Americans Agree Computer Science Is Important—But Only One-Quarter of US Schools Teach it

Students at Pacific Middle School in Des Moines, Wash., take part in the international Hour of Code project, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014.

Students at Pacific Middle School in Des Moines, Wash., take part in the international Hour of Code project, Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014. Ted S. Warren/AP

This study provides us with yet another painful reminder of how our education system is out of touch with and slow to respond to opportunities for our kids’ futures.

Gallup and Google just teamed up to conduct one of the most comprehensive studies of computer science education in schools. Interviewing nearly 16,000 7th- to 12th-grade students, parents, teachers, principals and superintendents, this study provides us with yet another painful reminder of how our education system is out of touch with and slow to respond to opportunities for our kids’ futures. Despite massive and growing demand to fill high-paying computer science jobs in all kinds of organizations and industries all over the world, a mere one in four principals in the US report offering computer programming or coding in their school. And as we argue about what should and shouldn’t be taught in US schools, it turns out we agree on at least one thing very clearly: Computer science should be taught. A surprising 85% of parents, 75% of teachers and 68% of principals say that computer science education is “just as important” or “more important” than teaching required courses like math, science, history and English.

Let’s rewind that finding and state it again for emphasis: The vast majority of parents, teachers and principals say computer science is just as important or more important than the core subjects taught in school now. Yet, only a quarter of schools nationwide offer it. Before we blame schools for not connecting the dots between the massive demand for computer science education and the lack thereof, it’s clear this is a talent development ecosystem issue—one that is the collective fault of employers, politicians, parents and more. Thankfully, we now have a study that illuminates the voices of parents, teachers and school leaders on this subject. Americans see a bright future for our kids through computer science education, and now we need to put some honest effort into bringing that bright future into reality. Computer science education can help all students think logically, critically and creatively—regardless of whether they choose it as a career path. And, as career paths go, it’s one of the most productive for high-growth, high-paying jobs. Unfortunately, though, women and minorities are greatly underrepresented in computer science; previous studies provide evidence that changing this trajectory starts with getting female, black and Hispanic students interested in computer science at a young age.

The reason this is not just an issue for school—but rather an issue that involves our entire talent development ecosystem in the US—is that rapid responses to high-demand opportunities require educational institutions, industry, the nonprofit sector, as well as local, state and federal governments to communicate, collaborate and take action. As part of all this, we need to listen much more carefully to the precious constituent base of students, parents and teachers and ensure they are active partners in the process. When Gallup and Google asked principals what they saw as the biggest barriers to offering computer science education in schools, their #1 and #2 responses were that they have to “devote most of their time to other courses that are related to testing requirements,” and that “there is not enough money to train/no teachers available with the necessary skills to teach computer science.” This is a matter of priorities and human capital.

We can make big strides in addressing these issues if: a) Industry, the nonprofit sector and governments at all levels help provide resources for training teachers and/or offering direct training to students, and b) We all exercise our opinions more often on what we do want to be taught or offered in school and then ensure that our testing and accountability standards aren’t a barrier to those objectives. It’s clear that we have a huge disconnect right now between what we see as a priority for our kids’ future and what is currently being taught. It’s time to crack the code on coding in schools.

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