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In Conversation: Black Female Tech CEOs on Leveling the Playing Field for Youth of Color

At a time when the women’s movement is making headlines across the country, females remain vastly underrepresented in the industry that shapes our future: technology. This underrepresentation is especially prevalent for women of color. For example, African-American women hold only three percent of computing occupations, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology. This isn’t a pipeline problem. Girls Who Code reports that 74 percent of young girls express interest in STEM fields and computer science. Many organizations, including Black Girls CODE and DreamBox Learning, work to ensure that girls of color have ample opportunities to learn in-demand skills in technology so they will become lifelong learners who are equipped to reshape their skills as the workforce evolves. These two organizations share a bold vision of a future where girls of color are not simply “surviving” the information-driven globalized world, but are thriving and will become principal drivers of technological innovation through the next century. Two African-American, female CEOs at the helm of technology companies—Jessie Woolley-Wilson, CEO of DreamBox Learning, and Kimberly Bryant, CEO of Black Girls CODE—recently sat down with each other to discuss how technology and innovation will level the playing field to increase opportunity for youth of color. Jessie Woolley-Wilson: It’s wonderful to talk with you about how important it is to grow opportunities for young girls in the area of technology. Tell me about your own educational background and what inspired you to learn how to code. We absolutely must look at how current processes and systems disenfranchise women of color all along the STEM pipeline from kindergarten and beyond. Kimberly BryantKimberly Bryant: I’m actually an engineer (electrical) by trade and not a computer scientist. I graduated from Vanderbilt University with a B.E. in Electrical Engineering and a minor in Math and Computer Science. My first introduction to computer programming was during my college years and was heavily focused on machine language due to my major concentration in electrical engineering. But it was my first class in Fortran and spending many long nights in the computer lab that introduced me to the sometimes brutal and yet rewarding path of a computer scientist. JWW: Your story will no doubt inspire a lot of young women in computer science to believe in the value of hard work and perseverance. One of the things I’m passionate about is the belief that all children can excel at learning, no matter where they start, where they live, or who they are. In what ways do you believe educational experiences have changed, and how do you see them continuing to evolve? KB: When I graduated from college, the worldwide web was still a relatively new phenomenon with which not many non-academic or government folks were familiar. In most cases, learning a new skill, tool, et cetera, was not as accessible as it is today now that the internet has narrowed the boundaries for accessing information and democratized learning—to a certain extent. Students today have broader opportunities for learning in non-traditional environments than those that were available to...

Sir Ken Robinson’s Next Act: You Are the System and You Can Change Education

Sir Ken Robinson’s views on creativity are abundantly well documented. In his 2006 TED Talk—still the most-watched of all time—he claimed that “we are educating people out of their creative capacities” and charged the current education system with being too rigid in adhering to traditional academic subjects. Kids, he argued, need time to dance, draw, create and find what they’re good at. But he hasn’t given up on schools or education—far from it, in fact. For his follow-up act, Robinson is releasing a new book for parents on how to raise capable children who thrive in school. Make no mistake, though, he’s still shaking up the system (and redefining what that actually means). In a wide-ranging interview, Robinson recently spoke with us about collaboration versus competition, the all-important parent-teacher relationship and what every parent and educator can do to improve education. EdSurge: Your new book, “You, Your Child and School,” seems like it’s intended as a playbook for parents. But I wanted to ask you about the other side of the coin, about educators. How can they deal with parents to create productive and healthy relationships? Sir Ken: I wrote a book a few years ago called “Creative Schools,” which was directed primarily to educators, and there was a chapter in there for parents. So it seemed reasonable to try and offer some thoughts and guidance in a more extensive way to parents because they are a vital part of the partnership. And that’s the point really. It is an attempt to engage parents more positively in the conversation. They do, after all, have an enormous vested interest in how their kids are educated, and they bear a lot of the brunt of the shifts in policy that seem to come along on an almost monthly basis in education. This partnership obviously involves, by definition, different groups, and parents sometimes can be part of the problem that schools face. There’s the perception there about how sometimes parents can get overprotective and overreach. There’s a fine line in all relationships to strike between satisfying the interests of the various parties and working together to meet them all. So, the partnership is a very important part of it and it requires, of course, that teachers also reciprocate. EdSurge:It reminds me of a book was popular a few years ago, “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” which talked a lot about how the parent-teacher relationship in China is different from that in the United States. How should both groups work together? Sir Ken: You know, I think that’s the first time I’ve ever been compared to a Tiger Mum. I don’t know how to feel about it. There are big cultural differences. It’s interesting of course that at some levels the issues that educators face are global in character. There’s the fuller point here about the fact that we have to think globally but act locally. There are also changes over time. And it is true that in some Asian cultures there is a much greater level of deference to teachers...

Students Share How Gun Violence Has Impacted Their Lives: an Audio and Visual Story

Tweet Share Email Outside the White House in Washington, D.C., hundreds of students gathered to protest gun violence. The National School Walkout took place at 10 a.m. this morning ahead of The March For Our Lives, another protest event created by survivors of the high school shooting in Parkland, FL. View images and listen to students share how gun violence has impacted their lives. "I am afraid of dying every time I go to school." Hear Rachel's story. "When I was younger, my grandfather committed suicide with a shotgun." Hear Logan's story. "I don't want to feel scared at my own school anymore." Hear Alexandra's story. "That was the time it was Sandy Hook, and my sister held me really close." Hear William's story.EdSurge...

What do young professionals think about public education?

Dallas public schools don’t have a good reputation. Significantly, it’s not just parents who are concerned with the state of public education in our city. Polling a gathering of the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Young Professionals group, 65 percent said that they would not send their child to a public school in Dallas. When you think about the future of public education and the disparity that sees many students of color receiving a subpar education, this is significant. When asked “If given the opportunity, all things being equally comparable, would you send your child to a public or private school?" 83 percent said they would send their child to a public school. This speaks volumes to how the public schools in Dallas (both traditional and charter) are viewed among young professionals in Dallas (albeit a very limited and unrepresentative sample). But it brings up another challenge: if this is how the one percent feel about education in Dallas, how must the parents of the students attending these schools feel? And what are the consequences, should these young professionals have children in the next ten years and nothing in the DFW area changes? School quality is more than just a PR problem for Dallas. It’s something that needs to be addressed, aggressively and immediately. Public schools are the lifeblood of our city— they create the citizens of tomorrow. Student success in school and student opportunities beyond K-12 education will determine the future of our city. If our students are well equipped, they have a greater chance to go on to good jobs and invest back in their communities. If they are not prepared, if the opportunities for them post-high school are lacking, in large part because of the lack of preparation they received as students in our city, we will merely be continuing the cycle that currently exists— a cycle that doesn’t do enough to support low income students and help them pursue opportunities beyond the neighborhoods they grew up in. Can we fault parents for pulling their children out of public schools that are failing and placing them in private schools? No, but not every parent has those same options. We must focus on improving the public options for every student— regardless of their background and income level. We need to invest in public pre-K so that students have support from their earliest years; support rigorous teacher preparation for teachers who will be prepared to support students in these high needs schools and support those teachers so that they remain in the classroom. We must work within the communities to involve parents and families in the process. And we must take on this responsibility ourselves, rather than waiting for someone else to champion the cause. If we do this, over 83 percent of tomorrow’s students will attend public schools, leading to greater diversity and community involvement in the public school community— a win in and of itself....

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