Reimagining NYC Public Education and The New York City Tech Pipeline

For over ten years our city has seen stronger growth in tech and tech-related jobs than any other specific skills-based occupation. As of last year, 85% of NYC companies plan on increasing their number of employees with tech skills, and a Tech:NYC report ranked New York City the second most successful tech market in the world. Making New York City work for everyone includes ensuring all New Yorkers are prepared for and have access to the jobs of the future, and that our industries truly reflect and provide opportunities to New Yorkers of all backgrounds and all boroughs. Going forward, the tech sector is a key part of this.

And yet, there are dramatic racial and gender disparities in the demographic composition of New York City’s tech workforce. Compared to those working in non-tech industries, the tech workforce is disproportionately white and Asian, male, and more likely to include non-native New Yorkers and commuters from outside of New York City. Together, Black and Latinx adults represent just 18% of the NYC tech workforce, according to a 2016 Census, while they make up 43% of those working in non-tech-related industries. Men make up more than two-thirds (68%) of tech workers in New York City. At the same time, a majority of executives report having difficulty recruiting experienced workers.

In 2018-19, out of 1,063 total computer science degrees granted by CUNY colleges, just 15% went to Black students, and 16% went to Latinx students. By comparison, 48% of computer science degrees went to Asian students, and 21% went to white students. Just 19% of computer science degrees were awarded to women. Tackling the barriers to technology access and education, starting with young New Yorkers, will be key to reimagining New York City’s tech sector as an engine of opportunity. 

Doing this will require accelerating our understanding of the skills, knowledge, and experiences that are fundamental to digital-age workforce demands; and ensuring that students of all ages and backgrounds are given the educational experiences to both understand and take advantage of the opportunities. 

This work must start early to be meaningful. From kindergarten through post-secondary academic and career preparation, students of all backgrounds must have access to high-quality teaching and learning in computer science and digital fluency, as well as private sector partners who can help advance the scope and depth of training and pathways to employment opportunities. To truly expand pathways into tech sector and tech-related jobs for New Yorkers of color and low-income New Yorkers, Shaun will bring together the public and private sectors to not only ensure that education and training keep pace with the speed of change in the digital age, but that the racial and cultural biases and barriers for entry into all tech jobs are confronted, creating the country’s most diverse, innovative, and accomplished tech community.

These efforts must intentionally focus on not just access, but equity and equality. Although the de Blasio administration has made significant advances in access to computer science learning through public-private partnerships like CS4All, only 28% of the over 14,000 high school students who took AP computer science exams in 2020 were Black or Latinx students. According to a Research Alliance for NYC Schools report, students who took CS were less likely to be female; Black or Latinx; students with disabilities or multi-lingual learners; low-income; or those with low prior performance on state ELA and Math exams. Going forward, this work must prioritize students from low-income communities and communities of color who have faced decades of opportunity gaps, and the widely-held bias that computer science and the technology sector are only for the elite, building on Shaun’s plan to close the digital divide.

Our plan will focus on:

  • Advancing Computer Science Education and Digital Literacy in K-12
  • Accelerating and Extending the Pipeline: CUNY and Computer Science and Technology Opportunities
  • Drawing on Private and Public Sector Leadership for Essential Work-Based Experience

Advancing Computer Science Education and Digital Literacy in K-12

The definitions of computer science and digital fluency education have evolved rapidly in recent years. Building from public-private partnerships on the national, state, and local level, such CS4All and other large coalitions, educational and technology industry leaders have worked together to develop the content, experiences, and pedagogical practices that are necessary for computational and digital literacy. Late last year, New York State adopted standards for computer science and digital fluency education, with a goal of full implementation in all grades by 2024, that cover areas such as computational thinking, cybersecurity, and digital literacy. National polls report that 90% of parents of school age children believe that computer science education is as important as other core subject areas. 

Leveraging the success and lessons learned through CS4All, Shaun’s administration would focus on key next steps to expand access and quality in computer science education to all New Yorkers. Read more about the policies described below in our Education and Innovation platforms.

We are committed to the following policies and programs:

Expand access to high-quality computer science learning opportunities to ensure that we reach all students, with a focus on equitable opportunities

Within five years, students in every grade in every elementary school will have basic computer science instruction aligned with the state standards for those grades in order to ensure adequate preparation for all students to advance through middle and high school computer science and digital fluency learning. By high school, every student will have the opportunity to advance through coursework to AP level, and at least 10,000 high school students a year will have a tech work internship or apprenticeship. 

