STEM Beats - computer science

Quick take: New Jersey's Computer Science Challenge

March 23, 2017

The impending talent shortage in computer science has been in the news for some time now. New Jersey could face a particularly sharp challenge.

A Quick look at our Vital Signs for the state reveals some troubling trends. No other state has seen a steeper decline in the number of degrees and certificates awardedn in computer science and related fields:

Declining degrees in computer science

This trend is perplexing, because demand for computing talent in the state remains robust. According to Economic Modeling Specialiststs, International, the state boasts one of the highest concentrations of computing jobs in the nation [1], and prospects for future growth look robust:

New Jersey STEM job growth

These conflicting trends do not bode well for New Jersey. That said, there may be glimmers of hope. The state is among the growing number that allows high schoolers to count computer science credits towards graduation requirements, and charts like the ones we share here will surely push state advocates to go even farther. After all, grim realities can be very compelling.

To dig into more data on STEM education in New Jersey, check out our New Jersey PowerPoint presentation.

[1] EMSI ranks the state eighth on this measure.

Tags: computer science

New Data: New Science Standards Are Boosting Engineering in Schools

February 21, 2017

Let's usher in this year's National Engineers Week with some good news. We've crunched some numbers, and it looks like efforts to make engineering part of the K-12 curriculum are beginning to pay off. 

Why? Our guess is that the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are succeeding in their aim to integrate engineering and technology into science classrooms. These standards debuted in April 2013, and eight states adopted them by the end of that year: California, Delaware, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington State.

We had a look at data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) eighth-grade science test to see if schools in those eight states were teaching more engineering and technology. NAEP is a good tool for this exploration, because it surveys teachers and students about engineering and technology in the classroom, among other subjects.

What we found suggests that the Next Generation Science Standards are making a difference in schools. Between 2011 and 2015, teachers in the first states to adopt the standards increased the amount of class time they spent on engineering and technology:

NGSS is boosting class time

Sticklers might note that these gains could have occurred before April 2013, when the new standards burst upon the scene. Unfortunately, we can't settle that question definitively, because we lack data from that year. Still, the data we do have make a very strong case for NGSS. States that adopted the standards after 2013, or that never adopted them at all, saw smaller gains between 2011 and 2015.

One striking finding from our analysis is that the early adopter states started from behind. This pattern holds when we examine each of those states individually. In 2011, eighth-graders in our eight NGSS states were less likely than their peers in the nation as a whole to spend at least "some" time on engineering and technology. The picture looked dramatically different in 2015:

Individual states ramping up engineering & tech

What does it mean to spend "some" or "a lot" of time on engineering and technology? The results of another NAEP survey question offer at least some insight: "About how often do your science students discuss the kinds of problems that engineers can solve?" Here again, it appears that the NGSS states started well behind their peers but caught up:

NGSS boosting engineering in classrooms

These data reinforce our conclusion that teachers in NGSS states have grown more likely to focus on engineering. So far, so good. But are their students noticing the difference? The results of another NAEP survey item suggest that they are...but only up to a point.

NGSS students more likely to notice tech & engineering

Again, the NGSS states have made swifter progress than other states, but it seems a tad early to declare victory. Even though more than half (52 percent) of eighth-graders have science teachers who spend time on engineering and technology, far fewer (31 percent) seem to have noticed that fact.

Of course, students may still be learning about engineering and technology without realizing it, but their lack of awareness is troubling. After all, the Standards themselves specify that students should "understand the work of scientists and engineers" and "recognize" that what engineers do is "a creative endeavor." We know we haven't reached the goal line if so many students don't yet recognize engineering or technology when they see it.

On balance, though, we should be optimistic. We have strong evidence that standards can make a difference in the classroom, and in a relatively short time. In fact, engineering and technology are probably more pervasive now than our numbers suggest: almost two years have passed since the 2015 NAEP test, and more states have adopted the Standards.

The ultimate test of the Standards' success, of course, will be students' performance. That verdict will have to wait a bit longer. States are still developing tests that incorporate engineering--and they can use federal money to do it. And a representative sample of U.S. eighth-graders will take NAEP's next Technology and Engineering Literacy Assessment in 2018.

In the meantime, states and districts must continue the hard work of creating teaching materials, training teachers, and providing supplies to make engineering real in the classroom. If they succeed, future Engineers Weeks will bring even better news.

