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Communications of the ACM

Broadening participation

U.S. States Must Broaden Participation While Expanding Access to Computer Science Education

teacher in classroom

Credit: Neonbrand / Unsplash

Making sweeping changes to education in the U.S. is difficult because of its highly decentralized primary and secondary school system. Each of the U.S. states and territories makes its own decisions about how education is structured. Some of those states push the decision-making to districts and even individual schools. Reforms, such as providing high-quality computer science (CS) education to all students, require states to engage every school district, if not every school. In order to broaden participation in computing, rather than exacerbate existing inequities as we expand K–12 CS education to more U.S. schools, explicit attention needs to be placed on how equity is addressed and measured in policy, practice, and professional development.

Many states are making progress on CS education. As of October 2020, 18 states have started or completed statewide plans; 37 states have defined CS standards; 40 states plus the District of Columbia have teacher certification for CS.2 The Expanding Computing Education Pathways (ECEP) Alliancea is one of eight Broadening Participation in Computing Alliancesb funded by the National Science Foundation. Begun in 2012 (and described a previous Communications Education column, "Broadening Access to Computing Education State by State," in February 2016), ECEP focuses on state-level educational systems and now works with 22 states and the territory of Puerto Rico to ensure the goal of broadening participation in computing (BPC) is a priority.1 Supported by additional NSF funding in 2018, the ECEP 2.0 leadership team continues to build on the early work of ECEP while scaling the model of state-level BPC work beyond the ECEP states.


Joseph Bedard

Thank you for a very informative article. ECEP and BPC seem to be taking a good approach. I do hope that someday we can require CS for all high school students. I took an elective programming course by chance in high school in 1993, was fascinated by it, and eventually completed a Master's degree in CS. I've had a great career and can't imagine what my life would have been like without CS.

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