WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) led a group of colleagues in urging the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) to improve equity and access to high-quality K-12 data science education. The Senators also asked how Congress can better support the development and deployment of data science curriculum to reach more communities and open doors to STEM careers.

Increasing access to high-quality data science education will help students keep pace with our 21st century world. One poll found that while 69 percent of employers would prefer candidates with data science skills, only 23 percent of educators said their graduates would possess those skills. Only 25 percent of students took a statistics course in 2019.

“Enhancing data science education will have significant benefits for our nation’s citizenry and economy. Like reading, writing, and arithmetic, basic data literacy is vital for informed democratic participation. We also see employers increasingly demanding data science expertise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of computer and information research scientists is expected to grow 15 percent between 2019 to 2029, far exceeding the average growth rate of other occupations,” wrote the Senators.

The Senators asked the NSF and IES to “describe any past, existing or planned efforts to enhance equitable access to data science education and data science careers, as well as any efforts to increase research in this field.” Statistics show there are stark disparities on who has access to data science courses and who can pursue data science careers. African Americans and Hispanics occupy only 6 and 7 percent of STEM jobs, respectively. Moreover, in order to address artificial intelligence algorithms that may contain implicit biases, it is critical to foster a diverse data science workforce that will develop more equitable technologies.

Only a handful of states and school districts have integrated data science into standards and curriculum. One of these districts is New Jersey’s Passaic City School District, which partnered with the “Introduction to Data Science” curriculum developed by UCLA and Los Angeles Unified School District. Furthermore, according to the Center for RISC at the University of Chicago, New Jersey is also on track to implement Computer Science and Design Thinking Standards next year which will include 21st century learning themes such as data visualization, representation, and transformation. The state alsorequires computer science in all high schools, helping lay a promising foundation for the advancement of data science education among students.

The letter is cosigned by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

The full text of the letter is available HERE.