Members of the faculty committee that sets course requirements for admission to the University of California are resisting pressure to give computer science a place in the range of classes that count. They say it should not be allowed to displace any math or science course, which are the basics for succeeding at UC.
Let's think more broadly about the challenge here.
We have a societal and economic problem. Fewer and fewer students, especially girls, are choosing tech careers, and the percentage of black and Latino students remains minuscule. Yet these constitute many of the good jobs available today and for the foreseeable future.
Furthermore, if we don't interest kids in preparing for those jobs, the tech industry will have to continue importing workers or, worse for our communities, expanding operations overseas where qualified workers are available.
Given what's at stake, UC should find a way to encourage quality K-12 computer education and see if that results in more kids successfully aiming for tech careers, especially more girls and minorities. If it doesn't, the faculty can reverse course after a few years and go back to basics.
A coalition of high school teachers, tech industry leaders and some elected state officials want to make computer science or coding classes count toward requirements for UC. They cite large numbers of students who express interest but, in the competitive environment that is UC admissions, can't afford to divert time from others that really count.
At a forum convened by the Silicon Valley Education Foundation last year, Code.Org co-founder Hadi Partovi said, "By the year 2020 there will be 1 million unfilled programming jobs because there will be only 400,000 computer science graduates by that year. The number of computer science majors is shrinking, and a shrinking percentage of those are women.
"The number of girls, Hispanics or African-Americans taking AP Computer Science is a tiny fraction of the small number of students taking the course overall."
Partovi added that the number of courses called "computer" is inflated because some are just courses in how to use applications. It's a fair point. UC should set standards for acceptable courses.
Kids today grow up with computers and learn to operate them as naturally as they learn to walk. But there's a difference between being able to use a machine and understanding the science that makes it work, let alone being capable of programming it. That can be an aha moment that changes a life.
Basic math and science education are essential to success in life. So are languages and art. Including rigorous computer studies as an option to satisfy UC entrance requirements doesn't have to undermine a well-rounded education. Find a way to do it.