Education Week and the Huffington Post both recently reported on The College Board’s 10th annual AP Report to the Nation. Both reports noted that that a vast majority of Advanced Placement Computer Science test-takers last year were white males. Of the more than 20,000 students to take the exam, 81 percent were male and 54 percent were white. Only nine percent of the test-takers were Latino and three percent were African-American.
Barbara Ericson, a Georgia Tech senior research scientist, carried out a separate analysis of the data. The analysis revealed that no African-American students took the AP Computer Science exam in 11 states, and no Hispanic students in eight states.
Perhaps it should not be surprising that most students taking computer science courses in high school are white males. As Deborah Davis, spokeswoman for the College Board, wrote, “We were not surprised by Barbara Ericson’s findings because unfortunately, computing courses have historically been dominated by white, male students.”
The College Board has been taking steps to increase the number of minority and female students taking AP courses in science and math, including computer science. As reported by the College Board, the AP STEM Access program, with support from a $5 million Google Global Impact Award, is assisting public schools in offering new AP math and science courses with the goal of enabling underrepresented minority and female students who have demonstrated strong academic potential to enroll in and explore these areas of study and related careers.
There are other groups that are working to expand participation in programming and computer science education in both elementary and secondary schools. Code.org, the organization behind last December’s Hour of Code initiative, has goals to bring computer science classes to every K-12 school in the United States, in particular to increase participation by women and underrepresented students of color, demonstrate the successful use of online curriculum in public school classrooms, and change policies in all 50 states to categorize computer science as part of the math/science “core” curriculum.
According to Dr. Ericson’s analysis, 17 states currently accept computer science as a core math or science credit. And as noted by Education Week Teacher, one of the criticisms of the Common Core State Standards for Math and the Next Generation Science Standards has been that they don’t include computer science.
The organizers of the Hour of Code feel the event exceeded expectations, with over 26 million students writing about 954 million lines of code. Supporters of the event included Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, the College Board, and well over one hundred other partners and donors. Even President Obama made a statement on the initiative.
No one is expecting that these 26 million students will become computer scientists, engineers or programmers, or even that we need that many coders. The point is, as with STEM and many other areas, the sooner you introduce a child to a topic, the sooner they can start to explore. Many won’t like it, or find it interesting, but some will jump right in and take off.
And after their introduction to coding by their teachers, interested students can continue to explore programming, computer science and mathematics not only in their school, but at Code Academy, Codeschool, and Khan Academy, among numerous other online resources.
It’s clear that, as the world becomes more dependent on computers and the internet, the world becomes more dependent on the programmers of those computers. It is in our best interest to introduce programming and computer science principles as early as practicable, to foster those students who show an interest and aptitude, and to ensure that women and minorities are well represented.