NOTE: We were not able to assess the impact of NGSS on another jurisdiction that adopted them before 2014: Washington, DC. Unfortunately, the 2015 science NAEP did not include state-level results for DC.

Tags: engineering, computer science, Next Generation Science Standards

Where are the Girls? STEM Career & Technical Education

January 12, 2017

Career and technical education is no longer the forgotten stepchild of education reform. The plight of jobless Americans took center stage in the turbulent Presidential election and raised the stakes for creating pathways to the middle class that don’t pass through the ivy-fringed gates of four-year colleges. In fact, jaded Congress watchers believe that CTE may be one of the few issues that will win bipartisan support in 2017.

That’s good news, but converts to the CTE cause will soon discover what CTE experts have known for a long time: namely, that the gender gaps in CTE’s STEM subjects are every bit as large as gender gaps in advanced math and science classes. In fact, those gaps are growing. To create broad opportunities for all their students, states must meet this problem head on.

To gauge the depth of the challenge, we reviewed federal data on high school students who concentrate in one of four critical STEM CTE fields: Health science, information technology, manufacturing, and science & technology.[1]

The lion’s share of female high schoolers concentrating in STEM CTE study health science, while male students are more evenly distributed:

Not surprisingly, high school girls dominate health science, but they are scarce in the other three career clusters.  The imbalance has gotten worse since 2007/08:

CTE Gender Imbalance is Growing

In science and engineering, girls held steady at a measly 25 percent. [1]

The news isn’t all bad for girls. They dominate in health sciences at a time when the healthcare sector is growing quickly and middle-skill jobs in health command a strong wage, at least for those who go on to earn a two-year technical degree.

Still, the gender imbalances should concern everyone. it’s more than a bit troubling that segregation by gender is getting worse. As fields like healthcare and computing continue to grow, we cannot draw most of our talent from only half of the population. In addition, a growing body of research tells us that organizations benefit from gender diversity in the workplace.

What’s to be done? As with most problems that really matter, the solutions are multifaceted, ranging from formally recruiting girls as early as middle schools to redesigning CTE curricula to avoid gender stereotypes and providing CTE teachers professional development on how to create a welcoming environment for all genders. 

(Check out this handy primer on professional development for a fuller list.)

Employers should continue making the case for gender balance while identifying employees who can serve as mentors: female employees in advanced manufacturing, for example, or male nurses. Governors can use their bully pulpit to advance campaigns that encourage gender diversity in middle-skill STEM jobs. Career and technical educators can work with their schools and districts to design targeted student recruitment strategies that break through the gender stereotypes.

Each state or community might find a different set of solutions, but none can afford to ignore the problem. State leaders must dedicate themselves to improving matters. The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006, which is likely to be reauthorized this year, requires states to report on their progress in improving gender equity in CTE. It is not yet clear, however, whether states will suffer any federal consequences if they fail to reach their targets. There is little appetite for federal sanctions these days.

The solution is up to all of us. After all, everyone has a major stake in fostering a creative and robust middle skills workforce. We won’t get there if we allow boys and girls to go their separate ways.


[1] Health Science, Information Technology, Manufacturing, and “STEM” are career clusters in the National Career Clusters Framework. For the purposes of this analysis, we have renamed the STEM career cluster as “Science & engineering” to avoid confusion with our own definition of STEM, which includes the other three career clusters. The Science & engineering cluster includes “planning, managing and providing scientific research and professional and technical services (e.g., physical science, social science, engineering) including laboratory and testing services, and research and development services.”

[2] Data reveal that male and female enrollments more than doubled—growing by roughly 120 percent each. That said, girls did not improve their relative position.

Tags: Career Technical Education, women & girls, computer science, engineering

New data: Computer science for fun and profit

December 8, 2016

As we observe Computer Science Education Week, it’s worth celebrating some of the important ways in which computer science can enrich people’s lives. At Change the Equation, we often point to high salaries and low unemployment. Important as those advantages are, we should not forget another: computer science work is fun and satisfying.

Most of the fortunate few youngsters who take computer science in high school like it a lot. Eagle-eyed researchers at code.org uncovered some striking data buried in a recent CTEq/Amgen Foundation study on student attitudes towards computer science in high school:

Computer science and engineering rank right up there with the arts. It’s a shame that half of the nation’s high schoolers attend schools that don’t even offer computer science classes.

