Tech’s Gender and Race Gap Starts in High School

Eleanor Barkhorn, The Atlantic, January 10, 2014

When people talk about how to diversify the tech field, a common solution is, “Start earlier.” Rather than focus on getting women and minorities hired at tech startups or encouraging them to major in computer science in college, there should be a push to turn them on to the discipline when they’re still teenagers—or even younger.

“It’s already too late,” Paul Graham, founder of the tech entrepreneur boot camp Y Combinator, said last month in a controversial interview. “What we should be doing is somehow changing the middle school computer science curriculum or something like that.”

Right now, the “start early” strategy doesn’t seem to be working: The students doing advanced computer science work in high school remain overwhelmingly white and male. According to data from the College Board compiled by Georgia Tech’s Barbara Ericson, only a small percentage of the high-schoolers taking the Advanced Placement Computer Science exam are women. Black and Latino students make up an even lower percentage of the test-takers.

Ericson’s analysis of the data shows that in 2013, 18 percent of the students who took the exam were women. Eight percent were Hispanic, and four percent were African-American. In contrast, Latinos make up 22 percent of the school-age population in the U.S.; African-Americans make up 14 percent. {snip}

There are some states where not a single member of one of these groups took the test last year. No women in Mississippi or Montana took it. Seven states had no Hispanic students take the exam: Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, and North Dakota. And 10 states had no Black students take the exam: Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Utah. In some of these states, there simply aren’t many students of any race or gender taking the test, which helps explain the dearth of young women and minorities. {snip}

In California, home of Silicon Valley, a slightly higher-than-average percentage of the test-takers were women: 22 percent. But the percentage of African-American students taking the exam was far lower: just one and a half percent. (The percentage of Hispanic students taking the test in California was about the same as the national average, at eight percent.)

“We were not surprised by Barbara Ericson’s findings because unfortunately, computing courses have historically been dominated by white, male students,” Deborah Davis, spokeswoman for the College Board, wrote in an email to EdWeek.


Topics: , ,

Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.
  • D.B. Cooper

    You know, lets do something about that 50 plus % drop out rate before worrying about a field where minorities are outclassed. You might as well try to get 300 pounders as a football wide receiver.

  • Druid

    much ado about nothing…

  • dd121

    The “tech gap” starts at birth with minorities and it’s called low IQ. I was a programmer and when it comes to women they just don’t like doing it. Just like they don’t like tinkering with cars or stereos. I know, there’s exceptions.

    • IstvanIN

      Men and women are, drum role please, different! Don’t tell Ms. Davis that, she might faint.

      • dd121

        I know, I like women, hell I married one. The feminists try to imitate men but they still don’t like fixing cars and playing stereos. It’s just in their nature.

    • Jim Barlow

      Everyone will admit that our SKIN is different. Our HAIR is different.

      Look at the NFL, NBA – athleticism is different.

      Why is it a faux pas to admit that our BRAINs are different?

      There is no RACE GAP in academics – there is a GENETIC GAP!

      • Frank_DeScushin

        It’s so bizarre. Liberals will admit differences in every part of the body — skin, hair, height, weight, muscle mass, and so on. Yet, somehow, the brain is the one part of the body that escaped differences.

        Liberals will wax on about Conservatives being idiots who don’t believe in evolution. Liberals will then renounce that environmental factors could have cause differences in the intelligence and demeanor of races that evolved apart for millennia. Evolution caused differences of the temperament of the African and Indian elephant, but not the African and European man according to Liberals.

        This despite the fact that the truth is self evident.

      • dd121

        That’s a question that has large social and political consequences. I don’t think blacks can be educated or civilized in any systematic way. If the libs admitted that, then they would also have to admit the logical consequence of that conclusion. Namely that what we should just try to keep them warm and comfortable and let whites get on with the business of running the world without having dysfunctional creatures tethered to us. So, they assert they’re just like us. Not.

  • Rhialto

    The war against White men continues.

    • NeanderthalDNA

      Gee, there’s not many blacks taking techie tests in Alaska. What, other than evil Whitey could explain that little factiod?

  • tech

    Funny how they don’t mention anything about Asian rates compared to their population. That might be interesting to know.

    • IstvanIN

      Shhhhh…those stats always ruin their racism whines.

  • bigone4u

    Sigh. So many “barriers to success,” and “glass ceilings” for the Cultural Marxists to invent to explain the unpleasant truth. Which is that women don’t like computers or the Three Stooges. Blacks don’t like anything that isn’t simple. And Mexicans prefer to eat, drink, and be merry rather than study. While white males love a mystery, love a puzzle, love solving problems. It ensured our survival in the icy dead of winter in Europe.

  • MekongDelta69

    I have first-person news for Mzzz. Barkhorn of the leftist Atlantic.

