Saturday, April 25, 2009

Stuck in the Shallow End

Stuck in the Shallow End is an action research project about computer science education in American high schools. There currently exists a racial/ethnic imbalance in students who not only enroll in an advanced placement Computer Science courses but also amongst those who have access to such curricula. Margolis and colleagues draw upon the historical inequalities in swimming (yes swimming) to help illustrate how legacies of social exclusion are produced and reproduced throughout space and time.

Three high schools in the Los Angeles Metro area were selected as case studies; East River, predominately working-class and Hispanic, Westward, mostly African American with a “science and technology” curriculum and Canyon, a charter school comprised of mostly white upper-class students. With little surprise the two aforementioned schools were saddled with a multitude of problems including, overcrowding, high teacher to student ratios, many of which were poorly trained, and curricula with little if any emphasis on computer science. Canyon, by contrast, was well funded, well equipped and required that all students enroll in technology courses for graduation.

Margolis and colleagues’ research is distinguished from similar works, which highlight the glaring inequalities in American education, in that they helped launch an intuitive to provide computer science training for teachers at underfunded schools. In 2004 the Computer Science Equity Alliance (CSEA) was established along with the UCLA/LASUSD Summer AP Computer Science Teachers Institute.

While there are glaring methodological issues with this research Stuck in the Shallow End successfully illustrates the significant investment in time and money that’s required for a high school computer science curriculum to thrive. Many of the issues experienced by teachers and students in the cases presented here go well beyond computers, technology, access and education. Issues of race, gender, ethnicity, and low self-esteem are all issues that will have also have to be addressed if these inequities are to be eradicated.

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