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Here’s why American students don’t learn computer science

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America’s youth isn’t getting a decent education when it comes to the basics of technology, and now we’re seeing some data on why that’s the case.

A survey conducted by Google and Gallup shows that many Americans believe computer science should be taught between kindergarten and the 12th grade. Yet most schools don’t offer the courses due to budget constraints, a lack of teachers, and the need to focus more on subjects included in standardized tests.

The results are another mark against standardized tests, which have become a point of contention among parents, students, teachers, principals, and essentially anyone else who doesn’t profit off their continued existence. Yet these reviled constructs aren’t the only cause of computer science courses’ woes.

Another problem might be the lack of communication between administrators, parents, students, and teachers. The survey showed that 91 percent of parents want their children to learn computer science; less than 8 percent of principals thought demand for the courses was that high. That can’t be blamed on tests — it’s simply the byproduct of a good-ol’ fashioned breakdown in communication.

The rising number of low-income students also contributes to the problem. More students qualify for free or reduced-price meals at school (a sign of belonging to a low income family) than ever before. Yet the schools these children attend receive less than their fair share of state or federal funding, according to a 2011 report published by the US Department of Education.

That could help explain why many superintendents who responded to the survey said there isn’t enough money to train or hire a teacher (57 percent); nor a sufficient budget to purchase necessary equipment (31 percent) or software  (33 percent); nor enough equipment (20 percent) or software (27 percent) already in their schools for them to introduce computer science courses.

All those factors combine to create a system where computer science is limited to students privileged enough to belong to schools that value the subject, have the equipment necessary to teach it, and reliable Internet access they can use to complete any homework. The barriers to computer science being taught more widely don’t end with schools; they extend into student’s home lives, too.

None of these problems are unique to computer science. The influence of standardized tests, budget shortfalls, and a student’s lack of resources at home aren’t limited to this one aspect of education held near-and-dear by the tech industry’s top companies. They pervade every aspect of America’s education system — and that means introducing computer science courses shouldn’t necessarily be a goal unto itself, but should instead be another bullet point in any argument meant to overhaul much of this country’s education system.

29 Responses to “Here’s why American students don’t learn computer science”

  1. In schools where they teach computer science, they may well be teaching to the test also. Teaching a course in “how to pass the AP Computer Science Test” is unlikely to create a good computer scientist from someone who isn’t already.

  2. John Doe

    I quit reading after the first few words.

    “America’s youth isn’t” Wow, at least if you are going to slam the education system, learn to write first.

  3. Rolf H. Parta

    Yes, I see value in computer science. I even tried it in University decades ago — and after six classes with straight “A”s, decided I wasn’t much interested in the field as a career. That does not mean that I see it as something for every child, perhaps not even most children. Math, English, and Western Civilization are for every child — let’s get our act together and successfully teach those subjects first, not computer science.

  4. John Fox

    Perhaps there are so few students learning computer science because the job market for those skills in the USA is so poor. Corporate America needs to stop outsourcing those jobs and bring them back to the USA!

    • Can’t tell if this is a joke or not, but dude, the job market for CS graduates in the US is one of the best for any field in the entire world. CS grads here have an average starting salary of $60k+, and in some areas that average is more like $90k+

  5. I believe parents want their children to learn computer skills not necessarily computer science. Working on a computer doesn’t mean that they are learning computer science, just the computer program that another person created. There is a difference between the two.

  6. Teachers can be hired from other countries.
    Self study base system can be adopted for teachers who first learn themselves than their students.
    We can’t delay issues anymore rather than we should be focused entirely on solutions.

  7. factshonesty

    Don’t you just love all the time and money our schools spend on football while being unable to even fund a basic computer course let alone fund a computer lab!

    We’re #1 in football, bigotry, and wondering why the US is being left in the dust. We’re brain dead…..too many decision-makers apparently played football in high school and college and now they are making the decisions.

    If your school spends more time on the practice field than in the computer lab or the study hall – then you better start speaking up. If your schools spends more money on turf fields and athletic facilities than on its computer lab or language lab, then you better speak up. If you don’t know what they are spending money on, then you better start demanding an accounting – you will be shocked. Among other things, you will find that your high school AD is either the 2nd highest paid staff member or at least in the top 5 – what a waste!

