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Silicon Valley Urges Cal, CSU to Give Computer Science Full Credit in Admissions (Updated)

Twenty-seven states count computer science classes toward high school graduation. California doesn't.

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To the University of California admissions board, computer science is no different from chorus or wood shop.

California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and a who’s who of Silicon Valley technology leaders and educators called on the University of California and the California State University to count computer science toward satisfying the core math requirement for admission.

The technology industry has been pressing for expanded computer-science curriculum in the classrooms, noting the dearth of qualified college graduates to fill available computing jobs. Changing the state university admission standards, to treat rigorous computer science classes as equivalent to algebra, geometry or calculus, would prompt more high schools to offer computer science classes — and boost student enrollment, Newsom argued.

“For a growing number of academic and professional pursuits, computer science provides just as relevant a foundation as algebra,” Newsom wrote Tuesday in a letter to the committee that sets admissions policy for the state universities. “Today, California’s children also deserve the option to learn what an algorithm is and how the Internet works. A basic understanding of computing and computer science is fundamental to many fields and will prepare students both for college and for the careers of tomorrow.”

In San Francisco, home to Twitter, Uber and Dropbox, enrollment in computer science classes is shockingly low — fewer than 5 percent of high school students last year took the class.

More than 20 Silicon Valley technology leaders appeared as signatories to Newsom’s letter, including Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, LinkedIn Chairman Reid Hoffman, Sequoia Capital Chairman Michael Moritz, Zynga CEO Mark Pincus and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. School superintendents from San Francisco, Long Beach and Oakland also supported Newsom’s efforts.

Many of these same people wrote a letter to California Governor Jerry Brown more than a year ago, asking to talk about the state of computer science education. The nonprofit group Code.org enlisted the support of a who’s who in Silicon Valley as part of its efforts to expand access to computer science in the classroom and to increase the enrollment of women and underrepresented minorities.

Code.org co-founder Ali Partovi said some 20 states have changed their education policies in recent years to count computer science courses toward high school graduation, bringing the total to 27.

“California is now in the minority as one of the states that does not allow computer science to count toward graduation,” said Partovi. “The fact that this state doesn’t lead the nation in computer science would be a surprise to people.”

Brown and the state legislature have been working to provide a path for computer science courses to count toward graduation and university admission. A Change.org petition supporting this has attracted more than 10,000 signatures.

Here’s an updated copy of Newsom’s letter:

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.

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