STEM Gaps Start in High School

By Albert Lin


The shortage of women and members of underrepresented groups in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields is no secret, and the College Board’s annual report on Advanced Placement exams suggests that the gap may continue.

Of the 22,273 students who took the AP computer science exam in 2013, 81 percent were male and 54.2 percent were white. Only 9.0 percent of the test-takers were Latino, and 4.2 percent were Black.

Barbara Ericson, Director of Computing Outreach at Georgia Tech’s Institute of Computing Education, parsed the College Board’s data to reveal:

No females took the AP computer science exam in 2013 in three states (Mississippi, Montana and Wyoming).

No Blacks took the exam in 11 states (Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming).

No Latinos took the exam in eight states (Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and Wyoming).

In an email to The Huffington Post, Deborah Davis, Director of College Readiness Communications for the College Board, wrote, “The College Board is deeply committed to increasing access to rigorous computing courses, particularly for underrepresented female and minority students. In order to address this issue, we have collaborated with national organizations, other nonprofits and the private sector to ensure expanded access.”

Access to appropriate instruction is largely to blame. According to The New York Times, only 2,200 high schools in the United States even offer an AP computer science class; that’s just 10 percent of high schools, according to Code.org, leading the Bureau of Labor Statistics to project a shortage of about 1 million computer science graduates by 2020. In New York, there is no teacher certification for computer science, which basically means, as one observer put it, that “the state doesn’t recognize that computer science exists.” Of the 75,000 public-school teachers in New York City, fewer than 100 teach computer science.

Moreover, in the majority of states, computer science is an elective and does not count toward graduation requirements. There is a movement, however, to count computer science as a math or science credit (or even a foreign-language credit), which should encourage more students to take it; 17 states currently allow an AP or other rigorous computer-science course to count as a math or science credit.

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