In a new and compelling report released by the Level Playing Field Institute out of Oakland, the answer to this question lies not in the tech industry itself, nor in the choices of our local youth. Rather, it resides in the all-important path between: the educational system that could – and should – provide that road to opportunity. At issue, is the fact that this “road” – which is flourishing in more affluent communities – is in need of serious repair, and more often than not, is completely non-existent in our local, urban public school systems.
This report, aptly titled, Path Not Found: Disparities in Access to Computer Science Courses in California High Schools, highlights several key findings (including the graphic above) with regard to race, income level, and linguistic background. Notably, with regard to race, nearly 75% of schools in California with the highest percentage of underrepresented students of color offer no computer science courses, and just 2% of schools with the highest percentage of underrepresented students of color offer AP Computer Science. Furthermore, in the largest 20 districts in California (which represents over a half million high school students), only 1% of all students are in any computer science classes at all.
So what exactly does this mean for our local youth of color?
Journalist and essayist, Joseph Williams, discusses the implications of this study in his recent takepart.com article, “Kids of Color Are Already Behind on Landing These Future Jobs”. He paints a simple and clear picture of the current landscape of the tech industry with regard to demographics: While African Americans make up 12% of the American workforce, they are but a “miniscule” percentage of the tech work force.
Williams goes on to highlight Google, who recently made their U.S. workforce demographics transparent: Just 2% of their workforce is black and 3% Hispanic. These numbers, according to Williams’ article, are typical of the industry at large – an industry that would allow California to be the 8th largest economy in the world if it were an independent country.
Put simply, this article, supported by the LPFI’s report, suggests the following: that youth of color, by nature of where they live, and the schools that serve them, have very few opportunities to explore and embrace a field of study that is shaping the economy of California, and the world at large. Without a more complete educational pathway – rich with opportunities in Computer Science education – our local youth will be sharply disadvantaged in our future workforce – tech and otherwise.
What can be done to create a more equitable road?
The LPFI report spotlights several current initiatives that demonstrate “promise” at addressing the disparities in access to Computer Science education. A passion for change is especially vibrant in programs that exist outside of the school systems, such as The Level Playing Field Institute itself, Black Girls Code, Teens Exploring Technology, Hidden Genius Project and others. The report goes on to offer meaningful recommendations for reform at the district and state level.
Most importantly, however, it illuminates what is at the heart of the challenge before us: If our society is going to allow our youth of color to participate and excel in our future world economy, the PATH to get there must be fixed. The opportunity to develop applicable skills, and a passion and love for tech-based endeavors and careers, must be provided readily and meaningfully in our urban public school classrooms.
This, indeed, is one of the explicit goals of our national initiative, The SHINE, providing young men of color with the skills, networks and self-efficacy to support themselves, their communities, and our country with their brilliance and powers of innovation. Click here for more information about The SHINE.