More Black and Latino Students Learn Computer Science as Code.org Classes Grow

Giovanna Munoz Ortiz is a 10th grader at Madison Park Academy, and every day, she learns to code.

Her public school in East Oakland, Calif., mirrors the neighborhood that surrounds it. It’s nearly entirely Latino and African American. Almost all the students qualify for free and reduced lunch. And, until 2015, it didn’t offer any computer science classes.

“I had never really thought about it much before,” Ortiz, 15, says. “Now that I am being exposed to it, I find it really interesting.”

Ortiz is one of a growing number of students from underrepresented backgrounds gaining access for the first time to curriculum from Code.org, which gives them the knowledge and skills to pursue an education and career in computer science.

AP computer science
Code.org said Thursday that it has enrolled more than 18,600 high school students in its CS Principles advanced placement computer science course. About half of the students are Latino or African American. That could more than double the number of underrepresented minorities in AP computer science classes nationwide this year.

Though the numbers are still small, they are growing and the trajectory shows promise for Code.org’s mission to reach students in urban and rural areas who have never before had the opportunity to study computer science.

Code.org is a nonprofit group backed by tech companies such as Facebook and Microsoft. Its mission is to get every school to add computer science to its curriculum, part of a growing effort to address the nation’s shortage of computer scientists and the systemic lack of diversity in the tech industry.

That gender and racial gap has its roots in unequal access to computer science education. And that’s something Partovi says he’s determined to change so that students of all backgrounds have a shot at the plentiful jobs and high-paying careers in the field, just as he did.

Partovi, born in Tehran, taught himself to code on a Commodore 64. After immigrating to the U.S. as a child, he used his programming chops to land jobs as a software engineer during high school and college while his friends worked as busboys and babysitters. With a degree in computer science from Harvard, Partovi rose through the ranks at Microsoft and then went on to start two companies.

In 2013, he and his twin brother Ali Partovi started Code.org. Now Code.org is building on the track record of its Code Studio, which offers online tutorials in the basics of coding, by targeting high school computer science classes.

“I am living the American dream,” says Partovi. “But most Americans feel like the American dream is broken. It’s stacked in favor of those with special privilege.”

More and more, public schools are viewing computer science as a foundational skill much like reading, writing and math. Still, the majority of schools don’t offer it.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Jessica Guynn