    Women and minorities have never been involved in the tech field (exceeding 5-10% MAX). NEVER…

  • WR_the_realist

    “…unfortunately, computing courses have historically been dominated by white, male students,” Deborah Davis,

    No. Unfortunately, grade school teaching has for several decades been dominated by left wing women.

    • Perhaps because computers and advances in computer science were created by White men. Coincidence?

  • ncpride

    We were not surprised by Barbara Ericson’s findings because unfortunately, computing courses have historically been dominated by white, male students,”

    Explain exactly WHY this is unfortunate? Yet another tired article attacking White males for their superior intelligence. Deborah Davis needs to be fired for her discriminatory comment against White males. The only thing ‘unfortunate’ here is that this woman is a spokesperson for the College Board. Biased much?

    • Jesse James

      Exactly, is it unfortunate that professional basketball is dominated by blacks? Well I miss the old Celtics when they played white ball so I do think that it is unfortunate but suck it up cupcake, different strokes for different folks. Charlie don’t surf and the majority of NAMs and women don’t take to math and computers. Why does it matter so much to these people? Would you feel better if all white men just hammered nails into their heads?

      • So CAL Snowman

        Charlie Don’t Surf – Amen

      • LACounty

        Larry Bird owned the league even though he wasn’t the fastest of highest leaper. Steve Nash 2 time MVP. NBA analysts attribute it to high “Basketball IQ”. 🙂

    • Pro_Whitey

      Yes, imagine if she complained about the disproportionate number of Jewish white males in the field. Oy, then she’d learn a thing or two!

    • Brian

      The Modern World
      Copyright 1500-2014, White Men.
      All Rights Reserved.

  • Marc Zuckurburg

    There is no race and gender gap on Facebook.

    There is no race and gender gap at Facebook either. Straight white non-Jewish males need not apply.

  • Spartacus

    If all the effort spent on “diversification” would’ve been used for a better, saner goal, you could’ve built a city on Mars by now….

    • RisingReich

      I like the symbolism. Very clever!

    • Great representation of the Tower of Babel.

  • borogirl54

    I wonder what percentage of women, blacks and Hispanics actually pass the exam?

    • White Light

      The pass rate has steadily declined as more and more people are taking the exams.

      • IstvanIN

        If the state encourages people who have either little interest, little talent, or little of both, to take the exam, the “excluded” groups will do worse.

        • White Light

          The way the “weighted” GPA is structured(an A is a 5) means they can benefit even if they fail the test.

          • borogirl54

            I believe that they have to score a 3 to pass and to use the test as college credit.

          • White Light

            I’m talking about GPA. Ordinary, it is scored on a 4-point scale, but someone decided that AP classes should be counted on a 5-point scale, so that an A is a 5, B is a four, C is a three, ect. That is how you see people with GPAs with over a 4.0

    • So CAL Snowman

      It depends on who is administering the test. I bet blacks and hispanics pass in non White districts and fail in White districts.

  • White Light

    VERY few students will ever get the opportunity to take the AP Computer Science exam anyway.

  • White Light

    One of the main reasons why minorities don’t have “access” to these exams(not that they would use them if they did), is because do-gooder liberals hate tracking, which is what AP classes are, glorified tracking.

  • willbest

    1) My college didn’t accept AP Comp Sci, if you were majoring in Comp Sci or Engineering. Why would you waste money on an exam that didn’t count

    2) Why would you take a class if you didn’t have an interest in going into that field anyway. AP Comp Sci is an elective that competed with Art, photography, automotive repair, band, creative writing, etc.

    3) There was no effort by anybody at the school (admin, teacher, counselors) to encourage anybody to take the class. Nobody is rolling out the red carpet for the white and Asian males

    4) AP Comp Sci did have the pre req that you have completed Algebra 2, which if you were good at math you did in your 2nd year, and if you were really bad at math you did in your 4th year. But then I guess math is racist.

  • libertarian1234

    “When people talk about how to diversify the tech field, a common solution is, “Start earlier.”

    How screwy is that?

    I mean the concentration on education should be on education not social engineering.

    It’s no wonder the US is falling behind the other developed nations.

    • Druid

      It’s no wonder the US is falling behind the other developed nations.
      We’re not falling behind anything. All the heavy duty Tech schools, Mass. Institute of Technology, Cal Tech, ect. have all the genius’ they can handle. It’s just women, blacks and hispanics aren’t among them.

    • Jim Barlow

      We’re too busy trying to achieve some incorrect PC ‘fairness’ instead of cultivating our time and resources on deserving pupils.

  • IstvanIN

    “We were not surprised by Barbara Ericson’s findings because unfortunately, computing courses have historically been dominated by white, male students,” Deborah Davis, spokeswoman for the College Board, wrote in an email to EdWeek.

