Members of the California Select Committee on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education spoke out against barriers to computer science education in California’s schools at a meeting of the state Assembly on Thursday.
The Assembly convened to discuss current programs and future plans aimed at increasing the participation of women in the science, technology, engineering and math (S.T.E.M.) fields, as well as efforts to integrate computer science into general education.
Amy Hirotaka, the director of government affairs at Code.org, said the computer science, software and computing fields vastly underrepresented women, African-American and Hispanics.
“In high school, the Advanced Placement computer science exam has the worst gender diversity across all courses,” Hirotaka said. “This is 78 percent participation by men and 22 percent by women,” Hirotaka said.
Committee member Joey Freeman, the chief policy consultant for Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, said the gender gap was “striking.”
“California graduated just 3,500 computer science graduates in 2014. Only 15 percent of those students were female,” Freeman said.
Freeman said computer science courses should be emphasized in the University of California and California State University systems.
“Every student learns about photosynthesis and fractions even if they don’t grow up to become botanists or mathematicians,” Freeman said. “Today, California’s children also deserve the option to learn what an algorithm is and how the internet works.”
Newsom directed a letter to the UC Board of Admissions in December 2015 urging its members to adopt new standards that accommodate rigorous computer science courses. Newsom’s letter was supported by a large group of political, nonprofit and business leaders.
The chairman of the UC Boards Committee responded with a letter stating, “We continue to believe that the UC and CSUs recognition of computer science as a mathematics or science course remains an essential step.”
CSU’s Academic Senate also reacted by forming a task force examining what the prerequisite content for quantitative reasoning and mathematical competency should be, including answering whether or not computer science should count.
Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, highlighted the importance of diversity in S.T.E.M. education at the meeting.
“People from different backgrounds add to the richness and effectiveness and the creativity of our economy,” Torlakson said. “In California, diversity is strength. We need to do more, we need to do better — we must.”