Computer science can be as gratifying on the job as it is in the classroom. When we reviewed international workforce and skill data, we found a compelling pattern: 

Rewards of complex computer skills

Why do people who use complex computers on the job find their work more satisfying? The data don't answer that question, but the answer may lie in the high demand for computer science skills. In the lean years that followed the great recession, newspapers were full of stories about recent college graduates working as baristas. They were dreadfully under-employed. 

A closer look at economic data revealed that those with bachelor's degrees in computer science were less likely than most of their peers to do jobs that didn't require high skills:

Recent computing grade weathered the recession

If your job doesn't make use of your skills, you probably won't be very satisfied. Computer science skills are in high demand.

Of course, high salaries also contribute to satisfaction, so we'd be remiss if we didn't end with this reminder:

CS is a gateway to a prosperous future:

No one said earning money can't be fun.

Tags: computer science

New data: Are Women Making Gains in Computing and Engineering?

November 22, 2016

In the past three weeks, we have been examining recent data on computing and engineering degrees. We have already reported encouraging news about the overall growth in those degrees and mixed news about the extent to which African Americans and Latinos are sharing in that growth. Today's blog examines how women are faring in these critical fields. Our verdict: there is not much to celebrate yet, but there may be some glimmers of hope.

Computing:

Let’s start with the glass half empty. The following chart looks far too familiar, even though it contains some new data on the gender disparity in computing degrees:

 Women still lag far behind in computing degrees

While men have surged past their 2004 peak by a healthy 27 percent, women just barely cleared their 2003 peak last year.

And the above chart conveys the good news, relatively speaking: it represents trends in bachelor’s and higher degrees, where women fared the best. Women have lost far more ground in degrees and certificates below the bachelor’s level:

For women, computing credentials below the bachelor's level plummet

Women’s share of bachelor’s and higher degrees tumbled by more than six percentage points since 2001, but their share of sub-bachelor’s credentials plunged by more than 20 percentage points over the same period.

Why is this a concern? Economists expect computing jobs to surge in the coming decade, and computing jobs that require less than a bachelor's degree are no exception. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that, between 2014 and 2024, jobs for computer support specialists and web developers will grow by 11.6 and 26.6 percent, respectively. Over that decade, these two occupations will generate 265,000 job openings whose average pay well exceeds the $36,200 average salary for all occupations. The past decade and a half have seen women's prospects for such good jobs plummet.

And now for the glass half full: While some of these data seem discouraging on their face, the charts do suggest that we have finally stanched the bleeding. The decline in computing degrees and certificates going to women has leveled off.

There may be much better news to come. The last five years have seen an unprecedented national focus on girls in computer science. It will take a few years yet for that focus to affect college graduation data.

Engineering:

At first blush, there seems to be more to celebrate in engineering than in computer science. Women made small gains in engineering degrees at the bachelor’s level and above, even as they earned a declining share of credentials below the bachelor’s level:

Engineering: women gain in bachelor's and higher degrees, fall in subbacalaureate

The share of engineering degrees that went to women climbed 2.4 percentage points between 2009 and 2015. The decline in sub-bachelor's degrees is less concerning in engineering than in computing, because the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects little or no growth in engineering technology jobs, which generally require less than a bachelor's degree.

 Things are moving in the right direction for women in engineering, but too slowly. At this rate, women will have to wait roughly three quarters of a century to reach parity with men.

A closer look at the data reveals stronger trends in master’s and doctoral degrees since 2001:

Engineering: women make the largest gains in master;s and doctoral degrees

Women's share of master's degrees rose by almost four percentage points between 2001 and 2015, and their share of doctoral degrees advanced by more than six and a half percentage points. Women's percentage of bachelor's degrees experiences a slow and steady slump before 2009 but women have regained all of their lost ground since then. Initiatives to diversify graduate degrees may be bearing fruit. 

These data suggest that initiatives to diversify graduate degrees may be paying off, which in turn can promote more female role models among U.S. engineering professors[i] That said, we still have far to go before women receive a proportionate share of doctoral degrees.

It is simply too early to tell whether these charts carry the seeds of hope. They reflect what was going on in elementary and secondary schools as long as 20 years ago, and it will take at least as long to see the full impact of our current efforts to encourage girls to pursue STEM fields. If anything, they remind us that we cannot take our foot off the gas.


[i] Data are scarce on how many women serve on engineering faculty. Researchers should study whether women’s progress in doctoral degrees is affecting the gender balance of engineering departments.

Tags: women & girls, computer science, engineering

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