STEM Equity

Tough Questions on Achieving Equitable CS Ed

A new guide has provided insight for school administrators in California who are struggling to implement equitable K-12 computer science education. Organized as a series of questions and answers, the "CS Equity Guide" covers ground on curriculum, recruiting students into classes, preparing teachers, funding new programs, getting local support and providing "out-of-school learning."

The report also explained why equity in CS was even needed. According to 2017 College Board data, 30 percent of total Advanced Placement CS enrollment was female, even though they represented nearly half of the student population in the state. Also, while California’s students were 60 percent Latinx and African American, they made up only 24 percent of AP CS test takers. And pass rates showed wildly disparate results. While the average pass rate for last year's AP CS Principles exam was about 73 percent, that represented 85 percent of White/Asian students and just 51 percent of Black/Latinx students.

What's meant by equity? As the report explained, "Equity means that everyone gets the support they need to succeed based on where they are and where they want to go." According to the authors, the state's size and diversity call for a "systemic approach" to increasing CS opportunities for under-represented learners, which, besides female, Black and Latinx students, also include English language learners, Native American students, and those with special needs.

The report was produced by the Alliance for California Computing Education for Students and Schools (ACCESS), an organization formed in 2012 to broaden the participation in CS education in California. Armed with a National Science Foundation grant, ACCESS, along with a team of researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles and five large districts in the state, launched SCALE-CA (Supporting Computing Access, Leadership and Equity in California), a community of district practitioners that would focus on improving and sharing practices for scaling teacher professional development, building capacity of education leaders and policymakers and contributing to research in the area of CS education.

The contents of the report consisted almost entirely of answers to frequently-asked questions those district leaders have been asked, including:

  • What is an appropriate course sequence for CS? (It's more flexible than you'd think.)

  • How can I add CS to the master schedule? (Integrate "exposure" at each grade band.)

  • Should we start with one school or the whole district? (District wide is better.)

  • How can we recruit students into CS? (One tip: Get school counselors and teachers on board to advocate.)

  • How can the teaching be "culturally responsive"? (One suggestion: "Shape curriculum to value and build on the experiences, knowledge and cultures students bring to the classroom.")

  • Who's authorized to teach CS? (In California it's a broad set of instructors.)

  • How can teachers support English learners? (Balance "explicit instruction" with "open inquiry" and use collaborative problem-solving so students can support each other.)

  • How can we afford to add another discipline and pay for a full-time employee? (Two of several ideas: Leverage existing funding or tap Perkins funds.)

  • How can I involve local industry? (Set up internships, guest speakers and workplace tours.)

  • How can we use community colleges to help out? (Start by reaching out to "understand what is possible.)

The report is openly available on the ACCESS website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.