March 2024

Data Science Helps Students of Color Opt In for More Math

Data Science Helps Students of Color Opt In for More Math

Jason Lee Morgan, a math teacher at Dominguez High School in Compton, California, and Kagba Suaray, a professor of mathematics and statistics at California State University, Long Beach, penned an op-ed in EdSource on the merits of data science courses as a gateway to STEM degrees and careers, especially for students of color.

It was the height of distance learning when 16-year-old Aaron Butler took Compton Unified’s first step into data science education by joining the Young Data Scientists League. The next year, 2021, the young African American varsity basketball captain enrolled in Compton’s first high school data science course, thanks to a 2020 decision by UC’s admissions committee allowing such courses to qualify for students’ third or fourth year of high school math. Now a business economics major at UCLA, Aaron said that “before I was closed off to math, but data science made me way more interested in mathematics.”

Ensuring college access is paramount for [Dominguez High School’s] student population, who are predominantly Hispanic, Black and Pacific Islander, and 94 percent of whom are socioeconomically disadvantaged. Data science, with its hands-on, real-world applications, is exactly the right gateway for both math-averse and math-inclined students alike to engage with rich mathematics and take the UC-recommended four years of math coursework.

Now UC has retracted that decision, making it much less likely that counselors will recommend data science to our students. Consequently, we’re likely to see a decline in enrollment and retention during the four years of high school mathematics among students of color.

Narrowing the scope of acceptable mathematics perpetuates exclusivity rather than fostering inclusivity and belief in all learners’ potential. For many Dominguez High students we’ve spoken with who are either enrolled or have graduated from the UC system, success and persistence in STEM, including data science, correlated to growth mindsets, cultural competence, positive identities, and supportive communities and structures.

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