SF Gate: A way to diversify tech? Treat computer class like math

Backed by an all-star cast of Silicon Valley executives and nonprofit leaders, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom asked the University of California Academic Senate Wednesday to count high school computer science classes as math classes instead of electives — a move supporters say could help to diversify the tech industry.

Newsom’s hope is that the shift will encourage California high schools — which frequently tailor their curriculum to reflect what the UC system requires — to beef up their computer science offerings.

Turning computer science into a core requirement could eventually pull more women and people of color into those classes at a younger age, and help diversify the talent pool in an industry dominated by whites, Asians, and men.

Last year, fewer than 9,000 California high school students took the AP Computer Science exam, according to Newsom’s office. A little more than one quarter were women, fewer than 1,000 were Latino, and only 148 were African American.

“Every student learns about photosynthesis and fractions even if they don’t grow up to become botanists or mathematicians,” the former San Francisco mayor wrote in a letter to the Academic Senate’s Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools Committee. “A basic understanding of computing and computer science is foundational to many fields and will prepare students both for college and for the careers of tomorrow.”

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg, Y Combinator President Sam Altman, LinkedIn Chairman Reid Hoffman and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla were among two dozen tech leaders who signed the letter. Also backing it were San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Richard Carranza and Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Antwan Wilson.

Michael Nobleza, the national director for Oakland’s Yes We Code, a tech skills training program for low-opportunity young people, said this proposal would “help broaden the pipeline” by introducing more students to computer sciences.

“Only those who are drawn to computer sciences — who are usually white and Asian students, because they see themselves succeeding in it — are taking them,” Nobleza said Wednesday after reviewing Newsom’s letter. “Overall this could bring in more students of color.”

UC already does “consider some computer sciences classes as meeting the math requirement,” university spokeswoman Dianne Klein said Wednesday after reviewing Newsom’s letter. “Others, that do not have sufficient math, are considered electives.”

She pointed to the system’s admission requirements, which say that “a computer science course with primary focus on coding methods alone would not fulfill the mathematics requirement, whereas one with substantial mathematical content (e.g., mathematical induction, proof techniques or other topics from discrete mathematics) could satisfy the requirement.”

Joe Garofoli is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: jgarofoli@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @joegarofoli

Source: SF Gate


"Diversity brings so much more to the table - and by focusing outside of the usual and rewarding all sorts of people in tech - we can only make it better. #YesWeCode is doing exactly that."
- Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple

Donate