce. Moreover, Latino students—who make up nearly 74% of Los Angeles Unified’s demographic, are 1.4 times less likely than their white and Asian peers to take computer science—even if the course is offered. We must expand access to computer science courses for all students.

Partnering with Industry, Expanding Courses

At Los Angeles Unified School District, our team has spent the past eight years developing partnerships with leading industry organizations, which have laid the foundation for relevant and rigorous professional development for our employees. In turn, our instructional staff have been inspired to create new, innovative courses across all grade levels.

Additionally, our Board of Education recognized the importance of expanding computer science education courses in 2018 with unanimous approval of policies aiming to increase students’ exposure to the field. At the elementary level, students receive a minimum of 20 computer science instructional hours annually, while middle school students complete one computer science course prior to promotion. At the high school level, students must have access to a computer science pathway that equips graduates for a career in tech.

States, too, are taking steps to expand access. To date, nearly 45 governors have signed a compact to boost funding for computer science education, increase the number of schools offering these courses, raise participation by students from traditionally underserved populations and create postsecondary career pathways in computer science.

The Need to Do More, Faster

But we need to do more, faster. My fellow school superintendents don’t have to wait for their state to take further action. We can ensure we are offering computer science as a foundational course for all students—regardless of how technology fits into students’ future—so they succeed in an evolving workforce. We can select curricula that integrates computer science into other subjects of study. We can equip students, regardless of their background, with the connections important to breaking into the industry.

Computer science education must become a priority component in K-12 curricula, with standards similar to those established for reading, math or history. The future of our children, and our nation, depends on our ability to adapt a technologically advanced future.

Alberto Carvalho is superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District and the former superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools. He’s also a board member of Code.org.


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