UP Alumnus Marc Norman Selected for Harvard’s Loeb Fellowship

Urban Planning ‘92 alumnus Marc Norman was recently named a Harvard Graduate School of Design Loeb Fellow. This highly prestigious fellowship, comprised of top professionals in design, entails a year-long opportunity to study and work on projects through Harvard GSD and MIT.

“I started interning at Skid Row Housing Trust while still a student at UCLA which exposed me to the ways planning skills could be applied to address the affordable housing crisis,” says Norman. “The skills and knowledge gained at both places prepared me for interesting positions at Local Initiatives Support Corporation, private consulting, Deutsche Bank and academia. [Urban] Planning really set up a wealth of opportunities and experiences.”

After graduating from UCLA Luskin, Norman worked in the field of community development and finance for over 15 years, focusing his efforts on economic development, employment opportunities, and affordable housing for the community. Norman is now the director of UPSTATE, a Center for Design Research and Real Estate at Syracuse University School of Architecture, and teaches courses on real estate and policy at the school.

As a Loeb Fellow, Norman plans to examine finance and design practices in order to identify the best approach to funding equitable and progressive urban development. The culmination of his research will come with the launching of the Design Innovation Fund in spring 2015.


MPP Student Sandeep Prasanna Wins Prestigious Fellowship

By Adeney Zo, UCLA Luskin Student Writer

UCLA Luskin student Sandeep Prasanna (JD/MPP ‘15) was recently awarded the DACOR Bacon House Foundation Fellowship, a prestigious scholarship program for graduate students in international affairs, which traditionally has been awarded to students in East Coast institutions. Prasanna was one of 10 students nationwide to win the fellowship following a rigorous interview process.

The fellowship is awarded annually by DACOR, the professional association for former diplomats and consular officials. In addition to the $11,000 scholarship, each fellow will be featured in a monthly highlight from the organization.

“I really enjoyed the interview, since both of my interviewers—former diplomats—had served in countries that I had an interest in.” says Prasanna. “It turned into an hour of friendly banter with two people that had amazing careers and lots of stories.”

Prasanna initially came to UCLA to study law, but as he delved deeper into his studies, his interest in public policy and international affairs led him to apply for the UCLA Luskin Master of Public Policy program as well. “In law, you develop broad conceptual analysis skills, while in policy you learn how to look at hard data and develop quantitative skills,” explains Prasanna.

Prasanna graduated from Duke University with a self-designed major consisting of linguistics, evolutionary anthropology and psychology. “My interest in the sociology and diversity of language drove my interest in international affairs. From there, I started learning about present-day politics,” he says.

Combining his passion for international law and policy, Prasanna has worked hard to achieve a number of awards and honors throughout his studies at UCLA.

This year, Prasanna was a member of the first UCLA team to enter the Jean-Pictet Competition, a prominent international humanitarian law competition sponsored by the International Committee of the Red Cross. A total of 29 different countries — spread across 48 teams of three — were represented at this year’s competition in Sintra, Portugal.

“We spent around three months preparing for the competition,” describes Prasanna. “Each week, we focused on one area of the law and took tests similar to those from the competition.”

During the week-long competition, teams were tested up to three times a day. Given a set of situational facts and specific character role-plays, competitors had to create a legal analysis of the situation before a panel of judges.

“The judges will grill you on what exactly is legal and what to do in each situation. Some of the tests were incredibly difficult,” Prasanna says. “But there were some areas of the law that I really knew—and when the judges sense that you know what you’re doing, they get excited and start pushing back harder.” Prasanna was ultimately nominated for the Gilbert Apollis Award, which recognizes the best orators in the competition.

In addition to these notable achievements, Prasanna was also recently awarded the Alice Belkin Memorial Scholarship, offered by the Burkle Center for International Relations at UCLA for minority graduate students in the field of international affairs.

With regards to the future, Prasanna explains: “I intend to pursue public international law, particularly human rights law, so an MPP adds to my experience and training. I don’t know what exactly my career will look like because my path up to this point has been extremely nonlinear, but it’s great to get recognition for the things that I really love doing.”

Professor Michael Lens Receives Awards in Two Paper Competitions

By Adeney Zo, UCLA Luskin Student Writer

Urban Planning professor Michael Lens recently received awards from the Journal of the American Planning Association (JAPA) and Housing Policy Debate for his research in housing policy.

