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OpEd: Can Common Core Help Close the Diversity Gap in Silicon Valley?

Apple CEO Tim Cook Stops By Hour Of Code Workshop Event Within Apple Store
Jiavaennye Green (L) and Taylor Phillips, third grade children from PS 57 James Weldon Johnson Leadership Academy, learn how to code at an Apple Store through Apple's "Hour of Code" workshop program on December 9, 2015 in New York City. Andrew Burton / Getty Images

From Snapchat to Tumblr—our young people are naturally conversant with technology and online environments. But comfort with technology isn't enough to be prepared or get recruited for a job in Northern California. It takes a high-quality education with expectations calibrated to market demands. To date, the deck has been stacked against black and Latino students.

Educational inequity is nothing new for black or Latino families. The nature of our localized public school system has always meant that your ZIP code can determine what kind of education you get. Schools in some neighborhoods simply aren't held to the same standard as schools in other neighborhoods or provided the same exposure to coursework that can prepare them for a career in technology.

Records show that fewer than five percent of employees at leading tech giants are persons of color. And while some companies are making important headway—Apple hired 2/3 more Latino workers in 2015 compared to 2014, and black employees now make up nine percent of their workforce—we know there is still much work to be done to ensure all students enter the workforce with the skills they need to succeed.

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A few years ago, governors and educators from across the U.S. decided to take that challenge on. They worked together to create a consistent set of academic guidelines in math and English language arts to ensure that an 8th grader in San Jose gains the same skills and knowledge as an 8th grader in Detroit.

Now in over 40 states, the Common Core State Standards places an emphasis on understanding math concepts—so kids aren't just memorizing formulas, but actually growing comfortable using numbers in a way that lays the foundation for a thorough understanding of what numbers mean and how they're used. Students are also learning how to think critically, problem solve and analyze—all of which are essential for a career in the tech industry.

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These changes are particularly important to families of students of color, who want their children to be held to higher standards. Research shows that black and Latino parents are more likely than white parents to say that it's essential their children earn a postsecondary degree. But we also know that this determination at home doesn't always equate to success in the classroom. For example, college enrollment among Latino students has tripled since 1993 but less than 1/3 actually make it to graduation.

Of course, unequal opportunities in education don't entirely explain the lack of diversity in Silicon Valley. Unconscious biases, self-reinforcing networks of influence and access, and barriers to obtaining capital for many black and Latino entrepreneurs—among a litany of other reasons—all contribute. We know we have no time to lose, and that's why the #YesWeCode initiative is working to create a job pipeline to guide youth from introductory coding programs to immersive job-training programs and, eventually, into employment.

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To achieve real, long-term change, we must unite and work together toward an education system that prepares our kids for college and careers in the jobs of tomorrow, in Silicon Valley and beyond.

We've seen the big tech companies rally around the need for immigration reform, not just because it was the right thing to do for the industry and the economy, but because it was the right thing to do.

Now is the time to throw our weight behind a system that will keep the American Dream alive. By supporting the Common Core, we can support the long-term success of our students and our country. That's a cause worth fighting for.

Tamyra Walker is a former teacher and is currently the Director of Recruitment and Retention for #YesWeCode, an initiative of Dream Corps Unlimited. She is based in Oakland, CA.

Peggy McLeod is the Deputy Vice President for Education and Workforce Development with the National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights organization. She is based in San Antonio, TX.

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