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The state of computer science education in California’s high schools

What does a deep dive into the AP Computer Science data show us about the home of Silicon Valley?

The state of computer science education in California’s high schools

What does a deep dive into the AP Computer Science data show us about the home of Silicon Valley?


A couple weeks ago The College Board released data about the students who took the AP Computer Science test in 2013. As an entrepreneur and a School Board Trustee in San Jose, the self-proclaimed “Capital of Silicon Valley,” I wondered what a deep dive into the California data would show. Here’s what I found:

1. Not enough students have access to AP Computer Science

According to the California Department of Education, there were a total of 1,467,304 Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors enrolled in California high schools in the 2012-2013 school year (I left out Freshman since not many take AP classes).

In 2013, only 4,964 California students took the AP Computer Science test- .0034% of 10-12th grade students across the state.

Clearly this is a far cry from what you’d expect from the home of Silicon Valley.

A big reason that not many students take AP Computer Science is the fact that the class is simply not offered by a wide majority of high schools.

According to EdSource, there are 1,059 comprehensive high schools in California.

In 2013, only 211 schools offered AP Computer Science, or 19.9% of our high schools.

Yes, around 80% of our students across the state have no access to AP Computer Science at their high school.

Then again, even if 100% of our state’s high schools offered AP Computer Science, the numbers would still be far from ideal. We can extrapolate the current rates and say that only around 24,820 students would take the test per year — around 1.7% of grade 10-12 students. Still not amazing, but much better than where we’re at now.

2. California has troublesome equity issues in its AP Computer Science classrooms

Gender breakdown:

AP Computer Science continues to be a class dominated by boys.

Of the 4,964 students who took the test, 3890 were boys (78.4%) and 1074 were girls (21.6%).

The good news here: Once girls have the opportunity to take the test, they have around the same passage rate as boys (although it’s a tad bit lower):

We have a far way to go to achieving gender equity in AP Computer Science.

Lack of ethnic diversity:

Simply put: California’s ethnic diversity is not reflected in AP Computer Science classrooms.

Latino students and African American students make up make up 52.7% and 6.3% of California’s K-12 classrooms respectively.

This diversity does not transfer into AP Computer Science classes. The data shows that only 7.9% of California’s AP Computer Science test takers in 2013 were Latino and 1.5% were African American:

The news is worse when you look at the passage rates of the test. In 2013, 75.8% of AP Computer Science test-takers passed. Among the African America sub-set that number drops to 56.8%, and among Latino students it’s less than 50%.

Why should we care?:

Everyone from Bill Clinton to Zuck believes it’s crucial that all students have the opportunity to learn computer science, and with good reason. By 2020 it’s predicted that there will be 1 million more computing jobs than there are computer science students. The tech trends that dominate the news today — robotics, the internet of things, big data, wearable tech, self-driving cars, and so on — all paint a clear picture: workers of the future will increasingly need to be well versed in coding to succeed.

If we want our state to remain the innovation capital of the world, we need to make sure our high schools are equipping California’s youth with the skills they need to be successful in the 21st century. We can start by raising the number of schools that offer AP Computer Science, and also expand the available class sections at those who already do. Most importantly, we need to ensure that all students, regardless of their gender and ethnicity, have access these classes and have the necessary supports to succeed.

Kalen Gallagher is an entrepreneur and a School Board Trustee in San Jose, CA. You can follow him on Twitter at @kalengallagher or on his Facebook page.