Though Lens was aware that his Housing Policy Debate submission was part of a paper competition, the JAPA award came as a surprise. “I’ve been working on the paper that was eventually accepted for publication by JAPA – going back to my dissertation…I had such an elated feeling that my work had finally paid off,” says Lens. “And with the two awards, it was like I had won the lottery twice in the span of one week.”

Lens’ JAPA submission, selected as one of the journal’s two “Best Papers of 2013,” focuses on the relationship between crime and subsidized housing in New York City. Though the crime rate in the city has decreased over the years, Lens found that the cause could not be directly attributed to the city’s substantial investments in subsidized housing. While his findings suggest that subsidized housing neither increases nor decreases crime rates in neighborhoods, Lens still encourages the development of housing subsidies in less distressed neighborhoods, particularly in cities with tight rental markets such as New York and Los Angeles. However, Lens suggests that these cities need to find ways to expand housing options in higher-income, less-distressed neighborhoods, or they risk exacerbating concentrated poverty and further subjecting low-income households to unsafe living environments.

“It is likely that other factors affect crime more than housing investments and that these subsidies were not extensive enough in the typical neighborhood under examination,” explains Lens.

Lens’ winning paper for the Housing Policy Debate competition, titled “Employment Accessibility Among Housing Subsidy Recipients,” analyzes how the location of subsidized housing affects housing recipients’ employment opportunities. Utilizing a new measure for job accessibility that he developed which provides each housing census tract with a spatially-weighted job accessibility index, Lens found that those living in public housing are closer than any other group of housing subsidy recipients to employment opportunities. However, they are also highly concentrated among the low-skilled unemployed individuals that serve as their competition for most jobs.

“Although people think that most of the job growth is happening in the suburbs, there is actually more growth in central cities,” states Lens.

However, many low-income households are now offered housing vouchers instead of public housing, and the location of their preferred housing (in less distressed neighborhoods) tends to take these families farther from employment opportunities.

“From a policy standpoint, I suggest what matters is to ensure subsidized households are not in the worst of both worlds – inaccessible to jobs and located in places highly concentrated with low-skill workers.”

As for the future, Lens will continue researching employment accessibility and housing policy, but he explains that his work in housing subsidies and crime will be laid to rest for the time being.

“For the housing subsidy and crime paper, that was the fourth or fifth paper I’ve done on topic of crime and subsidized housing. The JAPA award is sort of closing the chapter for now,” says Lens. “With employment accessibility, I have a few projects to try and see if access leads to better employment outcomes.”

Lens’ JAPA and Housing Policy Debate papers on crime and housing in New York City can be found here.


Michael Stoll Presents New Proposal for Sentencing Reform

In a new discussion paper for the Brookings Institute/Hamilton Project by Public Policy professor Michael A. Stoll and Steven Raphael of the University of California Berkeley, suggest that there is room to reduce U.S. incarceration rates without significantly impacting crime.

The U.S. incarceration rate today exceeds its own historical norms as well as the rates of all other developed countries. At the same time, there is growing public awareness of the steep economic and social costs of crime and mass incarceration, including heavy fiscal costs on government budgets leading to higher taxes and effects on prisoners’ families and communities.

Stoll and Raphael have come up with a three-part proposal that they argue will reduce both incarceration and crime rates.

The three parts are:

  • Reforms to state truth-in-sentencing laws that lengthen sentences
  • Revisions to federal and state mandatory minimum sentencing policies that can be disproportionately harsh
  • Creation of fiscal incentives for local governments to consider the cost of incarceration

To read the full discussion paper titled “A New Approach to Reducing Incarceration While Maintaining Low Rates of Crime” and the policy brief, go here.

Stoll and Raphael are presenting their analysis at the Brookings/Hamilton Project forum titled “The Economic and Social Effects of Crime and Mass Incarceration in the United States” on Thursday, May 1 from 1:00-4:30 p.m. EST.

Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin will open the forum, followed by a roundtable to discuss the Stoll-Raphael paper. There will also be a discussion between Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Mike Lee (R-UT) on the Smarter Sentencing Act of 2014.

You can register for the live webcast here.

For updates on the event via Twitter, follow @hamiltonproj and join the conversation using #SmartSentencing.


New Study Looks at Recidivism Rates Among Juvenile Offenders

A first-of-its-kind study co-authored by Social Welfare Professor Laura Abrams has gained attention by the National Association of Social Workers for its findings on juvenile offenders and rates of recidivism.

The study was published in the March 2014 issue of Social Work Research, and was highlighted on the NASW blog. According to the paper, the findings from the study are contradictory to the majority of the existing literature.