    Obesity in our schools. They cut phys. ed. for all the kids but they fund sports teams for those who can play……most poor kids are left behind for a variety of reasons as well.

    Get sports pout of our schools….and the kids in the inner cities will get a far better education than today. They will also be more likely too finish college Vs dropping out if they get injured playing a sport.

  8. My experience in the ’90s was that computer programming jobs were being farmed out to folks in India (cheap labor) and American employees were being fired. This is why I left Computer Science long ago in favor of a more stable degree…

  9. “That could help explain why many superintendents who responded to the survey said there isn’t enough money…”

    Wonder how many of those superintendents polled are pulling in millions of dollars a year while their schools are laying off teachers and can’t afford to buy books for all of the students in the decaying classrooms?

  10. A.J. Minhas

    I’ve been in computer software development for 30 years. Interestingly enough, 20 years ago I noticed a real interest in learning computer science and technology. It seems like the 80s were full of promise for computer careers like mine. However, lately in the past 10 years or so I’ve seen a sharp decline in interest in the computer sciences area. I’m not sure what is going on, but I agree with Bill T. about the need for an aptitude for this sort of thing. Just last year, I was speaking to a friend and coworker who had a Master’s in Accounting and was contemplating switching to software development. I told her to take an aptitude test, because if she didn’t have the aptitude for it she would struggle and hate it. On the other hand, those of us who have an aptitude for it don’t look at it as work, but rather as an extension of our hobby. I get paid for my hobby. How great is that? I think school has a part to play, but so do parents and families. They need to observe their children and if they are curious, like to know how things work, take things apart and have an ear for music, then those are good clues that they could have a future in computers and technology. Peace,

    • I spent 3 year acquiring a technical diploma in VB.net, SQL & XML… I also acquired an accounting certificate.. I worked in Software marketing… I couldn’t find anyone that cared, or saw why one would do that. It ended attracting no direct prospects.
      I am open to comments on this

      • True_truth

        3 years, huh? Well I have spent 15 to this point and still don’t expect job offers to fall in my lap.

        VB.net I use daily, but to say that’s the pinnacle of your technical knowledge is a joke. XML is just a way to organize data. If you put that on a resume as some type of skill instead of as a method used to solve a problem, your resume goes in my trash. And I bet your SQL skills are basic CRUD.

        If you can pull data from 3 different database, aggregate, spit out to VB to do some more difficult number crunching, then feed to an API (likely using something like XML to format the data), then you have something to impress me. But a “technical diploma” in the highest level (that is not good, you want low level knowledge) of CS will not attract head hunters.

        Your best bet is to get ANY IT job and see if you can learn more and move into a better role.

  11. ManintheArmor

    Quantity or quality. Should we make everyone feel better and risk degradation, or let only a few succeed and risk leaving the burden of labor on the shoulders of a few? Perhaps there’s a way in which we can have both, in which everyone finds their niche and does well, unashamed of whatever flaws they possessed because they knew someone was covering their back.

  12. Bill Thibideaux

    Complete propaganda article for more spending of tax dollars. Why are they even posting statements like “many Americans believe computer science should be taught between kindergarten and the 12th grade” when most Americans have no clue as to what computer science really is? A big part of the problem when it comes understanding computer science program enrollment is that we have the clueless leading the clueless — and this author has no idea what he is talking about.
    The simple truth is that most people do not have the aptitude for computer science and lack the needed logical reasoning skills. People have the opportunity to take computer science in college and many do sign up for a introduction class on programming. However, most of them drop out when they totally get lost on concepts like looping conditions, Boolean expressions, recursive calls, pointers, etc.

  13. Simple explanation. No teachers. Teachers who are qualified are working in private sector for 5 and20 times what they can earn as teachers. Conservtives treat public school teachers like dirt.

  14. Why do students need to learn computer science? It requires an analytical mind to do well at computer programming. Not everybody thinks the way needed to be successful at computer science. And a lot of kids don’t have any real interest learning the subject once they find out what is involved. Teach kids how to use a computer, how to solve or correct problems that arise when the computer doesn’t do what one thinks it should. That ought to be enough.