As with all of our policies aimed at increasing opportunity, these must focus on the communities that have been historically left out: those with large proportions of multilingual learners, students of color, low-income students, students experiencing homelessness, and students with disabilities. The Donovan administration will also increase the number of high schools located in low-income communities and communities of color, such as Comp Sci High and the Software Engineering Academies, that provide meaningful computer science and digital fluency skills development and experiences in order to provide equity of access to workforce skills and knowledge for students in all five boroughs of the city. 

Strengthen and support the teaching workforce

Meeting these goals will take an investment in supporting our educator workforce. Currently, CUNY-Hunter College’s School of Education offers the first graduate and post-graduate certification program in New York State for teaching computer science. In order to expand access, other New York City schools of education will need to follow suit, and expand certification programs that emphasize degrees or certificates in computer science, computational, and digital fluency education. The Donovan administration will aim to have 5,000 teachers certified in CS within five years with an emphasis on recruiting and supporting teachers of color, ensuring that each of the city’s 1,700 schools have a cohort of CS-certified teachers who are able to teach the appropriate standards-aligned curriculum and collaborate with faculty to infuse computer science concepts and digital literacy across disciplines. This will be especially important in middle and high schools, where lack of teacher preparation is contributing to gaps in access. This will also include ensuring special education and bilingual education/English as New Language teachers can become certified in CS, and developing co-teaching and other collaborative models to support multilingual learners and students with disabilities in CS classrooms. 

Develop and curate relevant, culturally-responsive guidance and model instructional units in computer science

As we look to expand access to high-quality computer science learning opportunities, Shaun will call upon educators and community leaders to incorporate culturally-responsive practices into digital teaching and learning, such as: personalized instruction; engaging students in community-based problem-solving; using written, visual, and oral content reflective of students’ identities and communities; and using activities that allow students to co-create and collaborate with other students to create student-centered instructional experiences. In addition, the Donovan administration will ensure that digital platforms and apps are available in multiple languages to support multilingual learners and bilingual education programs, that they use universal design for learning principles to engage all learners, and that they are accessible for people with visual, auditory, motor and/or cognitive disabilities

Utilize remote learning to expand access to high-quality learning opportunities

In many schools across the city, course offerings are limited and students do not have access to educators who can offer specialized tutoring and instruction, advanced learning, and enrichment opportunities. Similarly, many of the city’s finest out-of-school offerings are beyond the reach of too many students because they are geographically inaccessible, or limited in size.

There are more than 238 out-of-school tech education and training programs (including those for adults), operating more than 500 programs across 867 locations and spanning computer science related areas such as programming, robotics, computational thinking, data science, among many others. Unsurprisingly, these programs are not distributed equitably across the five boroughs, with more access in Manhattan and Brooklyn than others. Carefully curated and well-supported remote instruction could provide a path to engage many more students in enrichment classes (such as arts, sports, health and wellness, etc), accelerated learning opportunities, and Advanced Placement courses, while also allowing students to learn in integrated learning environments that go beyond their school buildings. The DOE and community school districts should work together to ensure that schools and afterschool programs that do not currently provide these opportunities are prioritized for remote access to such courses, facilitated by school staff and classroom teachers. This could be valuable to expanding computer science learning opportunities, but also far more broadly.

Accelerating and Extending the Pipeline: CUNY and Computer Science and Technology Opportunities

CUNY’s quarter-of-a-million degree-seeking students, who are 60% Black or Latinx, are a key part of our talent pipeline for NYC’s tech employers and other tech jobs across sectors. In recent years, NYC and CUNY have taken steps to increase the number of students majoring in computer science and other technical fields, recognizing the unmet need and bright career prospects for graduates in these fields. CUNY now graduates 10,000 students annually with two or four-year degrees in STEM fields, the largest being tech. 

And yet, students of color continue to be underrepresented, especially Black and Latina women in computer-related fields. In addition CUNY struggles to hire and retain faculty in computer science and other technical fields, and many entry-level courses cannot accommodate all interested students. The speed of change in technical fields means coursework can become outdated rapidly, making supplemental boot-camp like workshops and internships all the more critical for students to be employable upon graduation. Read more about the policies described below in our Education, Economic Development, and Innovation platforms.

