The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Increasing Access to High School Level Computer Science

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Board of Higher Education
Jeff Wulfson, Acting Commissioner, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
Carlos E. Santiago, Ph.D., Commissioner, Department of Higher Education
January 12, 2018


Over the last decade, technology has dramatically and rapidly shifted the way people across the globe communicate, solve problems, and create products. In this context, it is the responsibility of the Commonwealth to ensure that all of today's students are not only passive information consumers but that they also understand and are proficient in the skills and manner of thinking that are the foundation of our technological world. The ability to effectively use and create technology to solve complex problems is a new and essential literacy skill. Recognizing the importance of these competencies, Massachusetts was among the first states in the country to have adopted Digital Literacy and Computer Science (DLCS) standards in June 2016. However, only a small percentage of our students are able to access coursework in computer science and computational thinking. Massachusetts is a leader in education, and it is imperative that all students across the Commonwealth have equitable access to computer science courses that prepare them for navigating and engaging in this digital world, as well as expose them to career opportunities they might not otherwise consider.

Demand in the Massachusetts Job Marketplace

Massachusetts has an increasingly high demand for more graduates to fill jobs in computing and technology. The 2014 Degrees of Urgency report from the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education (DHE) reported that Massachusetts has 6.2 jobs waiting for each person who earns an associate's degree and Certificate in computer science and information technology, and 17.4 jobs for each person who earns a bachelor's degree in computer science and information technology. Adding urgency to this issue, the 2017 Technology Jobs in Massachusetts report by Burning Glass Technologies and Achieve stated that compared to the national market, a higher percentage of jobs in Massachusetts require computing skills and a bachelor's degree; and information technology adjacent jobs requiring computer science skills are growing 5 percent faster in Massachusetts than the overall national growth. However, to be clear, access to computer science courses in high school is not just about creating more computer scientists; all students will need to be literate in this area for most jobs in the Commonwealth, the same way reading, writing, and mathematics skills are essential.

Developing the K-12 Pipeline

In addressing the high demand in computer science and information technology fields, the Degrees of Urgency report emphasized, "We know that it is imperative to expose young people in elementary and secondary grades to technology in a way that inspires them to pursue computing and IT fields at a post-secondary level." In a recent national Google Gallup poll on Trends in the State of Computer Science, 93 percent of parents stated that they want part of their school budget to go towards teaching programming, but only 40 percent of school principals reported that their school taught this subject. Additionally, the recent State of the States Landscape Report sponsored by BNY Mellon shows that four states require high schools to offer computer science and 23 states and the District of Columbia allow computer science to satisfy a core high school graduation requirement to help build capacity for this growing career field.

Parents want these skills taught in schools. Students are interested in learning these skills. Our economy needs people with these skills. Having adopted the ground-breaking Massachusetts Digital Literacy Computer Science (DLCS) standards, we should now take the next step and advance opportunities for all students to become literate in computer science skills, and to promote participation in courses that teach these skills. Helping students become literate in computer science skills is more critical than ever before.

Further, student data at the post-secondary level indicate the need to expand access to computer science opportunities for all students during their K-12 schooling. The Department of Higher Education's 2014 Technology Talent Initiative Workforce Plan, and the more recent data reported in The Degree Gap, by the Department of Higher Education, released in 2016, show that African-American, Latino/a students, and women continue to be underrepresented in Computer Science and Information Technology majors. According to the earlier report,"[t]hese statistics indicate both a social justice mandate and an economic development mandate."1 If students are not exposed to computer science during their K-12 education, how can they be expected to consider it as an option in college and career decisions? In order to increase the diversity of CS/IT fields, all students must be exposed to computer science, encouraged, and nurtured early on.

Levers for Change and Proposed Next Steps

MassCore, the Commonwealth's recommended high school course of study, and the State University and UMass admissions standards, currently do little to encourage the completion of rigorous computer science coursework. Neither of these current major "course drivers" address computer science in much beyond a complementary or elective course. Four-year admissions standards for public higher education can be a significant draw for high school level curricular changes.

At our joint meeting on January 23, 2018, we will provide a brief presentation followed by an opportunity for the boards to discuss and each vote on a joint resolution to move this initiative forward in Massachusetts. The proposed joint resolution is attached. A specific proposal relating to computer science will be brought back to both boards for approval by June 30, 2018.



Download Word Document
Proposed Joint Resolution