Sac County schools called out for lack of computer science options

Oakland STEM proponent says low-income, minority students suffer

Three Sacramento County school districts joined a list of the state's largest and most diverse to be criticized for not having adequate computer-science offerings.

Nearly 75 percent of California schools with the highest percentages of black, Latino and Native American students offer no computer-science courses, and only 4 percent of low-income schools offer an AP course. That's according to a report, released May 7 by Oakland-based Level Playing Field Institute, which aims to promote diversity in science, technology, engineering and math courses. Making the report's top 20 were the San Juan, Sacramento City and Elk Grove unified school districts.

But the findings could be misleading. Researchers included only true computer science or programming courses, leaving out “conflated” computer tech or website-design courses, according to lead researcher Alexis Martin. And the report doesn’t include Asian students, who make up half of all AP test-takers, in its calculations of underrepresented students of color.

Elk Grove Unified representative Xanthi Pinkerton said the report doesn't accurately represent what's occurring in her district, where the averaged-out findings gloss over campuses like Florin High School, which has an 89 percent free or reduced lunch rate and offers a computer programming course.

Meanwhile, she said, computer science is still such “a niche area” that there isn't enough interest to make AP classes feasible. Unlike foreign language, which is required for graduation and college admission, computer science is an elective.

Martin countered that accessibility remains an obstacle for underrepresented students. Scheduling conflicts, lack of encouragement from counselors, and the lack of diverse STEM role models dissuade black, Latino and Native American students from taking computer science courses that lead to fast-growing careers. “A lot of people know it's a problem,” she said.

A bill signed last year will allow California school districts to award math credits for computer-science classes, a key to increasing interest, Martin said.