    Why is it unfortunate, could you explain? Because White males don’t share their brilliance with the world? Can’t be that since the modern world is the result of the work of white males. Please, give me some explanation.

  • OhWow

    Blacks are really just a bunch of Einsteins with great stores of potential just waiting to be burst out, but the only problem is some white guy is being mean to him!

    This is the basic tenant of liberalism. Did you laugh out loud? You should have. Sadly this is how they really think.

    • me

      Because computers are raaaaycis!

  • So CAL Snowman

    “We were not surprised by Barbara Ericson’s findings because
    unfortunately, computing courses have historically been dominated by
    white, male students,”

    Look at how they word that sentence – historically dominated by white, males. Just another way to demonize us, as if WE are the problem. It’s the fault of the White male that non Whites and women aren’t taking computer courses because the White racist men dominate it and will not allow anyone else.

    It couldn’t possibly be because the White man invented the computer and our brains are hard wired for things like 3-D modeling and mathematics, now could it?

  • RisingReich

    I work in IT and I’m sorry folks, women and minorities just don’t have the cycles required to perform the work. Every single woman I’ve had the difficulty of working with in IT just wasn’t capable of understanding the details and the math behind it.

    No amount of social engineering is going to make a woman perform like a White male in these professions. We are NOT equal, and never will be. Just the facts.

    • Bossman

      The programming language, Cobol was invented by a woman.

      • Strider73

        True, but that does not change the big picture. There are always outliers on both extremes of the bell curve. Just because the world’s most interesting man is Hispanic does not mean Hispanics as a whole are more interesting than others.

      • indoctrination_FAIL

        …and COBOL is used exactly where anymore? Not in my brutally competitive world of 3D modeling (where BTW you have seen my stuff on TV and in stores).

        You’ll need to do better than that, “Boss” !

        • Bossman

          Cobol used to be the main language for big businesses that had big IBM computers.

        • dd121

          There are vast numbers of legacy systems written in COBOL 30-40 years ago that are too complicated to ever be replaced. Go Big Blue!

      • Seminumerical

        COBOL was designed by a committee and shows signs of it. The lack of local variables and obstacles to setting up a subroutine are typical. The committee, seemingly of clerks and accountants, over organized it and disallowed or were unaware of many programming techniques available in the underlying machine language. It did allow one insanely bad idea borrowed from some assembly language programmers: self modifying code. It takes ideas from Grace Hopper, but calling her the mother of COBOL is an exaggeration.

        In the early years of business programming, coding was regarded as women’s work. I met an elderly woman in California who had been an Autocoder programmer in the 50s, but even business programming rapidly became a disproportionally male domain. Science/engineering applications and systems programming were male domains from the start.

        I attended two ACM programming competitions in SoCal. Of the approximately 140 students from 40 universities there no blacks or Mexicans. Less than ten percent were female. Most were nerdy looking white guys, many were nerdy looking East Asians, and one was a guy with long greasy black hair and inch long fingernails who looked like he should be playing dungeons and dragons in his mother’s basement.

        • dd121

          It has been upgraded over the years. They’ve added case structures and more recently dynamic call capabilities making it architecture/machine dependent. That’s probably not a plus. It’s almost as efficient at assembly language which I guess is nice. They also added CICS giving it an interactive capability and interfaces to various access methods. There’s always going to be applications for it and it doesn’t seem to be going away.

        • Bossman

          Thanks for this background information about Cobol.

    • There’s another factor.

      I’m sure there are times when you’re working on deadline, and by “working,” I mean not going home, sleeping on office couches and eating breakfast dinner and supper out of vending machines. More like a modern day white collar death march. CSIT can often be mission oriented work, and men are just better built for that. Women that work tend to want tightly defined hours to where they know when they can go home and take care of the kids.

    • DiversityIsHumanism

      Well maybe women don’t have the ability to do that kind of work but black and other colored males definitely do. Afterall advanced mathematics (calculus and up) and the mist engine (forerunner of the steam engine) both were invented by African men.

  • Peter Connor

    Shocking, sarc on

  • “Tech’s gender and race gap starts in high school.”

    Well duh. High school is when hormones really start to kick in and most people start stereotypically acting their racial and gender selves.

  • MBlanc46

    “[C][hanging the middle school computer science curriculum or something like that.”

    Make it all romance novels. That will get the young ladies interested [and drive the evil males off].

  • JackKrak

    Why does no one worry about the low number of straight white males in the Psychology or Education departments?

  • Massif1

    Wait until Yahoo and Facebook hire an executive in the name of diversity. Their job would be to smile for the camera and wave.

  • Transpower

    In my experience, very, very few women can do math, science, or engineering work. There are exceptions, of course, but this doesn’t change the statistics. “Liberals” believe in the mythology of “egalitarianism.”