State of Computer Science Education in North Carolina
North Carolina has prioritized computer science (CS) education through the passage of SL 2023-132: the computer science mandate. This law mandates that all North Carolina students must complete a high school level CS course to graduate, and all middle schools must offer an introductory CS course. The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation has been working closely with districts, schools and teachers to prepare them to adopt new CS courses. Over the past two years, we have trained over 200 teachers in Code.org’s middle school and high school curriculums. As our state prepares for this mandate, the Friday Institute, in collaboration with the Expanding Computing Education Pathways (ECEP) Alliance, is also preparing a landscape report to survey the status of CS education in our state. This landscape report is intended to look at six separate areas:
- Corporate Engagement
- Equity and Diversity in CS Education
- Highly Qualified Teachers
- Relevant & Accessible CS Curricula
- CS Policy & Leadership
- Community Engagement
Below is a preview of two sections from the report: Relevant & Accessible CS Curricula and CS Policy & Leadership.
Relevant & Accessible CS Curricula
CS courses and curricula have expanded greatly since the last landscape report published in 2017. Now, we have North Carolina Computer Science Standards for kindergarten through twelfth grade as well as broad spectrum courses that provide students with an introduction to many of the different aspects of CS. Courses such as Code.org’s Computer Science Discoveries offer students exposure not just to programming but the internet, data and artificial intelligence. Students can continue on to receive more advanced knowledge in high school courses such as Computer Science Principles and Computer Science I and II, which continue to explore the vast amount of disciplines in the CS field.
Unfortunately, North Carolina lacks policy that requires or encourages CS at the elementary level. Elementary CS curricula exist and are introduced, but North Carolina educators are burdened with the demands of end-of-grade testing and educational initiatives forced upon them by schools, districts and states. Educators find themselves with little time to teach CS or learn the skills necessary to provide students with an early exposure. This lack of elementary exposure has a lasting detrimental effect on students in North Carolina, especially those from underserved populations. A study by Girls Who Code shows that the number of female CS majors has dropped from 37% in 1984 to only 18% today. However, early exposure to CS can help break down many of the barriers and preconceived notions those students face. Girls Who Code’s research also shows that “69% of the growth in the computing pipeline would come from changing the path of the youngest girls.” (Fig.1)
If North Carolina is to remain competitive in our ever-changing technological economy, we must begin to make sure we can expose students to CS as early as possible. To aid teachers in this mission, our goal needs to be a comprehensive kindergarten through fifth grade curriculum that integrates CS into every core subject. Education can no longer be afforded the luxury of teaching CS as its own unique subject. It must instead be seen as a tool to enhance and innovate our core subjects across the board. This will enable the educators of our state to not only expose students to CS but to provide students with more comprehensive and engaging curriculums in every subject.
The integration of CS is not simply to force CS education on elementary students but can be a pathway to better and more comprehensive education for all. Studies show students who study CS perform better in subjects that require creative thinking, mathematical skills, metacognition, reasoning and spatial thinking. A CollegeBoard study shows that students who took AP Computer Science performed better on AP math courses than their peers. More research needs to be done with elementary age students, but one can infer the positive effect on students from these results. We have the opportunity to provide our students with a better education, and CS is the tool to do it.
Computer Science Policy & Leadership
North Carolina has made significant progress in the realm of CS education policy over the past six years. We have successfully implemented a multitude of policies aligned with the recommendations set forth by Code.org in their State of CS Report. To facilitate this progress, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has established a dedicated team of professionals responsible for shaping, reviewing and implementing CS curricula. They collaborate with various partners to extend CS education to students statewide and provide essential professional development opportunities for teachers in all districts.
In alignment with the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) framework, North Carolina has adopted comprehensive CS standards encompassing five key concepts: Computing Systems, Networks and the Internet, Data and Analysis, Algorithms and Programming, and Impacts of Computing. These standards ensure a holistic coverage of the expansive field of CS, offering flexibility for both dedicated CS courses and integration across other subjects, particularly at the elementary level.
A recent milestone was the passage of SL 2023-132 by the North Carolina Legislature. This law mandates that all North Carolina students must complete a CS course to graduate, and it requires middle schools to offer an introductory CS course. This proactive legislation propels North Carolina toward the goal of making CS accessible to 100% of students across the state.
Nevertheless, as we advance, new possibilities, objectives and challenges arise. One critical concern is that the CS mandate currently lacks funding to support its full implementation. This places undue financial strain on counties and schools, potentially diverting resources away from other essential subjects. Additionally, it forces teachers to adapt to a curriculum they may not have initially anticipated or been adequately prepared to teach.
The draft course list accompanying the mandate features a diverse array of courses, including comprehensive introductory courses exposing students to various aspects of CS, as well as specialized courses focusing on specific topics. While both types of courses are essential for offering exposure to CS and providing students with pathways to specialization, the wide range of options may inadvertently hinder students from gaining a well-rounded understanding of CS, leading to frustration if they are compelled to enroll in a class outside their interests. Coupled with the lack of funding, schools may face challenges in expanding course offerings to accommodate both introductory and advanced CS courses necessary to meet our students’ diverse needs.
It is crucial to emphasize that the lack of adequate funding poses significant challenges to the success of our CS education initiatives. Beyond the essential issue of funding for curriculum development and implementation, schools also grapple with the considerable cost of providing necessary resources, such as computers and software, to effectively teach CS. Moreover, a potential shortage of highly qualified CS teachers remains a pressing concern, particularly in rural and low-income schools.
Without sufficient financial incentives to attract and retain qualified CS educators, these schools may struggle to provide students with the caliber of instruction needed to navigate the ever-evolving digital landscape. The ability to hire and train teachers with the expertise and enthusiasm to prepare students for the future is inextricably tied to adequate funding. CS education is not merely an option but a pathway to empowering our students for the opportunities and challenges they will encounter, and securing the necessary resources is essential to that endeavor.
In summary, North Carolina has made remarkable strides in CS education policy, building a strong foundation with the establishment of a dedicated team, the adoption of comprehensive standards and the passage of significant legislation. However, the challenges of inadequate funding and course diversity require attention and solutions. To fulfill the promise of preparing our students for the opportunities and challenges of the future, it is essential to secure the financial resources and standardize the curricular approach necessary for a well-rounded and equitable CS education for all.