Advanced Computer Science for K-12

Dana Thompson Dorsey

In my reading,  I have learned that many women do not take more advanced computer science classes in high school because they are not counted academically when competing for college admissions slots.  Typically computer science courses, such as programming, are labeled as elective or technical art courses, which have no or very little competitive value in the college admissions process.  Given this reality, it is not surprising that most women enter college without considering computer science as a course of study or a career, even if they have an interest in computing. 

Additionally, young women and men who chose to take computer science courses in high school often are discouraged from majoring in computing in college because they may not be as prepared for the rigorous study of computer science as they thought.  This may be because the instructors who teach the courses in high school do not have a computer science background, or because there's a lack of vertical articulation between computer science courses in high school and those in institutions of higher education. 

What can be done to increase the number of young women taking advanced computer science courses in high school?  How can we ensure that the courses offer a competitive edge for college admissions, and are properly aligned with the introductory computing courses in college?

What I have learned from my work as a member of the national evaluation team for NSF's Math and Science Partnership (MSP) Program is that most K-12 school districts across the country will be requiring all students to take a fourth year of math and science starting in the fall of 2008 or 2009.  NSF's MSP Program is a partnership between universities and K-12 school districts to increase students' achievement levels in math and science, and better prepare students for the math and science curricula in colleges and universities.  Computer science courses are challenging and require a high level of thinking as well as mathematical and scientific skills; therefore, computer science classes should be academically competitive for college admissions purposes. 

I think it makes sense to have an advanced computer science course as an option for students to fulfill their required fourth year of math or science.  Perhaps NCWIT can work with some K-12 school districts to have advanced computer science courses count as the fourth year of math and science, or convince university administrators to recognize advanced computer science courses in the college admissions process.  We also could also work with universities and K-12 institutions to prepare a computer science curriculum that connects high school computer science courses to introductory computer science courses in college. 

If just a few K-12 institutions and universities agree to this proposal, it could make a huge difference in creating an academic trend, particularly if NCWIT makes this into a research project that yields favorable data.  These are my thoughts.  What do you think?

Dana Thompson Dorsey is Director of Research and Consulting for NCWIT Extension Services.