The Initial Research: “Out of the Loop”

From 2000-2004, the “Out of the Loop” research team, supported by the National Science Foundation, studied why so few African-American, Latino/a, and female students were learning computer science at the high school level. The research took place in three different LA public high schools. We found that despite the myth of technology as a great equalizer, disparities in learning opportunities exist and fall along race and socio-economic lines. We found that students of color in low-resourced schools are commonly being denied access to rigorous and engaging computer science learning opportunities. A full description of this project and the research findings can be found in Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race, and Computing (MIT Press, 2008). Also, see our Research and Publications page.

In the spring of 2004, in response to our research findings, our educational research team founded the Computer Science Equity Alliance (CSEA) with the mission to expand access to and broaden participation in computer science at the high school level.

Initial CSEA Project: Expanding Access to Advanced Placement Computer Science

Prior to 2004, only 11 of 57 LAUSD high schools offered Advanced Placement Computer Science (AP CS). CSEA decided to focus its initial efforts on expanding access to APCS, especially into schools with high concentrations of students of color, since APCS is the only computer course that qualifies as a college-bound course in California. Our prior research findings revealed that too many so-called computing courses in LAUSD were little more than “point and click” instruction (Margolis et. al, 2003).

While we were critical of the narrow framework of APCS (for “teaching to the test”, and privileging a programming-based interpretation of computer science at the expense of other foci of the domain, such as computer-animated graphics or human-computer interaction design has historically led to attracting a narrow band of students) and the equity issues associated with access to AP courses, CSEA focused on expanding access to APCS because APCS at the time provided the only rigorous standardized high school computer science curriculum that reinforces the academic and problem-solving core of computer science. AP courses also provide students added competitiveness when applying for college, and these courses often serve as “gates” through which prospective computer science and engineering college majors pass (Oakes et al, 2000). Further, efforts to increase the number of APCS classes is readily supported by the LAUSD leaders who are concerned about assuring equal access to AP courses to all schools and students throughout the district.

In July 2004, CSEA held a pilot summer institute for LAUSD computer science teachers. For teachers to participate, their school principals had to agree to schedule APCS in their schools for the following academic year, and to assign a counselor to help build the enrollment of the class. The institute focused on the following: 1) instruction in Java while highlighting the interdisciplinary, problem-solving nature of computer science; 2) discussions around broadening participation in computer science; and 3) modeling a more engaging, active pedagogy aimed at attracting a broader demographic of students. We challenged teachers to take more active roles in the recruitment and retention of students of color and females in their classes. The CSEA mission dovetailed with a LAUSD mandate to narrow the “achievement gap,” assure educational equity, provide culturally relevant pedagogy, teach rigorous college-going curriculum, and pay increased attention to math, science, and engineering curricula.

Dramatic Results

As a result of this CSEA pilot program, rapid results occurred over a two-year period of time (2004-6):

  • The number of AP CS courses now offered in LAUSD doubled.
    In the 2003-04 school year, only 11 of the 57 high schools in LAUSD offered APCS. Currently, 24 LAUSD schools offer APCS.
  • The numbers of traditionally underrepresented students taking APCS in LAUSD dramatically increased; Contrasting with statewide trends.

The table below displays the expansion of enrollment rates over two years amongst females and traditionally underrepresented racial groups, and overall, in LAUSD APCS courses. These rapid successes contrast with statewide trends. While enrollment in statewide APCS courses dropped by 500 students between 2003-04 and 2004-05, LAUSD enrollment increased by 72 students over the same time period. LAUSD’s representation of females has dramatically increased in comparison to statewide trends. In 2003-04, LAUSD females accounted for 8% of all California females in APCS. The year after the initial institute, however, LAUSD females accounted for 15% of female APCS students in California. Overall, LAUSD students accounted for 12% of APCS students last year, up from 9% before the CSEA programs. Statewide enrollment data is not available disaggregated by race/ethnicity.

Before CSEA 2003-04 After CSEA 2005-06 Rate of Increase
Female 47 210 347%
Latino 53 297 460%
Black 17 33 94%
Filipino 11 45 309%
Total 225 619 175%

Building a Community of Teachers Through Professional Development

By putting the spotlight on the importance of computer science learning for all students, the institute provided the catalyst for principals to support APCS as a course offering in their schools, and to find qualified and potentially qualified teachers. As a result, several of the new APCS courses were being taught by teachers whose background and training is in CS, but who, until now, did not have the opportunity to teach the class. Further, the teacher’s institute created the space for computer science teachers to meet colleagues, develop recruitment strategies, and plan lessons together.

Providing Support for APCS Students

For four years, CSEA offered several months of Saturday AP Readiness classes for LAUSD APCS students. In these classes, students and teachers learn alongside each other in preparing to teach and learn AP Computer Science. The classes are taught by co-PI Joanna Goode, an HSSEAS CS instructor, and a rotating team of LAUSD teachers. These sessions provide students with a sense of college-level computer science instruction.

In 2004-05, eight teachers participated in AP Readiness with 20 of their students. In 2005-06, 12 teachers attended AP Readiness with approximately 50 of their students from across LAUSD. As the content and pedagogical knowledge of these teachers continued to develop, veteran APCS educators increasingly took on additional leadership roles in AP Readiness.

Into the Loop & Teachers Are Key: Exploring Computer Science in LAUSD

Today, with support from the National Science Foundation’s Broadening Participation in Computing division, CSEA’s initial efforts in computer science that began with “Out of the Loop” continues to grow through its K-12/University partnership. Through the “Into the Loop” project, LAUSD teachers and UCLA computer science experts collaborated to write the Exploring Computer Science curriculum and teach it in LAUSD high schools. The “Teachers Are Key” project places its focus on supporting LAUSD high school teachers through professional development, coaching, and building a teaching community. Both projects have grown out of the foundation of CSEA’s early work from 2000-2004.

These projects are housed at Center X in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

UCLA Center X