Equity in Computer Science Education

The full version of this chapter can be found in the complete K–12 Computer Science Framework.


Computer science for all students requires that equity be at the forefront of any reform effort. When equity exists, there are appropriate supports based on individual students’ needs so that all have the opportunity to achieve similar levels of success. Equity is not just about whether classes are available, but also about how those classes are taught, how students are recruited, and how the classroom culture supports diverse learners and promotes retention.

The Need for Equity in Computer Science Education

Regardless of their future career, many students will be using computer science at work; by one estimate, more than 7.7 million Americans use computers in complex ways in their jobs, almost half of them in fields that are not directly related to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) (Change the Equation, 2015). Unfortunately, K–12 students today have limited opportunity to learn about these computer science concepts and practices and to understand how computer science influences their daily lives.

Lack of Access
  • Fewer than half of K–12 schools offer meaningful computer science courses that include programming (Google & Gallup, 2016).
  • 44% of 12th graders attend high schools that offer any computer science courses (Change the Equation, 2016). Students with the least access are Native American, Black, and Latino; from lower income backgrounds; and from rural areas.
  • 21.9% of students taking the 2015 AP® Computer Science A exam were female, the worst female participation rate of all the AP exams (College Board, 2016).
  • 3.9% were Black or African American, 9% were Hispanic or Latino, and 0.4% were American Indian.
Effect on Postsecondary Education and Industry
  • 17% of students graduating with a bachelor’s degree in computer science are female, 8% are Black, and 9% are Hispanic (NCES, 2014).
  • 24.7% of those employed in computer and mathematical occupations were female, 8.6% Black or African American, and 6.8% Hispanic or Latino (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015).
  • Students report that the people who do computer science in film or television are overwhelmingly male, White or Asian, and wearing glasses (Google & Gallup, 2015).
  • Females report that they are less likely to learn computer science, have less confidence in learning it, and are less likely to need to know computer science in their future career (Google & Gallup, 2015).
The Bright Side
  • Americans believe computer science is as important to learn as reading, writing, and math (Horizon Media, 2015).
  • Most parents want their child’s school to offer computer science (Google & Gallup, 2015).
  • Students who take AP Computer Science in high school are six times more likely to major in computer science than students who did not take AP Computer Science in high school. Females are 10 times more likely, African American students are 7 times more likely, and Hispanic students are 8.5 times more likely (Morgan & Klaric, 2007).


Equity in the Framework

Diverse Team

The writers and advisors were diverse based on gender, race, ethnicity, institutional representation (state/district agency, nonprofit, research, industry, K–12 school), as well as the populations with which they work or study. Read more about the writers here.

Concepts and Practices

The practices’ focus on doing computer science, in addition to knowing it, allows English language learners to demonstrate their understanding in ways that aren’t as affected by their limited English ability. Practices such as Communicating About Computing and Collaborating Around Computing, reinforce language acquisition while students engage in authentic computer science activities. The following statements are examples of equity in concepts and practices.

  • Impacts of Computing: The design and use of computing technologies and artifacts can improve, worsen, or maintain inequitable access to information and opportunities.
  • Algorithms and Programming: People design meaningful solutions for others by defining a problem’s criteria and constraints, carefully considering the diverse needs and wants of the community, and testing whether criteria and constraints were met.
  • Fostering an Inclusive Computing Culture: Address the needs of diverse end users during the design process to produce artifacts with broad accessibility and usability.
  • Collaborating Around Computing: Cultivate working relationships with individuals possessing diverse perspectives, skills, and personalities.
Learning for All

The framework describes a comprehensive and essential foundation in computer science that all students can benefit from, regardless of whether or not they will go on to postsecondary education in computer science or to a career in computer science. The computer science described in the framework is not just for “gifted” or “honors” students but all students, including those who can and should advance past the expectations in the framework.

Efforts to Increase Access and Opportunity

Although not comprehensive, the following examples illustrate practical approaches that educators can use to increase equity in computer science.

Reaching Young Students and Beginners

scratchjrBlocks-based programming languages, such as Scratchallow students to program without the obstacle of wrongly typing commands. The social communities that have evolved around them allow students to support each other’s development by sharing, reusing, and remixing others’ creations. ScratchJr is a tablet-based version of Scratch for children as young as 5 years old. CS Unplugged is a set of activities that teach computer science through physical, kinesthetic experiences, without a computer.

Reaching Students with Disabilities

disability-2Learning accommodations and curricular modifications based on Universal Design for Learning (UDL)  can be readily applied in computer science to differentiate instruction. (Hansen, Hansen, Dwyer, Harlow & Franklin, 2016). The Quorum programming language, developed at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is able to be read by existing computer screen readers, making it accessible to students with visual impairments. The ACCESS CS10K group at the University of Washington has developed curriculum resources and provide professional development for teachers of students with disabilities.

Reaching Females and Underrepresented Minorities

dsc00479Exploring Computer Science, an introductory high school-level course, and AP Computer Science Principles, an introductory college-level course, exemplify an approach to changing curriculum, instruction, and classroom culture to broaden participation in computer science.