2021 State of CS report shows half of U.S. high schools offer CS, but disparities still exist

Finally, a slim majority of high schools offer computer science… but why aren’t there more? Data on this, plus continuing diversity gaps and more, are in our latest report.

The good news: A slim majority — 51% — of all U.S. high schools now offer foundational computer science, up from 35% in 2018. However, more work needs to be done to improve access and participation. These are some of the key findings in our 2021 State of Computer Science Education: Accelerating Action Through Advocacy report. This year’s edition provides updated data on the percentage of schools offering computer science nationwide, and for the first time ever, extensive data on high school computer science enrollment.

The latest data reveals that disparities exist for who has access to and who participates in computer science education. Students who attend rural schools, urban schools, or schools with higher percentages of economically disadvantaged students are less likely to have access to computer science. Plus, Hispanic/Latino/Latina students continue to be underrepresented in computer science classes: They are 1.4 times less likely than their white and Asian peers to enroll in foundational computer science.

The rapid growth in computer science course offerings in the last few years is encouraging and in large part due to the commitment and efforts from teachers, school leaders, policymakers, and other advocates. But, despite the growth, roughly half of all high schools still lack even a single course. Given the significance of computing in today’s society, the work of the computer science education movement must continue in earnest.

Over the past year, U.S. students, teachers, and families faced unprecedented challenges. With the world’s population in isolation, technology enabled businesses to operate, students to learn, and people to connect. Yet, the digital divide became more pronounced, making it more important than ever that computer science becomes a sustained part of the education system. Computer science supports the development of problem solving, creativity, metacognition, spatial skills, reasoning skills, and improvements in reading, writing, mathematics, and science test scores.

Increasingly, CS is recognized as a core literacy for students. Fortunately, support for computer science is growing and states are working to broaden access and participation with policies to make computer science a fundamental part of the K–12 education system.

You can read the full report here, in addition to downloading the full data set, state-specific handouts, and slides. The book version is available on Amazon.

Participation in foundational CS courses

For the first time ever, our State of Computer Science Education report includes state-by-state and nationwide data on participation in high school computer science courses.

Using course code data from state education agencies, we now know that computer science participation is more representative of the student population demographics than previously thought.

On average, Black/African American, Native American/Alaskan, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students are represented in computer science courses at similar rates as their overall population. Although this is encouraging, disparities differ by state. As stated above, Hispanic/Latino/Latina students continue to be underrepresented in computer science classes: They are 1.4 times less likely than their white and Asian peers to enroll in foundational computer science.

Also for the first time, we have data on the representation of English language learners, students with disabilities, and economically disadvantaged students in computer science. Each group is underrepresented relative to their state populations, but there is an increasing focus on these student groups, and we anticipate these gaps will narrow.

Fewer disparities exist in computer science participation for students in K–8 than in high school: Female students make up 49% of elementary students enrolled in computer science, 44% of middle school students, and only 31% of high school students.

Across 37 states, only 4.7% of high school students are enrolled in foundational computer science, compared to 7.3% of elementary school students across eight states.

Access to foundational CS

This year, we’re unveiling our school-by-school data for users to see where computer science is offered by state, legislative district, school district, and more. This interactive data visualization allows you to see disparities in access for whichever region or group of schools you choose.

Nationally, rural schools, urban schools, and schools with high percentages of economically disadvantaged students continue to be less likely to offer computer science. And although 78% of US high school students attend a school that offers computer science, Black/African American students, Hispanic/Latino/Latina/Latinx students, and Native American/Alaskan students are less likely to attend a school that offers it.

The role of state and federal policy

What can be done to address the gaps we see nationwide and in states? In order to impact access at scale, states must enact policies that support making computer science fundamental. The Code.org Advocacy Coalition has a set of nine policies that help build and sustain a comprehensive policy framework that broadens the teaching and learning of computer science:

The data this year supports the trend we’ve seen over the past few years: Policy adoption relates to more opportunity! States that adopt more of the policies promoted by the Code.org Advocacy Coalition have higher rates of teaching computer science, reinforcing that policy adoption should remain a priority for state leaders.

There’s much more work to ensure that every student has an opportunity to learn computer science, but states with these policies are seeing amazing results.

Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Maryland, and Nevada have adopted all nine policies recommended by the Code.org Advocacy Coalition. Two of these states — Arkansas and South Carolina — had the highest percentages of high schools offering CS at 92% each, with Maryland at 90%.

Three states (Arkansas, Nevada, South Carolina) now require all students to take computer science before graduation. In South Carolina, the state with this requirement in place the longest, 21% of high school students were enrolled in foundational computer science last year. Further, computer science enrollment by gender is close to parity (46% of the students enrolled are female), and there are no participation disparities for students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. These results are encouraging, indicating that when a state has robust policy support (such as funding and support for teachers), a graduation requirement in CS can eliminate participation gaps in high-quality, foundational CS courses.

Other states continue to make progress. In addition to South Carolina, Mississippi and Maryland also see promising gender representation in their high school computer sciences, with 47% and 41% female students, respectively. And like South Carolina, students of all racial and ethnic groups in Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, and Utah are likely to attend a school that offers computer science, and no participation disparities exist for students from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.

Over the past year, 31 states have adopted or updated 50 computer science education policies, including 21 states that continued funding computer science education. More than $65 million was allocated by states for computer science education for 2022, more than any previous year. Three additional states (Illinois, Mississippi, and Oklahoma) now require all high schools to offer computer science, bringing the total number of states with this policy to 23. And all 50 states and DC now allow computer science to count towards a graduation requirement!

Let’s accelerate progress

We call on state leaders to speed up progress in computer science opportunity and access by:

  1. Developing policies and concrete plans focused on expanding CS to every school.
  2. Working to ensure that CS reaches students from the populations that are currently underrepresented.
  3. Examining the data for their state in this report to identify disparities and areas of need for both access and participation.

It’s time for policymakers, industry leaders, and stakeholders to advocate for policies that make computer science a fundamental part of the education system. By following the data, trends, and recommendations in the 2021 State of Computer Science Education, we can work toward eliminating access and participation gaps and look forward to a world where every child everywhere has access to computer science. Read the full report today.

— Dr. Katie Hendrickson, Code.org Advocacy Coalition President

About the report

Co-authored by the Code.org Advocacy Coalition, the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), and the Expanding Computing Education Pathways (ECEP) Alliance, this is the most comprehensive report of progress in K–12 computer science education across the U.S. It combines state-level policy with course access and participation data in a unique way to assess the progress of the computer science community through a lens of equity and diversity.

The progress we’ve made only comes with deep partnerships. We want to give special thanks to Microsoft, ExcelinEd, Amazon, Google, College Board, and the many other organizations in the Code.org Advocacy Coalition, as well as teacher advocates for CS education and the entire computer science community. Microsoft helped us launch this policy effort years ago and they have stood by us ever since.

Code.org® is dedicated to expanding access to computer science increasing participation by young women and students from other underrepresented groups.