Outsiders Within: How Do Black Girls Fit into Computer Science for All?

Zitsi Mirakhur, Cheri Fancsali, Kathryn Hill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Objectives. At the K–12 level, “CS for All” initiatives across the country strive to increase equitable access to and participation in computer science (CS). However, there are many open questions about the implementation and effectiveness of these initiatives, including the extent to which exposing young people to CS early on can shape their longer-term CS interest and engagement. In this article, we examine CS participation among 6th–8th-grade Black girls and assess whether CS participation during middle school shapes CS interest and engagement during their first year of high school. We focus on Black girls in the hopes of developing a more nuanced and rigorous understanding of computing experiences at the intersection of racism and sexism in this field. Participants. The focal group of students in this study are 6th–8th-grade Black girls from New York City. We employ a comparative lens in this article, contextualizing the CS experiences and outcomes of Black girls to Latinas, Asian, and White girls, as well as Black boys. Study Method. We primarily rely on quantitative data for this article, applying a critical lens to our analyses and interpretation. More specifically, we conduct descriptive analyses of course-taking patterns as well as survey data that focus on student attitudes and beliefs about CS. We then carry out inferential analyses of students’ administrative records examining how, if at all, middle school CS participation is related to high school outcomes for Black girls. We employ a comparative lens and rely on qualitative data to make sense of our results. Findings. We find that, troublingly, Black girls in the district are disproportionately less likely to receive CS instruction in middle school. Black girls are also less likely than Black boys, Latinas, and White girls to feel that they belong in CS. However, Black girls in CS courses report similar levels of engagement, family, and peer support, as well as value for CS relative to other students in the district. Finally, we find that participation in CS courses in middle school does not increase the likelihood that Black girls will select high schools that offer CS courses or take a CS course during their first year of high school. Conclusions. Our findings suggest that to increase equitable access and participation in CS, it is not enough to simply expose students to CS coursework. We call for sustained attention to the experiences that Black girls have in their CS classes as well as broader structural barriers that might shape CS course-taking.

Original languageEnglish
Article number16
JournalACM Transactions on Computing Education
Volume24
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Apr 16 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 Association for Computing Machinery.

Keywords

  • CS for All
  • Equity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Computer Science
  • Education

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