Creating an Equitable Data Science Education in Virginia

Capital One joined forces with CodeVA to create a curriculum that teaches data science to high school students

Recognizing the lack of student curriculum in Virginia around data science, Capital One provided a $100,000 grant for seed funding to CodeVA to develop and launch a new free curriculum aimed at helping high school students build fundamental knowledge and understanding of this topic.

According to a 2022 report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 17 percent of American high school students take a statistics class. The courses they do take are often largely theoretical rather than ones requiring students to delve deeply into working with data.

To combat that disconnect, CodeVA’s new curriculum is rooted in practical application and performance of data science concepts to prepare students for college and entering the workforce.

Following a professional development session held with 60 district-level lead educators around the curriculum at a Virginia professional development program this year, the Loudoun County Public Schools adopted the lessons as their official data science textbook for the ‘23-’24 school year. 

Closing the data literacy deficit

The need for individuals in the U.S. to be fluent in working with data is crucial as data-oriented careers increase by 35 percent annually. However, nearly two-thirds of American companies struggle to find data-literate employees.

Following Virginia’s Department of Education (VDOE) decision to revise computer science learning standards in the state last year, Capital One and CodeVA joined forces to develop a data science curriculum. 

“If you walk into a high school math class, you are essentially walking into the same courses that were taught in the 1960s or ’70s, when there were no computers, when there was no data,” says Steven Levitt, Founder of Data Science 4 Everyone and Co-author of Freakonomics. “CodeVA has found creative ways to make data science accessible without prohibitive technology barriers — which offers a great service to the field.”

The team that created this curriculum researched classroom needs for data science projects, and worked with Virginia educators to align curriculum with high school learning needs. Research showed that project-based learning modules would be key to making data science engaging and accessible for any student, regardless of previous exposure to computer science or data analysis.

The Richmond, Virginia-based organization's mission advancement and program staff worked alongside Capital One’s artificial intelligence/machine learning and data science leaders, and together crafted a plan to develop a set of lesson plans that would equip Virginia’s high school teachers to introduce data science to their students in a relevant and meaningful way.

“CodeVA is a tremendous advocate for ensuring equitable computer science education across the state of Virginia,” says Kurt Engleman, Finance Chief Risk Officer at Capital One and CodeVA Board Member. “Capital One has supported CodeVA’s efforts to prepare students for careers in tech since its inception 10 years ago. We’re thrilled to see the impact that this curriculum will have in training the next generation of data scientists."

Since its inception, CodeVA has drafted and advocated for all of the state-level policy initiatives around computer science and cybersecurity education, including Virginia’s 2016 computer science mandate legislation requiring K-8 computer science literacy for all students through standards integrated across all other subject areas. In addition to writing and shepherding the legislation through Virginia's General Assembly, CodeVA also lent significant resources to the VDOE that allowed it to better tackle the task of writing these new standards for the state. This included a strong emphasis on integration, and on ensuring the inclusion of cybersecurity as a specific strand.

Equipping Virginia’s educators with a free data science curriculum

As with all of CodeVA’s educator programs, this curriculum is provided at no cost to schools and school districts, with the goal of transforming or strengthening data science and computer science literacy in every school in Virginia. These lessons are available for free to any Virginia educator. 

“Backed by Capital One's support, this hands-on, student-centric data science curriculum prioritizes accessibility, knowledge depth and technical skill-building to suit different classroom needs,” says Perry Shank Director of Curriculum at CodeVA. “It stands as a vital tool for all Virginia educators, regardless of their experience in this field, to provide the essentials to ensure student success in data science.”

This curriculum currently features 30 lessons across three modules, including over 600 pages of data science lessons such as projects, Python notebooks and other student-facing material that accompanies the lessons.

While these lesson units were created in Virginia and align with Virginia’s state standards, the curriculum itself is not region-specific and may be widely disseminated for use in any classroom. Future investments in development could support the publishing of this work, as well as other curriculum projects currently underway.

Virginia is now one of 17 states with a comprehensive statewide data science program for K-12 students.

Capital One’s investment in this curriculum comes as part of the Capital One Impact Initiative to support growth in underserved communities and advance socioeconomic mobility by closing gaps in equity and opportunity.

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