LAUSD plans to expand computer science to every grade by 2020
Mike Szymanski | November 4, 2015
At a time of high employment demand for computer experts, fewer than half of LA Unified’s 98 traditional high schools offer computer science classes.
“We could have students go through LAUSD without any access to computer science at all,” Suyen Moncada-Machado, a district instructional specialist told a district board committee yesterday as part of a discussion of the district’s computer science programs.
She is involved with Mobilize, a program created by LAUSD and UCLA that’s being replicated in other parts of the country as a math course that incorporates statistics, science and coding. Another course has students design and use computer programs to solve problems.
As the second largest school district in the country, LA Unified is planning to provide all students access to computer science from transitional kindergarten to 12th grade by 2020.
Meanwhile, the largest school district in the country, New York, just approved a plan to offer computer science in every school by 2025. Less than 10 percent of New York’s schools offer computer science classes.
LA Unified’s Director of Secondary Instruction, Derrick Chau, said, “It is critically important that students have computer science today.”
Chau pointed out that 9 of 10 parents want their children to learn computer science in school, but only 1 in 4 principals said their school offers the classes. He also said the district needs to expand racial and gender involvement. Of students taking Advanced Placement Computer Science, he said only 4 percent are black and 9 percent are Hispanic; and it is overwhelmingly more boys than girls.
Chau said he attended a Fresno magnet middle school where he learned computer programming and it helped him moving into his career. “If it was not in my educational exposure to have that, or if my only exposure was to keyboarding, Powerpoint and Word, that would be a huge disadvantage for me to go our in the real world,” he said.
With the large demand for computer science workers and entry-level jobs that pay double the national average, fewer than 5 percent of LA Unified students take computer science classes. The enrollment is the least in the Northwest, at 2.8 percent. The East district has the most high schools with computer science, 16, while the South has the fewest, 9.
Leslie Hicks, a computer science teacher at Daniel Pearl High School, told the committee that she was a former software engineer before teaching the class for the last 10 years. She said her students solve problems and think through algorithms and use computer games in math class.
“They investigate and analyze and draw conclusions from data, and this is what they do every day in my classroom,” she said.
She told stories about some students who have excelled in computers, particularly a few girls who said they never would have had the chance or confidence to try computer science if it hadn’t been offered.
LAUSD has a three-year partnership with Code.org, which is paying for teacher training. The teachers involved are volunteers.