Closing the Data Science Diversity Gap as Early as K-12

San AntonioA San Antonio SDP Fellow and High School Statistics teacher team up to provide real-world opportunities for the next generation of Latinx data leaders.

The need for data scientists in the U.S. is growing, yet groups like the Latinx population are vastly untapped when training and building the next generation of skilled workers. According to Google’s 2019 diversity report, for example, only 5.7% of their total workforce identifies as Latinx, and only 5.3% of their new hires in tech jobs went to Latinx workers. This trend mirrors a larger trend in the U.S. STEM workforce, as Hispanic workers hold only 7% of STEM jobs yet make up 16% of the workforce. Absent wider programming specifically targeting STEM, some K-12 teachers are getting creative when developing opportunities in data science for Latinx students.

“It really started with one of our AP teachers advocating for an opportunity for students to get some real-world experience,” explains Samuel Yi, SDP Fellow and Director of Human Analytics at San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD) in Texas. In summer 2019, Yi joined forces with high school teacher Dashiell Young-Saver to create a summer research and data internship aimed at building skills in research, data analytics, and data visualization. Over the course of the summer, SAISD students Hugo Sanchez and Julius Cervantes were selected to support the department of educator analytics in evaluating a district-wide master teacher initiative intended to pair high-quality teachers and principals with the district’s neediest students.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the rise of data science needs will create 11.5 million job openings by 2026, thus demanding a large pool of qualified professionals. To fill this pool, students will need both training and experience.

“We were really interested in building up real-world career skills,” continued Yi. “We know how important that first level of experience is for getting a foot in the door for future opportunities. These students will have much more competitive resumes with real-world data visualization and analytics experience.”

SAISD is a district largely comprised of exactly those students needed in data science, with 89.5% of students identifying as Hispanic and 92.6% classified as economically disadvantaged. And in a district with these demographics, statistics was a natural subject for additional opportunities. “Stats is the most meaningful math for a lot of students,” explains Young-Saver. “And for minority students, and those from low-income families, you can really use stats to delve into relevant topics that affect their lives.”

Sanchez’s and Cervantes’ top performances in statistics and their extracurricular application of their classroom lessons aligned well with the internship. “They were going above and beyond pretty consistently,” notes Young-Saver. “These were students who were chomping at the bit to get their hands on data.”

Hugo Sanchez
SAISD student Hugo Sanchez

“Often I would hear teachers tell me to think critically,” offers Sanchez, “but they wouldn’t necessarily tell me how. Mr. Young-Saver’s statistics class, I really learned how to use data and numbers to think critically. This is when I fell in love with statistics.”

“With college coming up,” adds Cervantes, “I wanted to find internship opportunities that involved data science and statistics. This was my chance to work with actual data, not some typical schoolwork where I had to memorize and repeat a process on exam day.”

In many districts, economically disadvantaged and minority students are not equitably assigned to the most qualified teachers, so Sanchez and Cervantes set out to uncover how San Antonio’s students were distributed among master teachers (MTs) and their counterparts. Using Tableau, they analyzed a large data set to find no observable differences between students of MTs and other educators. They ultimately presented their findings to a group of district executives including an assistant superintendent, executive director of education quality and appraisal, and directors of research and development, grants, and analytics.

“The students created a well-designed dashboard to share findings related to student placement in master teacher classrooms,” reflects Jill Rhodes Pruin, who, as SAISD’s Executive Director of Appraisal and Educator Quality, who was in the room to receive the students’ presentation. “Since we had not previously looked at the data for all of the various sub-populations, it allowed us to engage in conversations and begin to ask questions and explore possible scenarios related to the data.”

Julius Cervantes photo
SAISD student Julius Cervantes
When asked about the impact of including the student voice in data projects like these, both Yi and Young-Saver agreed that students provide a vital perspective when tackling issues in education. “Education is a fundamentally human endeavor where you're all collectively making meaning together, and you just can't do that without bringing all voices to the table,” reflects Yi.

“The student voice is THE voice,” adds Young-Saver. “Often students have ideas that go unheard in all sorts of ways. To have students combing through and analyzing data about how our schools and teachers are performing is a way to empower these students, through evidence-based reasoning, to advocate for themselves.”