Why are underrepresented minorities and poor over-represented in Code.org courses?

July 21, 2017 at 8:00 am 11 comments

Code.org has a blog post describing their latest demographics results showing that they have remarkably high percentages of women (45%) and under-represented minorities (48%). In fact, their students are 49% on free and reduced meals.

Only 38% of students in the US are on free and reduced lunch.  44% of students in the US are Black or Hispanic (using US Department of Education data).

What does it mean that Code.org classes are over-sampling under-represented groups and poorer students?

I don’t know. Certainly, it’s because Code.org targeted large, urban school districts.  That’s who’s there.  But it’s not like the classes are unavailable to anyone else.  If the perception was these are valuable, shouldn’t more suburban schools be wanting them, too?

One explanation I can imagine is that schools that are majority poor and/or minority might be under-funded, so Code.org classes with their well-defined curriculum and clear teacher preparation models are very attractive. Those schools may not have the option of hiring (say) an AP CS teacher who might pick from one of the non-Code.org curriculum options, or even develop his or her own.

The key question for me is: Why aren’t the more majority and wealthier schools using Code.org classes?  CS is a new-to-schools, mostly-elective subject.  Usually those new opportunities get to the wealthy kids first.  Unless they don’t want it. Maybe the wealthy schools are dismissing these opportunities?

It’s possible that Code.org classes (and maybe CS in high school more generally) might get end up stigmatized as being for the poor and minority kids?  Perhaps the majority kids or the middle/upper-class kids and schools avoid those classes? We have had computing classes in Georgia that were considered “so easy” that administrators would fill the classes with problem students — college-bound students would avoid those classes.  We want CS for all.

Code.org has achieved something wonderful in getting so many diverse students into computing classes. The questions I’m raising are not meant as any criticism of Code.org.  Rather, I’m asking how the public at large is thinking about CS, and I’m using Code.org classes as an exemplar since we have data on them.  Perceptions matter, and I’m raising questions about the perceptions of CS classes in K-12.

I do have a complaint with the claim in the post quoted below.  The citation is to the College Board’s 2007 study which found that AP CS students are more likely to major in CS than most other AP’s, with a differentially strong impact for female and under-represented minority students.  “Taking AP CS” is not the same as “learn computer science in K-12 classrooms.”  That’s too broad a claim — not all K-12 CS is likely to have the same result.

Today, we’re happy to announce that our annual survey results are in. And, for the second year in a row, underrepresented minorities make up 48% of students in our courses and females once again make up 45% of our students…When females learn computer science in K-12 classrooms, they’re ten times more likely to major in it in college. Underrepresented minorities are seven to eight times more likely.

Source: Girls and underrepresented minorities are represented in Code.org courses

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11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. astrachano  |  July 21, 2017 at 11:43 am

    As I read the code.org data the demographics are NOT simply for their APCSP course, but for all their courses in K-12. Your article somewhat confuse this perhaps — with sentences like “code.org classes and maybe CS in high school more generally”

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  July 21, 2017 at 11:55 am

      I don’t think I mentioned AP CSP anywhere. That fragment is from the sentence: “It’s possible that Code.org classes (and maybe CS in high school more generally) might get end up stigmatized as being for the poor and minority kids?” Yes, I’m raising that possibility.

  • 3. Jeff Forbes  |  July 21, 2017 at 11:43 am

    They’re not.

    2 quick comments:
    1. 38% was the rate in 2000. As of 2014-15, ~52% of US students are on free and reduced lunch according to current figures, so code.org students are a bit more wealthy than US public schools. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d16/tables/dt16_204.10.asp?current=yes
    2. Is there any indication that these numbers are based on students taking the class rather than the school population? Does code.org actually collect demographic data on students who take their courses?

    • 4. Jeff Forbes  |  July 21, 2017 at 12:09 pm

      Answering question #2 from https://docs.google.com/document/u/2/d/1gySkItxiJn_vwb8HIIKNXqen184mRtzDX12cux0ZgZk/pub#h.9huhworu37ta:

      “To protect the privacy of our youngest students, we measure the diversity for students under age 13 for the entire classroom by surveying teachers. This means these numbers are based on teachers’ estimates of the actual student ethnicities. For older students, the students self identify their race.
      Similarly, for student privacy, we do not ask individual students if they are on free or reduced meals. Instead, we have an optional survey for teachers. This means these numbers are based on their knowledge of which students have subsidized meals.”

      Are teacher estimates of race our free/reduced lunch reliable? Do you think an optional survey will accurately reflect classrooms that use code studio?

      “Our “45% female” measure of gender diversity in CS Fundamentals courses on Code Studio is based on student accounts, and thus represents all active Code Studio students worldwide.”

      Their data on race, gender, and free/reduced lunch eligibility is likely not comparable to US Dept. of Ed or College Board data.

      • 5. Mark Guzdial  |  July 24, 2017 at 2:32 am

        Thanks for investigating that, Jeff. It sounds like the Code.org diversity and free/reduced lunch are unreliable, but not necessarily wrong. There’s a lower degree of confidence, and the correct number (if we could measure it accurately) might actually be about the same (e.g., one teacher might over-estimate, and another teacher might underestimate). We don’t know right now.

    • 6. Mark Guzdial  |  July 21, 2017 at 1:25 pm

      Wow — 52% is stunning!

      • 7. Mike Zamansky  |  July 21, 2017 at 2:27 pm

        What’s more stunning is the actual income these families struggle to get by with.

  • 8. Anonymous Teacher  |  July 22, 2017 at 3:18 am

    I agree with you that code.org is targeting large urban school districts. I am a teacher in a suburban school district that does not fit their demographics. I have applied several times for their training and have been turned down every time. I tried to use their curriculum without attending their PD and did not feel I was successful. I asked several times if I could please just sit in the back and listen during the training but was denied.

    • 9. Mike  |  September 12, 2017 at 10:23 am

      That’s not very diverse.

  • 10. Stephanie  |  September 20, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    As someone who teaches CS in an after-school program, I have actually stopped using the code.org curriculum. After using it a couple of months I found it was only giving exposure rather than teaching. The data claims are good for media optics, but I don’t think it’s making the impact that is needed.

  • […] classes have are almost half poor students (blog post here), and have excellent diversity (see their Medium post here). What are the rich students taking? […]


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