South Carolina Expands Access to Computer Science Education

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This guest post comes from Molly Spearman, South Carolina State Superintendent of Education and Sean Roberts, vice president of government affairs at Code.org. Views expressed in guest posts are those of the authors.

Computer science is required for many of the fastest-growing, highest-paying jobs in our country. However, according to the latest State of Computer Science report, only 53% of high schools across the U.S. offer one or more courses in this crucial field, and disparities remain in who has access to computer science.

Of all the students enrolled in computer science courses, 32% are young women. Computer science supports learning in other core subject areas like English and math, and according to a recent survey, students find these courses engaging. How then, can state leaders ensure broad access to computer science for students in their state?

Computer Science as a Graduation Requirement

South Carolina made a commitment in 2018 that all students would take computer science as a statewide graduation requirement by the end of the 2020-21 school year. What did the state learn in that time?

First, participation in computer science by young women has exploded. Out of the 35 states that have participation data, girls in South Carolina made up a larger percentage of enrolled students in computer science than any other state. More girls took a computer science course last year than any other state, save for Texas.

Adding the new computer science graduation requirement hasn’t negatively impacted the state’s overall graduation success, either. In fact, during the years the requirement was implemented, graduation rates increased for all students, including across all groups when disaggregated by gender, race and ethnicity.

Other states have recognized computer science’s foundational role in academics as well. Arkansas, Nebraska and Tennessee have all passed legislation requiring computer science for graduation in the past year, joining South Carolina and Nevada. The only other two states with above 40% female participation in computer science — Maryland and Mississippi — offer the subject as the main way to fulfill existing graduation requirements.

Best Practices for Implementation

 Computer science can prepare students for the highest-paying jobs, support learning in other subjects and, importantly, is often well-liked by students. Given this, states may want to carefully consider how computer science fits into their existing curricula and graduation requirements. Some best practices have emerged from experience leading states in this transformational initiative that may be helpful for state policymakers:

  • Consider the implementation timeline for such a requirement to ensure schools, teachers, students and families have adequate time to prepare for graduation. In South Carolina, waivers for the requirement were included for the first three years as it was phased in over time. Other states have included timelines of five to six years to prepare students before they enter high school.
  • Consider how the requirement may be met with flexible options such as a middle school course. In Nevada, as well as other states, the high school course may also be taken in middle school grades. The course appears on the student’s high school transcript to ensure the requirement is met for graduation.
  • Align resources and policies to meet the needs of schools, teachers and students as the state prepares to enact its graduation requirement. Training teachers, ensuring pre-service programs address computer science, and implementing a state plan and coordination at the department of education are three of the nine policies to consider in making computer science foundational.

Education leaders are responsible for ensuring students have the foundational tools for success. Computer science is one of those foundational subjects and has broad support as a core subject area among schools, teachers, students and families.

Adding computer science as a graduation requirement in South Carolina has drastically increased participation and the state’s readiness to be globally competitive. States that want to lead in the future workforce and economy may consider how to broaden access to computer science courses for all students.

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