Computer science education is getting plenty of attention in the California Legislature, with four out of eight bills passing both the Assembly and Senate. And the state's efforts are part of a national push to bring more computer science into schools.

With the national Hour of Code campaign last year and recent legislation in many states, lawmakers and educators on both sides of the aisle are making computer science education a priority. In 23 states, computer science now counts toward high school graduation requirements for math or science, according to Code.org, the nonprofit that drove the Hour of Code campaign.

California computer science legislation is enjoying nearly unanimous support when it comes to vote counts.

"These bills are flying through, and this is really true also at the national level," said Dan Garcia, senior lecturer SOE (with Security of Employment -- lecturer tenure) in computer science at UC Berkeley.

Three bills are on their way to Gov. Jerry Brown as the 2014 legislative session wraps up over the next week, including AB 1764, SB 1200 and AB 1539. During this session, Assembly Concurrent Resolution 108 also passed, which established the week of Dec. 8, 2014 as Computer Science Education Week.

Computer Science on the Rise

Coding is cool again, said Dan Garcia, senior lecturer SOE (lecturer tenure) in computer science at UC Berkeley. About 10 years ago, everyone advised high school graduates not to go into computer science because people decreed that computer science jobs would all be outsourced to third world countries, leaving United States workers without jobs. At the time, companies like Intel were struggling and couldn't hire new workers.

But since the dot-com bubble burst, app development has driven major growth in computer science, and Garcia suggests that this wave is much hotter than the dot-com bubble powered by the Internet. College graduates can earn a six-figure salary as a developer straight out of school.

"The same brilliant kids who could get into any college and succeed at any major are now choosing computer science, whereas years ago, they were choosing med school, law school or Wall Street," Garcia said.

With the rise in popularity, a new Advanced Placement course, called Computer Science Principles, is being tested nationally and expected to launch in fall 2016. UC Berkeley is one of the pilot groups that's testing the class, and Garcia said it's the first class designed for all students. He is already seeing the pilot class draw equal numbers of males and females, and it's broadening participation in computer science.

Introduced by Assembly members Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, and Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, AB 1764 would help educators overcome a major obstacle to advancing computer science in schools, Garcia said. Students' schedules are so packed with classes to meet college entrance requirements that they don't have room for extra classes such as computer science, said Garcia.

California's higher education system sets "a-g" subject requirements, which spell out how many years of each subject they need and what approved high school courses satisfy those requirements. Computer science is considered a "g" elective, and because students only need to take one year of electives, they're more likely to take an advanced math class or tackle requirements in other subjects.

But if Gov. Jerry Brown signs this legislation, it will open up a door for more students to take computer science without adding courses to their full schedules. In school districts where students have to take more than two math classes, they could offer students the option of taking a computer science class to satisfy one credit of the math requirements.

The other two bills headed Brown's way work together with AB 1764 to pave the way for computer science from kindergarten through college admissions. Introduced by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, SB 1200 requires the California State University system and asks the University of California system to develop admissions standards for high school computer science classes that would satisfy the "c" math requirement.

AB 1539 from Assembly member Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills, asks the Instructional Quality Commission to consider developing and recommending computer science content standards for kindergarten through 12th grade by July 31, 2019. The committee would look at existing standards, including the national computer science standards from the Computer Science Teachers Association.

Once California has computer science standards, the state can move forward to create courses that align with the standards. That's where SB 1200 and 1764 come into play.

"What those two things do is basically help make computer science count in California," said Julie Flapan, executive director of the Alliance for California Computing Education for Students and Schools at University of California, Irvine. "By making it count, it's another way of incentivizing students to pursue a pathway toward advanced computer science."

The creativity and problem-solving skills that students learn in computer science are essential for colleges and careers, whether they end up in the field of computer science or not, Flapan said. And the legislation on the table in California will provide a systematic approach to building up these skills in students from all different backgrounds.

Legislation Sponsors What it Does Status
AB 1764 Assembly members Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, and Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo School districts that require students to take more than two math classes can allow students to earn one advanced math credit from an approved computer science course. Enrolled (Aug. 22)
Assembly Concurrent Resolution 108  Assembly member Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills Establishes the week of Dec. 8, 2014 as Computer Science Education Week. Chaptered (Filed with secretary of state and assigned a chapter number) May 30
SB 1200 Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima The California State University system would be required, and the University of California system would be requested, to develop admission standards for high school computer science courses that meet advanced math requirements. Enrolled and presented to the governor (Aug. 25)
AB 1539 Assembly member Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills Asks the Instructional Quality Commission to consider developing and recommending computer science content standards for grades K-12 with input from computer science experts by July 31, 2019. Engrossing and enrolling (Aug. 22)
AB 1530 Assembly member Ed Chau, D-Monterey Park Suggests that superintendents identify and recommend the creation of new or revised model computer science curriculum for K-6 students to the state board of education for adoption. It leaves the possibility open of Legislature funding for this effort. Held under submission (author and committee members want to work on the bill further and don't move it out of committee) Aug. 14
AB 2110 Assembly member Phil Ting, D-San Francisco Requires the Instructional Quality Commission to consider integrating computer science curriculum content into existing math, science, history and English language arts curriculum frameworks when they're revised the next time. Held under submission (Aug. 14)
AB 1540 Assembly member Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills School districts can allow unlimited numbers of students to take computer science classes at community colleges and enter into partnerships with community colleges so students can receive credit for these classes in high school. Held under submission (May 23)
AB 1940 Assembly member Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills Defines STEM curriculum as courses in biology, calculus, chemistry, computer science, environmental science, physics and statistics. Establishes a state grant program for high schools to establish or expand Advanced Placement courses with STEM curriculum Held under submission (May 23)

This story was originally published by the Center for Digital Education.

Tanya Roscorla  |  Managing Editor, CDE

Tanya Roscorla covers education technology in the classroom, behind the scenes and on the legislative agenda. Likes: Experimenting in the kitchen, cooking up cool crafts, reading good books.