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Equity Part 1: Why Should We Care about Issues of Equity

There has been an increased emphasis on equity issues in computer science education in recent years, supported largely by NSF programs aimed at broadening participation in computing. Yet, I have found that when folks talk about equity, they often have different viewpoints on why we should be addressing equity, what equity means, and how to achieve equity in the K-12 computer science classroom. Based on my experiences as an AP computer science teacher in a diverse high school, and involvement in the Exploring Computer Science program in Los Angeles schools, I offer my own viewpoints on what equity means to me in computing classrooms. This is the first in a series of blogs tackling these issues around equity in computer science, the most segregated subject offered in K-12 education.

Why should we address equity?
Though many cite economic purposes for working towards equity, I hesitate to use this reasoning as my central purpose for the equity-based work I do. Certainly, we are missing out on the creative potential of over 70% of the population when we continue with a vast under-representations of people of color and females in the computing industry. Also, these underrepresented groups are at a disadvantage personally if they do not have the sufficient preparation to become computer scientists, a growing profession with a higher-than-average salary for graduates with college degrees. But, this is not a particularly compelling argument to lead with around issues of equity except for those who are college CS professors or working in the industry. Then, to those outside of computer science, this economic/industry perspective is seen as a self-serving argument. Certainly, we don't argue for universal literacy in order to prepare children to be English majors or work as journalists, etc., but we believe everyone should have the opportunity to read and write because it is a fundamental skill needed to maximize opportunities and interests in our society. We need to back away from leading with an economic perspective as the reason to address equity issues for the same reasons.

For me, equity is a social justice issue, a new frontier in civil rights. As a community, we are arguing that computational thinking is an essential 21st century skill. So in this vein, we need to prepare all students to have this fundamental knowledge to be able to fully participate in society, including girls and students of color. As civil rights leader and the Algebra project director Bob Moses cautions, students of color will become "the serfs of the Information Age" unless we work for equal opportunity and access in computing education. If education is a fundamental human right in our country, then access and equity in computer science is certainly a part of the 21st century model of education that should support this purpose of schooling.

What about you? What is your purpose for addressing equity in computer science?

Joanna Goode
CSTA Board of Directors

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