We don’t need another CS curriculum…….

[Alt text] Image of two students of color looking at a computer with a male teacher of color observing. Photo from National Science Foundation.

Hey #CSed it's not the curriculum that can fix the inequity problems in our field. It is the adults in K12 computer science.

Within the last several months during pandemic teaching and learning, the word “equity” has been tossed around within so many educational circles, I feel like I have been on a continuously running teacups ride. Inequity in K12 schools has existed since their inception. And no, Brown vs Board of Education, or the ADA, or Civil Rights act, or most recently Equality Act, have not made inequities in our schools magically disappear, although sadly some people inside and outside education believe that to be the case. While the topic of equity is so multi-faceted, I would like to talk more about what it looks like in schools and computer science education.

Equity is defined by Merriam-Webster as “justice according to natural law or right; specifically freedom from bias and favoritism.” Translating that to an educational space has shown tricky for some, with a regular conflation of the words “diversity” and “inclusion” with the word equity. Equity in its most basic terms is about power. Who has the power to make decisions? Who has the power to determine and measure success? Who has the power to increase access or opportunities? Who has the power to determine whose needs will be met? Who has the power over funding and potential plans/projects? Who has the power to speak and be heard? In educational spaces, power is very much in play, but also the biases of individuals with power (mostly white cis-hetero male adults) who continue to uphold our current white supremacist K12 educational system, where inequities are continuing to thrive.

If we break this down further just to examine the #CSed space, the inequities, racism, misogyny, ableism, and sexism pretty much mirror those of its big brother, the tech industry. Some of the issues in #CSed include:

  • Lack of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and cis-female and non-binary students participating in quality computer science courses K12
  • Few Black, Indigenous, Latinx cis-female and non-binary teachers of K12 computer science courses
  • Too few students with disabilities allowed the opportunity to take K12 computer science courses
  • Tracking of predominately Black, Indigenous, an Latinx students in math courses that prohibits participation in advanced computing courses
  • And the list goes on…….

Unfortunately, all too often I see as a CS teacher, instead of something that would equip teachers to proactively address inequity issues in computer science, a new CS curriculum being offered to teachers. These new curricula and how to exactly teach that particular curriculum are all that are taught. Some of this new curriculum (often not created by actual teachers) introduces students to variables, loops, iteration, or other CS concepts in a solid manner, however these curriculums continue emphasize the “what” we teach in computer science with little focus on “how” and “why” these things should be taught.

News flash for curriculum providers: your CS curriculum cannot be equity-focused if it is tied to a standardized assessment for students.

You cannot have a curriculum that meets the needs of all learners successfully and also be able to adequately prepare that same diverse groups of learners for a standardized test that labels and allows testing companies to heap sort students. You are shoving and sorting human beings through 2x2 inch square lily-white holes (because that’s what standardization does to students) when students come in a large variety of shapes, sizes, and hues.

So instead of more or new curriculum, I propose an idea that might be more beneficial for the #CSed space. Why don’t we create a framework for what quality CS instruction and pedagogy should look like, that is anti-racist, inclusive, culturally responsive, identity affirming, and accessible to all students? Why don’t we really personalize CS teacher professional development and stop creating new CS curricula for teachers to just reguritate in the classroom to their students? Why don’t we provide more time for teachers to understand CS concepts and draft their own lessons and activities specifically centering their students and school communities? Why don’t we invest in making sure pre-service teachers know how to be equity-driven in their classrooms and leverage computer science as a means to disrupt the negative -isms in the world?

We need to really start doing something different, because what we have been doing the last several years has not really closed the racial and gender gaps in K12 computer science education. Let’s instead:

  • Allow current CS teachers to learn together in cohorts, tackling issues of pedagogy, inequity in their schools, a deeper dive of CS content, and inclusive instructional practices.
  • Provide teachers the actual time to examine their own professional praxis and ways it can be improved to be equity-centered.
  • Better prepare pre-service teachers with deep dives into the inequities of education, racial and gender bias, and emphasize the “how” and “why” of teaching computing being more important than the “what”.

It is through these changes and learning experiences, teachers will gain the confidence to create their own curricula or utilize the thousands of CS curriculum out there and modify it to better meet their students’ needs. When we change mindsets and the focus of adults doing the computer science instruction and curriculum delivery that’s when more impactful and equitable change will occur in our K12 classrooms and schools. We don’t disrupt inequities in K12 computer science with more curriculum but instead disrupt the inequiable system with strong equity-minded educators in our K12 computer science classrooms and schools.

So everyone out there serious interested in equity in #CSed especially at the K12 level, ask yourself, do we need another curriculum or lesson(s) for AP CSP, AP CSA, or other computing courses? Or do we need to build a robust K12 CS teaching force, equipped with the know how and resources to dismantle inequities in our K12 praxis and pedagogy in each CS classroom and school instead? We can’t be #CSforAll without better equipping our teachers to engage and empower all students in their classrooms and buildings through computer science.