Posted: Tue, 06/30/2020 - 2:56 pm EDT
In 2019, just 8 percent of the computer science workforce was black (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019). This directly correlates to the lack of opportunity and participation in CS for African-American students in K-12 levels. In 2019, the College Board reported that 6.8% (6,589) of the 96,105 students who took the AP Computer Science Principles exam were black (Schaffhauser, 2019). But it is not enough to report single-digit trends. Teachers and administrators must employ equitable and inviting teaching practices that support black students in CS classes.
At the center of any inclusive computer science program is a teacher leader with an equitable mindset. The instructor must have a passion to diversify the CS field at the ground level by preparing students for future roles in technology and computer science. Furthermore, the teacher must have a dedication for vertical alignment toward industry standard platforms and languages. I have identified a few sustainable steps to increase black students’ participation in CS programs.
My first suggestion is to develop comfortable classroom cultures for black students. Educators and administrators need to create equitable, alternating roles in classroom activities. For example, the development of well-managed, authentic project-based learning builds confidence and pride among students while reinforcing educational competencies in core subject areas. In classrooms, display diverse images of role models and people pivotal to the development of technology that the students can look up to. Develop systems to ensure that all voices are heard and respected in the classroom. Teachers and students should also discuss inequities in the CS field and research discrete issues in order to brainstorm potential solutions.
The next step should involve the creation of opportunities outside traditional classrooms. Teachers should put together “STEM days” to exhibit students' work and lead small introductory lessons for parents and other students to understand what STEM and CS are about, such as Scratch Day. They can also organize technology booths at sporting events and have their students volunteer for shifts of presentations and tutorials. A good way to motivate students to participate is by providing extra credit.
Facilitating Skype or Zoom calls with people of color in the computer science field also gives students a chance to interact and uncover the breadth of available roles in CS. Identify pivotal people of color in tech, ideally in your community, and have them share their individual journey into computer science. Students can learn valuable lessons from professionals of various backgrounds to help them understand the challenges different people face in the field.
“If we don’t scout, recruit, invest in, and cheer for black … computer scientists as we do for quarterbacks, linebackers and wide receivers, our youth won’t be able to participate in the game of life when they grow up.” Andre Perry (2019).
In light of the global protests associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, the topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion are no longer eduspeak buzz words. The time for zero tolerance of exclusionary CS education practices is now. If schools continue to support CS teachers who only want to teach to white male students using a patriarchal non-diverse teaching model, we will never invoke change and will essentially strengthen the access barrier for future generations. Teachers must decide whether equity and inclusion is a fundamental tenet of their practice. The “All Lives Matter” approach hasn’t worked for students of color in computer science.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor force statistics from the current population survey. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat18.htm.
Schaffhauser, D. Number of female students, students of color tackling computer science AP on the rise. (2019, August 19). In THE Journal. Retrieved from https://thejournal.com/articles/2019/08/19/number-of-female-students-students-of-color-tackling-computer-science-ap-on-the-rise.aspx.
Perry, A. Let’s invest in black kids who pursue STEM the way we do black kids on the football field. (2019, December 11). In The Hechinger Report. Retrieved from https://hechingerreport.org/lets-invest-in-black-kids-who-pursue-stem-the-way-we-do-black-kids-on-the-football-field/.