I worked in news for a long time. Now I work in an organization that talks about and works to address the achievement gap between white and minority students and the opportunity gap they face every day. But this number I saw today stunned me.
That’s the number of African-American students in Massachusetts who passed the Computer Science Advanced Placement test in Massachusetts in 2013.
How about this number?
That’s how many of those 13 were young women.
Think about that. This is Massachusetts. We pride ourselves on having one of the most robust tech economies in the country. We praise tech up and down as a critical piece of our future economy. Yet as Emily DeRuy of Fusion noted in her post on National Journal’s Next America blog, that “Tech Pipeline is Alarmingly White.”
Actually, alarming might not be strong enough. Data crunched by Barbara Ericson, the director of computing outreach and a senior research scientist at Georgia Tech, found no minorities or young women at all took the Computer Science AP in Montana or Mississippi. That’s headline grabbing but not surprising, since only 12 students total took the test in those states. So let’s look at the bigger picture.
Of the approximately 30,000 students who took the exam in 2013, only around 20 percent were female, according to the analysis, and a tiny 3 percent were African-American. Just 8 percent were Hispanic.
One reason there are so few students enrolling in the class and taking the test is that AP computer science courses are more common in suburban and private schools, Barbara Ericson, a senior research scientist with Georgia Tech who compiled the data, told the blog Education Week, and those schools tend to be less diverse than urban and public schools.
Another potential reason is that there are so few women, African-American and Hispanic instructors teaching computer science and so few working in the computer science field. Students are more likely to pursue a course of study if they have mentors with similar backgrounds to emulate.
That’s an explanation, but it’s not acceptable. If any state should be able to battle those limitations, it’s Massachusetts, yet our numbers are actually worse than the average. For 2013, according to the Georgia Tech Research:
- 1087 students in 91 Massachusetts schools took the Computer Science AP – 712 passed
- Of those, 188 were young women (17.6%) – of whom 116 passed
- 34 test takers were African-American (3.2%)
- 56 test takers were Hispanic (5.2%)
- While 66.7% of the overall test-taking group passed, just 38.2% of African-Americans (13 of 34) and 39.3% of Hispanic students (22 of 56) did
- 16 Hispanic females took the test – 5 passed.
- 6 African-American females took the test – 1 passed.
Think about that. In high-tech Massachusetts, you could fit every African-American and Hispanic young woman who passed the 2013 AP test in Computer Science comfortably around a library table.
There are plenty of ways to rationalize the numbers – one can look at who offers AP Computer Science, and so on. But the end number is too stark to ignore. Back in June, a group of high tech executives began pushing the state Department of Education to mandate computer science classes. It’s a noble idea, faced as all new ideas are with the challenge of limited time and resources.
But as these numbers show – there’s plenty of room to grow. And there’s at least one African-American young woman out there who might have some ideas.