Diversity in the Tech Sector Starts in K-12 Classrooms

This month, 71 10th graders at Digital Pioneers Academy, a middle and high school I lead in Southeast DC, took the AP Computer Science Principles (CSP) exam. 71!

This is a big deal!

Why? Let’s put it in perspective. Last year, just 116 students across the entire District of Columbia Public School system of 50,000-plus students took the AP CSP exam. It’s a big deal that so many DPA students had the opportunity – and the knowledge and determination – to take the exam.

It is a big deal because black workers are underrepresented in tech. While black adults account for 13% of the U.S. workforce, they make up just 7% of people working in high tech. Of the 71 DPA students who took the CSP exam,100% percent are black.

It’s a big deal because students who take the AP CSP exam in high school are 17% more likely to attend college, and they’re more than three times as likely to major in computer science, according to research from the College Board. It’s a big deal because computer science degrees are the most lucrative undergraduate degrees in the nation.

At DPA, computer science is not an elective–it is a mandatory subject. Our students take 45 to 60 minutes of computer science daily starting in sixth grade. Beginning next year, we project to have 100 10th graders sit for the exam annually.

We don’t know yet how many of our students will pass the exam. But we do know from the College Board research that simply taking the exam leads to positive outcomes. And because our DPA students are taking the test as sophomores, they still have two more years of high school to retake the exam.

We talk a lot about diversity in the tech sector and the importance of STEM roles. The reality is, diversity and opportunity don’t just come from boardrooms. They also come from classrooms. Diversity and opportunity flow from giving all students the chance to learn relevant computer science and STEM skills to take their education to the next level.

Yet the significance goes beyond job prospects and earnings potential. As technology becomes integral to more parts of our lives, computer science has become about something more than just coding and algorithms. It’s an essential way of thinking and approaching problems that becomes more relevant and more valuable with each passing day. The kids who can answer questions about code segments and variables are the ones who will shape the future of our world.

I’m proud that we’re moving the needle on our mission to develop the next generation of innovators. I’m proud that we’re exposing more students in DC to the power and potential of computer science. I’m proud of our students who worked so hard to study and prepare for an exam that just might change their lives.

To those 71 students and all of our DPA scholars – the work is not done yet but the progress is real.  I can’t wait to see what you accomplish next over the next two years.

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