The Illinois Workforce and Education Research Collaborative (IWERC) at the Discovery Partners Institute has been awarded $1 million to research computer science education in Illinois with the aim of helping schools meet new statewide requirements and recruit more women and people of color into the major at Illinois universities.
This four-year research effort, which is being funded by an anonymous donor, will be conducted in partnership with DPI’s Pritzker Tech Talent Labs’ Community Education unit and the College of Education at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
“One goal of this work is to identify examples of exceptional computer science education in Illinois, examples that can be used as models for other districts of similar size,” said Meg Bates, Ph.D., who leads IWERC. “Another is to gather data that bolsters our argument that access to a career in tech is an urgent equity issue. Tech jobs pay very well and are virtually recession-proof, but many women and people of color are starkly underrepresented in these professions. How do we change that?”
With such concerns in mind, in March 2021, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law a requirement that all high school districts provide an opportunity for students to take a computer science course, beginning with the 2023-24 school year.
The state, however, does not analyze data on how many schools are already offering such courses nor does it have performance benchmarks. As part of this research, a survey will be sent to all school districts in Illinois seeking additional information.
The two-part study will seek to answer the following questions:
- 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?
- 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?
- 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?
- What happens to historically marginalized students who take computer science courses in high school after they graduate?
- 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?
- What can we learn from students who do the opposite and transfer into a computer science major?
“We want to provide education leaders — superintendents and deans — with actionable evidence to help them make hard decisions,” said DPI executive director Bill Jackson. “We know that, with better research and analysis, we can improve education and get more kids ready for lucrative, resilient jobs. The more tech talent we develop, the stronger Illinois’ economy will be.”
The Discovery Partners Institute empowers people to jumpstart their tech careers or companies in Chicago. Led by the University of Illinois System in partnership with top research universities, it does three things: Train people for high-demand tech jobs; conduct applied R&D; and support Chicago’s tech community. With state investment and a new innovation district in development, DPI has the resources to attract, develop, and leverage the most ambitious people and companies the region has to offer — and keep them here.
The Illinois Workforce and Education Research Collaborative (IWERC) produces actionable research to improve Illinois education and workforce outcomes. Its mission is to work with community partners across the state to research and co-construct solutions to the most pressing issues in the cradle-to-career, education-to-workforce pipeline. IWERC has developed a portfolio of research projects across four key areas: early childhood, K-12, postsecondary, and workforce development. The projects in each area are targeted at the most urgent and impactful issues in the state. More on IWERC can be found at the following link: https://dpi.uillinois.edu/iwerc/
About College of Education at Illinois
Founded in 1905, the College of Education at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign is one of the first land-grant schools of education, revered for its groundbreaking research, preparation of educator-leaders, and worldwide impact. U.S. News and World Report consistently ranks the College and its programs among the nation’s best. Home of the late Dr. Samuel Kirk, the “father of special education,” more than 70 tenure-track faculty, nearly 2,000 undergraduate, graduate, doctoral, and online students, and over 36,000 proud alumni — Great Minds Think Illinois.