Skip to main content
Top Issues

How to Make Computer Science Accessible to All Students

Just one in four schools nationwide offer computer science classes. Here's how Teach For America's new initiative, CS@TFA, is expanding access to CS education for all students.

By The TFA Editorial Team

December 11, 2015

Teacher

My former student, Jada, emailed me the other day to share that she’s found her passion: She’s going to major in computer science.

Looking back, I realized her story could be very different. Her school district had an amazing vision for a high school program that would offer students opportunities in computer science, but they couldn’t find a computer science teacher.

Unfortunately, too many students—especially those from low-income areas—don’t have access to computer science courses in their schools. That’s a problem—not just for them, but for their communities and our nation. Currently, just one in four schools nationwide offer computer science classes. With 98 percent of all undergraduate computer science majors reporting exposure to the field prior to college, this disparity of early computer science experiences cuts promising students off from the many benefits the field has to offer.

Instead, Jada’s school gave me—a social studies teacher with a passion for tech—the opportunity to learn computer science concepts and earn certification. As a result of this support, I had the privilege of introducing students like Jada to the world of computer science.

More kids need this experience. Computer science and its associated fields hold tremendous opportunity for those who are able to access them. Five of the fastest growing occupations are in computing, and computing-related jobs are among the highest entry-level salaries of any bachelor’s degree. In our increasingly technological and interconnected world, we need to expand access to computer science education for a diverse set of students.

Though the number of schools offering computer science courses is increasing and more students are taking advanced computer science exams, this rise in popularity hasn’t resulted in increased access for low-income students, students of color, and female students. In 2015, African American, Hispanic, and American Indian students are projected to account for 42 percent of public school enrollment, but only accounted for approximately 13 percent of AP Computer Science exam takers.

Amazing efforts to address the opportunity gap are underway. Courses and curricula such as Exploring Computer Science and AP Computer Science Principles have been designed to appeal to a more diverse student population. In addition, the number of out-of-school opportunities for students is continuing to rise, thanks to groups like Black Girls Code and Girls Who Code.

And more than anything, computer science teachers—especially in schools that predominantly serve underrepresented populations—can have a great impact. Unfortunately, as stated earlier, there aren’t enough of them. A recent Google-Gallup study revealed that school administrators view a lack of trained computer science teachers as a top barrier to offering computer science courses. Moreover, few pathways currently exist to prepare and certify computer science teachers. Almost no institutions of higher education offer CS teacher preparation programs, and only a few school districts and states have clear or effective CS certification routes.

At Teach For America, we are committed to expanding access to computer science education at the PreK-12 level through our new initiative, CS@TFA. With the support of AT&T and the National Science Foundation, we recently launched this initiative to recruit a diverse set of computer science teachers, develop computer science education advocates, and help mobilize the broader computer science education community in the areas that we serve.

Beyond preparing and supporting more than 80 new computer science teachers to teach the Exploring Computer Science curriculum in low-income schools, we are collaborating with other PreK-12 CS community members in education, industry, and government to ensure that computer science education is a priority.

This week, as we celebrate Computer Science Education Week in the U.S., you can help make a difference. Educators, you can help organize an Hour of Code event at your school or participate in professional development through Code.org or TeachCS.org and bring CS to your school. And if you’re not a teacher, you can help teachers and students in your community engage in computer science activities, or you can consider a career in teaching—especially if you are passionate about technology or have a tech background.

Regardless of how we choose to help, one thing is certain. Together, we can ensure that all students—like Jada—have an opportunity to find their passion in this field.