The study was commissioned at a vital time. The technology industry is projected to be a leading industry in terms of job growth this year, catalysed by society’s shifting needs and ways of working during the coronavirus pandemic. The report recognises that despite technology’s positive impacts, it can also be used to spread misinformation and extremism, and that algorithms can both target and discriminate against Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities. Computing teachers play an essential role in developing students’ computational and critical-thinking skills so that the next generation can build a more inclusive technology sector. But how prepared and supported are computing teachers to do this?
Demographics and credentials
The report found that, much like the general teaching population in the USA, the majority of computing teachers were white (75 percent) and were working in high-income, urban, and less racially diverse schools. This is despite the diverse racial and ethnic make-up of the US student body and indeed, of the population as a whole. In terms of credentials and experience, the data revealed that just under a third of computing teachers graduated with a computing degree, and only 16 percent of teachers had eleven years or more experience in computer science classrooms. Despite these statistics, participation rates in computing-specific professional development remain very low.
The study investigated the challenges computing teachers currently face in designing and facilitating equitable computing education. The most commonly reported challenges were insufficient resources, limited budgets, a lack of computing content knowledge, and a lack of student engagement. All these challenges require a collective commitment from schools to allocate time for professional development and budget for resources, and to develop a clear strategy and messaging around the importance of computing pathways to students and parents. Despite these needs, just under a third of teachers reported a lack of staff and administration buy-in for computing education implementation.
Culturally relevant teaching practices
There is evidence that, especially for students who have been traditionally underrepresented, culturally relevant pedagogical practices can increase student engagement. Such practices allow teachers to connect computing to students’ lived experiences, value students’ voices in the classroom, and create opportunities to critically analyse community issues. Currently, there is a gap between computing curricula content and students’ interests and experiences. Just over half of teachers were spending time revising their curricula to make them more relevant, but this was reported less by teachers with less classroom experience and by those teaching in less racially diverse schools.
Teachers also reported a lack of confidence in implementing culturally relevant teaching practices. A lack of confidence was particularly prevalent among primary school teachers and those at an early stage in their careers. Of particular concern is that only 59 percent of white teachers, who make up the majority of the teaching workforce, felt confident using materials highlighting race and culture (compared to 67 percent of Black, Latinx, and Pacific Islander teachers). One teacher shared, “As a white person, I struggle with connecting computer science to diverse cultures. I allow for personalization and encourage kids with the ‘you be you’ mentality, but I still struggle with knowing how they may learn or connect differently.”
The CSTA and the Kapor Center concluded that in order to have a workforce trained for a future in which students can participate equitably in computing education, computer science teachers need the necessary equipment, curricula, and training to lead culturally relevant classes. Here are some of the recommendations for policy and practice they have put forward:
1. Develop incentive structures to recruit, retain, and diversify the pool of computing teachers
There is a national shortage of computing teachers in the USA, particularly those who come from traditionally underrepresented racial and ethnic groups. Schools are more likely to fill and diversify computing roles if they develop new approaches to incentivise teachers to both join and stay in the computing education sphere.
2. Build comprehensive teacher training, certification, and endorsement programmes aligned to an equity-focused computing education framework
Greater alignment between teacher training, licensed programmes, credentialing, and an equity-focused computing curriculum can help increase teachers’ confidence and fill their knowledge gaps.
3. Expand access to ongoing professional development
Participation in ongoing professional development is low, meaning teachers are not keeping up to date with appropriate equity practices for the computing classroom. Schools and districts need to invest in time and budget for such training, especially for primary teachers, early-career teachers, and those teaching marginalised groups. Teachers will then be much better prepared to incorporate these practices in their classrooms.
4. Build a district-wide coalition to champion an equitable computing implementation plan
An effective strategic plan to implement culturally relevant pedagogies in classes is required. This is more likely to be successful when school districts make a collective commitment to prioritising computing education.
If school districts and school leaders can take on board these recommendations, they can help effectively prepare students to become part of a more equitable and socially just workforce of the future.
You can access the report at helloworld.cc/cstareport. For more about culturally relevant pedagogy, see page 54 of Hello World issue 17.