High school students equipped with advanced math skills for STEM and data science careers

California, among many other states and countries, has witnessed a significant surge in student interest in data and computer science professions. The broader tech industry and these sectors have seen tremendous growth in recent times, with the trend expected to continue due to the expanding presence of artificial intelligence (AI) and computing platforms in various societal domains.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a 36% increase in employment for data scientists by 2031. California accommodates many of these lucrative careers across various industries, as indicated by the notable presence highlighted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It falls upon the educational systems in our state to groom the next generation of data-savvy leaders across a spectrum of fields such as technology, finance, biomedicine, social welfare, and more, including novel approaches to arts and humanities.

A recent report released by a work group for the University of California’s Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS) highlighted the inadequacy of the three most popular high school data science courses in California, suggesting they do not meet the required standards to be considered “more advanced” courses or proper 4th-year mathematics courses.

We commend the faculty and staff throughout the UC system for their role in crafting this report and its recommendations. The swift response from the UC Office of the President, disseminating the message outlining the report’s summary and additional steps for implementing the BOARS recommendations for the 2025-26 academic year, is also encouraging.

Alternate Viewpoints on this Matter
  • Data science education should be universal
  • Avoid presenting a false dichotomy between algebra and data science

This discourse should not imply a lack of support for data science; on the contrary, we recognize its significance in shaping future careers and community contributions. Data literacy remains a crucial aspect that equips students to discern between authentic information and misinformation and enables them to pursue data-driven approaches in their chosen fields.

At UC Berkeley’s College for Computing, Data Science, and Society, our data science program stands as the preeminent program for undergraduate students nationwide. We actively share curriculum resources with institutions globally, emphasizing our commitment to advancing data science education outside of Berkeley.

Through years of observation and experience, we understand the cumulative nature of learning mathematics. High school students in California must receive comprehensive math education, including advanced math courses, to effectively pursue science and technology majors in college, particularly data and computer science. While data science and statistics courses are valuable additions, they should complement, not replace, the foundational content provided by Algebra II. Innovative approaches that teach Algebra II through the lens of data science can also be beneficial.

We appreciate the acknowledgment by UC and California policymakers regarding the necessity of Algebra II as adequate preparation for students pursuing degrees in math-intensive fields like data and computer science. We look forward to continuing discussions and actions that ensure students acquire the necessary mathematical skills for successful careers in the realms of science and technology.

•••

Jennifer Chayes serves as the dean of the UC Berkeley College of Computing, Data Science, and Society, and also holds positions as a professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences, information, mathematics, and statistics.

Jelani Nelson is a professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences at UC Berkeley.

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