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Project Overview

Access to technology careers is an urgent equity issue. Technology jobs are more remunerative and recession-proof than other occupations, but many minoritized populations (including women, Latinx, and Black workers) are starkly underrepresented in these professions. This project includes a pair of studies aimed at understanding how to promote success in computer science (CS) education for minoritized learners in Illinois. These studies would examine the current K-12 infrastructure for starting minoritized learners on CS pathways, as well as individual-level factors that encourage or discourage minoritized learners from persisting in CS in post-secondary education or alternative pathways.

A brief history of computer science education in Illinois…

In 2013, CSforAll initiatives started throughout the U.S., including Chicago. This initiative pushed school districts to offer CS instruction from kindergarten through 12th grade.

In 2020, Chicago Public Schools (who were at the forefront of CSforAll) graduated its first class that had a computer science graduation requirement. However, that same year, College Board and Common Core of Data put out a report that shows Black, LatinX, and female students nationwide were all disproportionately underrepresented in AP Computer Science relative to overall high school participation in other AP courses.

According to the Landscape report of K-12 Computer Science Education in Illinois from Hegeman-Davis and Sewell (2021), the state faces significant barriers to equitable CS education as well. Namely, the urban-rural digital divide, CS teacher shortages, and differences in course offerings were all cited as critical concerns of the state’s current computer science education system.

In March 2021, Illinois House Bill 2170, or the Education and Workforce Equity Act, was signed into law. HB 2170 was a measure brought forth by the Illinois legislative Black Caucus with the aim to improve access and racial equity in the state’s education system. Among many things, HB 2170 mandated an expansion of the Illinois computer science education system:

  • The most notable requirement was for high school districts to offer the opportunity for every student take at least one computer science course aligned to rigorous CS learning standards to go into effect beginning in the 2023-2024 school year.
  • The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) was tasked to develop CS student learning stands by the end of 2021, a goal which they met.
  • An AP CS course may count toward the three years of mathematics graduation requirement.
  • Districts are required to include curriculum information for CS courses in their school’s report card as maintained by ISBE.

Project Research Questions

The two-part study will seek to answer the following research questions:

  1. How are districts across the state—particularly in remote rural areas and urban centers—preparing to meet the new requirement around computer science courses? Are districts considering equitable access to CS education in their planning? If so, how?
  2. Which districts, such as Chicago Public Schools, already have a robust computer science curriculum? Do students in these districts perform well and pursue further training after high school?
  3. How are districts, especially rural and small ones, staffing computer science courses when they cannot carry a full-time computer science teacher? What staff structures have the best outcomes for students?
  4. What happens to historically marginalized students who take computer science courses in high school after they graduate?
  5. What can we learn about students who enroll in a computer science degree program in college and then transfer to another major? Why do they choose not to pursue the degree?
  6. What can we learn from students who do the opposite and transfer into a computer science major?

Project Team

SWerner 500x500

Stephanie Werner

Research Specialist, IWERC

Project Director

Mark Harris

Mark Harris

Director, Community Education – Pritzker Tech Talent Labs

Charity Freeman

Charity Freeman

Program Coordinator, Department of Computer Science, Grainger College of Engineering, UIUC

Judith Kom Nguiffo

Judith Kom Nguiffo

Graduate Research Assistant, IWERC