I keep hearing that more students take Advanced Placement Latin than take Advanced Placement Computer Science (most recently in Mark Guzdial's blog) so I decided to check it out. The College Board recently published their Report to the Nation so that is where I went looking. Well long story short is that it doesn't seem to be true.
According to the report some 19,601 students took the AP CS exams in 2006 while only 8,177 students took the AP Latin exam. That's really not so scary. As many people have pointed out there is a perceived value in Latin that goes beyond just knowing Latin. There is the perception that learning Latin will help improve vocabulary and so performance on the SAT and other standardized tests. I'm not so sure that is the case but at least it makes a good story.
But what about Environmental Science? How does that help on standardized tests? The number of students taking the AP Environmental Science exam (44,698) is more than double the number of students who take AP CS. Now I don't mean to put down Environmental Science. It is important and valuable. More valuable for high school students than computer science? I don't think so.
AP Psychology has over 101,000 students taking the exam. AP Statistics has over 88,000 students - more than 4 times the number of AP CS students. Again these are valuable courses but 4-5 times more valuable than Computer Science? Can't these courses wait until college?
Ah, I hear you say, Environmental Science is a "science" course. Psychology is a "science" course. Statistics is a "math" course.
Computer Science isn't science? It isn't math? Now there is a discussion and one we've had before. Computer Science is the poor neglected step child of math and science.
Mark Guzdial (rapidly becoming one of my favorite edu blogs) talked about his recent experiences trying to get a college (run and taught) computer science course into Georgia high schools recently. Math and science courses are "core" courses so state money is available to pay for them. Computer science and engineering are not coincided "core courses" though.
I think every student should take a computer science course. David Warlick said the same thing in his blog recently so I'm not alone. In the minority perhaps but at least not alone. One thing I have observed is that we need our students to be better and more creative problems solvers. We need them to think (computationally, clearly, methodically, creatively, carefully) more about more things and in more ways. Computer science, properly taught, teaches those things as well or better than any other subject.
We're just not getting the respect we deserve and that is a shame.