Arizona’s state of computer science

Almost every single job in the United States requires employees to have some basic knowledge of computers.

58 percent of all new jobs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) are in computing and 10 percent of STEM graduates are in computer science, according to nonprofit 

However, only 45 percent of high schools in the United States teach computer programming. 

“So many of the jobs that are currently open and unfilled all over this country require some basic understanding of technology… and unfortunately, too many of those jobs are going unfilled,” Alexis Harrigan, director of state government affairs at, said. “They’re high wage, high demand jobs and the roles that are being filled are not reflecting the population of students that are graduating from high schools and colleges.” recently worked with the Computer Science Teachers Association and the Expanding Computing Education Pathways Alliance to release the 2019 State of Computer Science Education report that shows how state policymakers are working to expand access to computer science programs, especially to female and minority students. 

“What we think is important is making sure that we’re reporting year-over-year the progress being made nationally and then celebrating the wins in a state and looking for opportunities for what could still be done,” Harrigan said. “It’s a great way to share awareness for policymakers, parents, teachers, to let them know your state is doing really well in this area and you could also consider these options as areas to improve.”

The policies 

Through these reports and working with leaders at the state level to pass policies, has outlined nine policies that could benefit computer science education in states.

The policies are: 

  • Creating a state plan for K-12 computer science;
  • Defining computer science and establishing rigorous K-12 computer science standards;
  • Allocating funding for rigorous computer science teacher professional learning and course support;
  • Implementing clear certification pathways for computer science teachers;
  • Creating programs at institutions of higher education to offer computer science to preservice teachers;
  • Establishing dedicated computer science positions in State and Local Education Agencies;
  • Requiring that all secondary schools offer computer science with appropriate implementation timelines;
  • Allowing computer science to satisfy a core graduation requirement; and
  • Allowing computer science to satisfy an admission requirement at institutions of higher education.

“We think that these are the nine policies that will increase equitable access to computer science for students who don’t traditionally have access to these types of programming,” Harrington said.

Arizona’s overall progress reports that In Arizona, there are currently 8,785 open computing jobs, but there were only 814 bachelor degrees earned in 2017, 16 percent were female. 

According to David Herring, a computer science teacher at University High School in Tucson Unified School District, Arizona has made good progress in increasing access to computer science programs in K-12 education.

“Arizona has actually done quite a bit in the past few years,” Herring said. “In the past six months or so Arizona had passed state computer science K-12 state standards. Along with that, recommendations for how teachers can be certified… We’re moving in the right direction.”

In Oct. 2018, Arizona adopted a K-12 computer science standard.

In the 2019 legislative session, Arizona passed House Bill 2303 which amended the computer science professional development program to prioritize rural schools and schools with at least 60 percent of students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches; and strongly encouraged the State Board of Education, Arizona Board of Regents and universities to develop guidelines on computer science courses to meet high school graduation and university admission requirements.

“Arizona has such strong potential. There are people who have been supporting computer science policy and legislation for many years in the state,” Harrigan said. “I still believe there’s a lot of room for Arizona to become a leader in this space.”

Female and minority student progress in Arizona 

Twenty-four percent of the students who took Advanced Placement (AP) computer science exams in 2018 were female, 26 percent were underrepresented minority students, according to

According to Harrigan, having a more diverse workforce is important because it brings a larger perspective to solving problems. 

“Arizona has several openings and those opening are often not being filled by women or people of color,” she said. “What makes our workforce so great is the diversity of it. We really want to diversify the workforce. And what I’m talking about is not just tech companies, but so many jobs that are not with the big tech companies still require an understanding of computer science.”

Herring believes to increase the number of female and minority students; schools need to combat stereotypes about what computer science is and who is good at it because once they are in the class, they will stay. 

“If I can get them in the class then it’s no problem, so the challenge is really getting them to see themselves as being…successful in my class or that the class is for them,” he said. “I think there’s lots of misconceptions about maybe what computer science is. One of those is that it only appeals to a certain type of person who’s really math orientated…but we all use computers everywhere now… So, having a knowledge of how computers work and how programming works is really valuable.”

Herring said that University High School’s computer science program is a near-perfect reflection of the school’s racial demographics, but only 30 percent of his students are female.

University High School has also created clubs like Girls Who Code, which gives young girls the opportunity to learn computer science in a more supportive environment. The school also had students apply for and receive recognition from the National Center for Women and Information Technology. 

All the problems that face us, for better or worse, are probably going to be solved both using technology and using computers to do that. So we want to make sure that we’re getting the best people to solve those problems, which means exposing everybody to computer science so that we’re not missing anybody,” he added.

Where Arizona needs to go

Only 65 schools in Arizona offered an AP computer science course in the 2017-2018 school year, which is fewer than AP exams taken in any other STEM subject area.

Arizona only has three of the nine state policies that has outlined— defining computer science and establishing rigorous K-12 computer science standards; allocating funding for rigorous computer science teacher professional learning and course support, and implementing clear certification pathways for computer science teachers.

The ability to offer computer science as a core graduation credit for high school students is a district decision. 

According to Harrington, Arizona has a lot of room to become a leader in K-12 computer science implementation.

“Arizona does not have a publicly available state plan for computer science and I think having a publicly available state plan could really help broaden the interest of folks from all over the state who may not know much about computer science education but could understand the importance of it,” she said. 

To view the 2019 State of Computer Science report, click here. To view Arizona’s progress, click here.

Emily Richardson

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