We are committed to the following policies and programs:

Ensure any CUNY student who wants to access a computer science course can, and that CUNY’s technology-related degree programs have the capacity to serve a larger and more diverse range of students

CUNY’s entry-level computer science courses are oversubscribed, while students of color, especially women, are underrepresented among enrollees. CUNY has difficulty retaining faculty to teach these courses, because these individuals are in demand in the private sector. In addition, technology fields can change more quickly than higher education faculty can adapt or initiate academic programs. 

As a result, too many programs focus on theory, not the applied skills needed in the workplace. We will work with CUNY to establish at least one general education course in computer science with the capacity to serve every student who wants to enroll, regardless of their ultimate major. Shaun will also call for nurturing and expanding programs like BreakThroughTechNY, focused on welcoming women into computer science, to help CUNY diversify its STEM enrollment. The City should also learn from and expand the 2X Tech program, which provided funding to help address issues with existing CUNY tech capacity.

Support proven short-term training or stackable credential models of tech skill development that lead to good jobs in the tech sector as well as other sectors in which tech skills are required

Shaun will encourage expansion of promising initiatives involving CUNY, employers and other workforce development organizations to offer high-quality short-term training, stackable certificates and other forms of skill-building to students as a means of entering in-demand career fields in tech or sectors where tech skills are required. This could build on the early work of the CEO Jobs Council, which has begun work with CUNY’s community colleges to plan how to offer valuable short-term credentials. 

Another model comes from FutureLou, a program in Louisville, Kentucky that provides free short-term training for students from any discipline in a variety of in-demand skills like computer/IT, data analytics, project management and familiarity with commonly used business tech tools. After a pilot of Louisville’s model in summer 2020, CUNY should now consider how to adapt this model permanently. 

Drawing on Private and Public Sector Leadership for Essential Work-Based Experience

To truly expand pathways into the tech sector and tech jobs for New Yorkers of color and low-income New Yorkers, Shaun will bring together the public and private sectors to expand relevant, paid, work-based learning opportunities that provide New Yorkers of diverse backgrounds with exposure to and entry into the tech world. 

Business coalitions, leading corporate career preparation programs, and leaders in philanthropy will identify and recruit potential corporate and non-profit hosts to sustain expansion of annual work-based learning experiences, internships and apprenticeships for technology jobs. Private sector leadership will play a role in supporting public awareness and student success through such projects as annual computer science and digital fluency project fairs and pitch sessions that will be held city-wide. These public exhibitions will capitalize on student and community-based priorities and showcasing student innovations in using computational thinking and digital tools for community-based problem solving. Read more about the policies described below in our Education, Economic Development, and Innovation platforms.

We are committed to the following policies and programs:

Ensure every high school student has a paid, relevant internship or apprenticeship, including at least 10,000 a year in tech roles

Expanding the tech opportunity pipeline depends on expanding deep and broad civic partnerships for work-based learning and internships for New York City public high school students. Within our commitment to guarantee at least one paid job, apprenticeship or internship opportunity that connects to a meaningful career pathway to every high school student by 2026, Shaun’s administration will partner with the New York City tech and other business sectors to identify 10,000 tech internships a year for high school students. This will include a substantial expansion in access to well-designed and supported remote internship opportunities, building upon the positive examples of remote internships conducted by many companies in the tech sector during the summer of 2020, where in the wake of COVID restrictions, leading organizations such as Tech:NYC and Union Square Ventures organized more than 100 New York City tech companies to host remote internships.

Expand paid internship opportunities for CUNY students in tech fields

Shaun’s commitment to work with the private sector to galvanize public and private efforts to provide internships to New Yorkers will continue at the post-secondary level so that students have the opportunity to apply their school-based learning to real-world job settings. Shaun endorses the new CEO Jobs Council which is galvanizing short-term training programs that meet employer needs, is creating internships, and has pledged to hire over 25,000 CUNY students (and 100,000 New Yorkers) by 2030. 

In addition, Shaun will work with CUNY and the private sector to establish the CUNY Center on the Future of Work, a virtual open space to enable any CUNY student and faculty who wish to engage with member employers on applied learning, micro-internships, capstones, and skill badging programs in STEM (as well as other fields). The Center will work with member employers who have talent needs and are willing to invest in a set of programs and opportunities for students and faculty to engage in applied learning projects and student- and faculty-led consulting engagements to prepare them for these jobs. This program idea is based on successful employer and university collaborations in Washington, California, and Maryland.

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