We’re Demanding Access to Computer Science

Stevon Cook
May 25, 2018 · 5 min read
Juliana De Heer, Mission Bit Director of Curriculum leading a workshop with the Golden State Warriors

Mandating CS Statewide

In July of 2015 the San Francisco Board of Education passed a resolution mandating Computer Science Education K-12. The resolution was desperately needed as the school district only had 6% of high school students taking courses and no African American students having passed the AP Computer Science Exam. The status quo has changed as we’ve introduced courses in elementary and middle schools and increased sections of computer science across high schools.

Now that I’m elected to the San Francisco Board of Education, I organized a recognition ceremony for a group of African American students that passed the AP Exam in a STEM related field. Given my work at Mission Bit, I was especially proud as a city we have our first African American students now taking and passing AP Computer Science. Given the job and wealth creation taking place in San Francisco it was especially important to ensure our kids had access to the learning opportunity, but I would also argue we need to pass similar legislation across the state.

Access to Computer Science Matters

Access to computer science is important in any state. Being in California comes with a need for CS talent in the workforce.

State Report

  • The value of CS is high, where 66% of California principals agreed that most students should be required to take CS (U.S. average 60%).
  • CS offerings are limited, with 57% of California principals reporting offering CS classes (U.S. average 57%).
  • Growth in CS opportunities is anticipated by 69% of California principals by 2019 (U.S. average 53%).

Google’s research into Computer Science learning for black students was released in February. Here’s what they found:

  • Black students want to learn computer science, but don’t have the resources or access.
  • 38% of black students who learned CS did so in a group or program outside of school (vs. 17% of White and 21% of Hispanic students).
  • 88% of Black students say they are interested in learning CS in the future (vs. 80% of White and 84% of Hispanic students).
  • Black students are more likely to say they often see people “doing CS” in TV shows and movies, and of those who do, 26% say they see someone like themselves (vs. 16% of White and 13% of Hispanic students).

We need diversity in the tech field. Valerie Taylor, Regents Professor, Department of Computer Science and Engineering Texas A&M University, and Executive Director Center for Minorities and People with Disabilities in IT puts it best. She states, “given the ubiquity of the computing field in society, the diversity gap in computer science (CS) education today means the field might not be generating the technological innovations that align with the needs of society’s demographics.”

Juliana De Heer working with a group of students during a coding workshop

All Students Are Not Seen As Equal

Unconscious bias in the classroom is real and has very real implications for students of color and young women. This unconscious bias is evident in teachers, administration, and students. With this bias it is evident why people of color and women make up such a small percentage of the tech field. Unfortunately the concept of unconscious bias manifests itself as a self-fulfilling prophecy. As individuals are aware of unconscious bias they are more likely to experience and act on what they feel.

This unconscious bias can have a disastrous impact on people of color and women who otherwise may be interested in STEM and CS fields.

The Solution

Mission Bit students Eric and Joshua presenting their award winning game during Spring 2018 Demo Day

Interest in CS is widespread until the age of 14 when students of color and female students start to dip. The good news is that black students are interested in CS enough that they will seek resources outside of school to get experience.

A recent brief released by Google found that students who have been told by parents or teachers they would be good at computer science are 2.5 to three times more likely to be interested in learning CS in the future. Parents and teachers have the power to overcome unconscious bias and propel students of color into CS.

We need a statewide mandate on computer science education. Given what we’ve learned in San Francisco, we see that it’s possible to begin exposing students to computer science principles, create training programs to prepare teachers to teach computer science and engage families so learning can happen outside of the classroom. We believe districts have to solve this problem if we’re going to be serious about preparing our students for today’s world.

As CEO of Mission Bit, we are working toward providing access for low income students of color — the demographic most missing from CS careers. We connect students to CS opportunities they wouldn’t normally have access to. Our focus is on creating an affirming learning experience that works to address stereotype threat, encourage persistence and inspire a love for building with technology.

The Mission Bit students are given resources that will help them in the future:

  • Project-based semester-long coding courses.
  • Skills to form a career as a programmer.
  • A set of instructors and instructor’s assistants that care about the success of the students.
  • A laptop to use for the duration of the each course.
  • Visits to tech companies.
  • A structured study program to prepare for admittance into Hack Reactor’s 12-week Immersive Coding Bootcamp.

Over the past few years we have reached 1,800 students and hope to reach 10,000 by 2020. Mission Bit will work tirelessly until we can connect every low income student of color with the opportunity to code.

We love our work and our focus, but third-party non-profits shouldn’t be carrying the access issue. Passing a state-wide requirement to teach computer science is the best way to ensure we don’t leave any student behind. We are planning to start organizing around ensuring we pass a mandate K-12. Please visit our website at missionbit.com and join our mailing list to stay up to date about the work we’re doing to advance this important initative.

Stevon Cook

Written by

President, San Francisco Board of Education Values: Trust God, Do Work, Give Love & Build Wealth.

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