A slim majority of U.S. high schools – 51 percent – now offer foundational computer science, a significant jump from just 35 percent in 2018, according to a new report from Code.org.

In its 2021 State of Computer Science Education: Accelerating Action Through Advocacy report, Code.org argues that much more work needs to be done to improve access and participation with computer science courses.

“It’s time for policymakers, industry leaders, and stakeholders to advocate for policies that make computer science a fundamental part of the education system,” said Dr. Katie Hendrickson, Code.org advocacy coalition president. “By following the data, trends, and recommendations in the 2021 State of Computer Science Education report, we can work toward eliminating access and participation gaps and look forward to a world where every child everywhere has access to computer science.”

The report’s authors argue that the latest data “reveals that disparities exist for who has access to and who participates in computer science education.” Namely, the report found that students who attend rural schools, urban schools, or schools with higher percentages of economically disadvantaged students are less likely to have access to computer science.

According to this year’s data, 78 percent of U.S. high school students attend a school that offers computer science. However, Black/African American students, Hispanic/Latino/Latina/Latinx students, and Native American/Alaskan students are less likely to attend a school that offers it.

Additionally, Hispanic/Latino/Latina students are 1.4 times less likely than their white and Asian peers to enroll in foundational computer science. In promising news, on average, Black/African American, Native American/Alaskan, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students are represented in computer science courses at similar rates as their overall population.

For the first time in the report’s history, Code.org was able to provide data on the representation of English language learners, students with disabilities, and economically disadvantaged students in computer science. Data showed that each group is underrepresented relative to their state populations, but there is an increasing focus on these student groups, and Code.org anticipates that these gaps will narrow.

Likely due to students having less of a choice in which classes they take, the report found that fewer disparities exist in computer science participation for students in K–8 than in high school. Data showed that female students make up 49 percent of elementary students enrolled in computer science, 44 percent of middle school students, and only 31 percent of high school students.

Across 37 states, only 4.7 percent of high school students are enrolled in foundational computer science, compared to 7.3 percent of elementary school students across eight states.

The report also calls on state leaders to speed up the adoption and expansion of computer science courses by:

  • “Developing policies and concrete plans focused on expanding CS to every school.
  • Working to ensure that CS reaches students from the populations that are currently underrepresented.
  • Examining the data for their state in this report to identify disparities and areas of need for both access and participation.”
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