  15. Well I guess the Mountain State (WV) is far ahead of much bigger, richer states. Most of the state’s schools have two or three computer labs. And most offer as many as four computer classes in technology, research and coding of several computer languages.

  16. Carling

    @ Richard Patel
    Quote :- We could educate kids like in other countries for much less money,
    Reply :- The American education system is a decade behind the rest of the world. Do you know that ever student in America Can/Could have a Free High School/ Collage/University education and not even leave their homes. The biggest problem for Americans is the word FREE is not in their vocabulary they have been brainwashed into thinking the word Free is EVIL. If you only knew where 70% 0f the education taxation goes you would throw a fit. every hour on the hour, The word Microsoft is your savior and God. Any word against Microsoft is blasphemous.. Like the preacher that told his congregation “God appeared. H told me I need a personal Jet: So the congregation bought him one. How stupid can people be.

    Your elected education committee members are getting rich on your education Taxation. Collage principle are getting rich on Students loans for Higher education nothing has changed, Teachers are still teaching the same old method that was being taught in the days of the American pioneers. Basic reading, writing and maths.

    For the American education system to catch up with the rest of the world They themselves need to learn the latest Free education methods, Like one School in Pennsylvania did Penn Manor High School save the tax payers $360,000 annually. watch this Youtube video on Enabling students in a digital age. it will open your eyes, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8Co37GO2Fc.

    If you want to know how much of your education tax dollars are going to Microsoft then ask your State/Local education department, They will state they can’t divulge that information, Why? because they have signed a none disclosure agreement behind closed doors with Microsoft

    In Estonia (Europe) it’s been compulsory for passed 2years, that all schools to teach first graders computer programming. They use a $35.00 Raspberry Pi computers. with Free open source software, developed by MIT university America. 7yr old Kids are programming robots they have built from Lego with their smart phone.Below are the websites you should visit if you want your kids to be well educated in the latest up to the minute technology

    Raspberry PI computer website,
    Scratch for kids website
    Scratch for kids parents website.
    Americans need to take control over their elected education committees if they want their kids to succeed in the digital age. Now you know the rest is up to YOU!….

  17. Clarence Dunmyre

    They can’t even manage to teach or learn basic mathematics. So what end is it you wish to achieve if the children can’t manage themselves to understand the language they want the machine to implement?

  18. philbundy812

    Bologna. The schools will not teach a course that all the students cannot do at least ok in.
    Computer science is one of them courses that only Asians, Indians and Caucasians, in that order, will do well in. They don’t want the other students to feel bad. It’s a twist on the class not progressing faster than the slowest kid.

    • Anthony

      You are the exact reason it needs to be taught, fool. All of the reasoning shown above for why US schools aren’t able to offer these courses is accurate. Districts find themselves with the same, or less, funding year to year with a constantly increasing number of students. When the choice comes down to paying your staff to teach what the useless standardized tests force you to teach or buying a decent number of computers and software and having no teachers to make use of them, what choice would you make?

      It’s not because schools don’t want to introduce useful subjects to their curriculum, or because they’re afraid of hurting their students feelings, it’s because there’s no damn money to do it.

  19. American

    Let’s take all the money for english as a second language classes and put it towards programming classes for the children of those of us who pay for the schools.

  20. If you’ve spent any time in online forums, you know the kids’ literacy level is not what it ought to be. If you’ve encountered these kids in everyday life, you know the vacuous+put-upon act is in now. Neither of these qualities lend themselves to learning much of anything.

  21. Richard Patel

    It is very much a lack of funding for the education that Americans demand.

    We could educate kids like in other countries for much less money, if American parents were willing to give up all or most of the choice they have in their child’s education. In most other countries, students take a test in 8th grade which places them into a particular school. That school specializes in some particular skill, and students receive rudimentary education in other subjects. Only the very brightest get to attend what we would call a comprehensive school. This allows nations to spend money more efficiently.

    Since Americans would never tolerate the government having that much control, we need to be less efficient, and spend more money. As it is, we are severely underfunded to deliver the kind of education that Americans expect.