The paper looks at three different types of confinement sentences given to first-time violent offenders — probation in the home, group-home placement and probation-camp placement — and examines whether the type of placement affects the chances of recidivism for those offenders.

Abrams and her co-authors, lead researcher Joseph P. Ryan of the University of Michigan and Hui Huang of Florida International University, used records from the Los Angeles County Department of Probation and the Department of Children and Family Services from 2003-2009 as data. They used a statistical technique called propensity score matching to control for static risks such as gender, race, and age.

The study found that compared with in-home probation, the likelihood of recidivism was 2.12 times greater for youths assigned to probation camps and 1.28 times greater for youths assigned to group homes.

The authors conclude: “This is an important finding because it helps the field identify effective and efficient strategies for interrupting criminal careers that do not disrupt important social bonds to family, peers, and school. Empirical evidence, rather than popular rhetoric, should serve as the driving force for public policy and clinical innovations in working with violent young people.”

You can read the full study here.

The study was also highlighted in “Journalist’s Resource” run by the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.


Conference Explores Future of Digital Cities

As part of a newly expanded focus on the structure and administration of digitally enabled urban environments, UCLA Luskin held a two-day conference April 24-25 titled “Who Owns the Digital City?”. Scholars, entrepreneurs and activists came to campus to explore innovations and share knowledge on digitally empowered publics, tackling questions of ownership, service, participation, equity and justice in equal measure.

Read the formal conference summary

The conference kicked off with a keynote address Thursday, April 24, as detailed in this report by UCLA Luskin student writer Max Wynn.

Rethinking Digital Ownership: The contrarianism of Jaron Lanier

Technologist and futurist Jaron Lanier, author of Who Owns the Digital Future, opened the “Who Owns the Digital City?” conference in front of a crowd gathered on UCLA Luskin’s rooftop terrace.

Lanier is a tech pioneer whose wide-ranging accomplishments include coining the term “virtual reality,” starting a number of successful tech companies, and possessing one of world’s most extensive collections of actively played rare instruments.

After an adjective-laden introduction from Dean Frank Gilliam, Lanier approached the microphone.

“Oh god, aren’t I impressive,” he asked with an air of mock conceit.

The gathered crowd laughed, but it was an appropriate introduction for what followed. Lanier’s talk, like his book, presented a scathing critique of the current Internet landscape, and of the big businesses that dominate it. However, it was a critique given in an off-kilter manner that was befitting of the dreadlocked man delivering it.

His argument centered on the concentration of technologically bred wealth in the hands of a digital elite. According to Lanier, these elites have positioned themselves at the hubs of digital networks, and have succeeded in monetizing the shared data of their users. The users, or “peasant class,” are not compensated for their role in this wealth creation process. The result has been a tech sector that is actively contributing to the continued destruction of the middle class.

As Lanier’s assault wore on, many of the titans of literature, business, philosophy and, of course, technology were both praised and criticized, often in the same breath.

Lanier’s eclectic interests were on constant display, and within the first ten minutes he discussed the works of Aristotle, Marx and Shelley. In doing so Lanier strayed from Silicon Valley’s typical catalog of cultural references, though Ayn Rand was mentioned briefly.

While Lanier referenced an extensive cast of literary figures, his talk veered well beyond the bounds of letters. At one point he linked “Maxwell’s demon,” a famous thought experiment in the field of thermodynamics, to macroeconomic theory and the history of American business.

The talk ended in an appropriately unexpected fashion. After readjusting the microphone, Lanier was joined onstage by the musician Paul Simon’s son, Harper. As the sun dropped below the Westwood skyline, the duo performed a series of musical compositions. Lanier played a number of exotically named instruments from his personal collection while Simon strummed on a guitar and swayed from side to side.

Afterwards, Lanier signed books and took questions from a crowd still slightly awed by the evening’s spectacle.


The Promises and Pitfalls of Digital Governance

Listen to Jaron Lanier here


“My First Boston Marathon”: Social Welfare Student Linnea Koopmans Shares Her Experience

by Linnea Koopmans

Last Monday, I ran the Boston Marathon.  I had been looking forward to the race since I achieved a qualifying time at my last marathon in November of 2012. Having been a part of the running world for quite some time, I saw this marathon as both a landmark for my personal running accomplishments to date and also a beginning point for what I hope to be a more competitive stage of my distance running.

However, after the bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon, I knew that as a participant in the marathon this year, I would be a part of something much larger than just a great race. As the date of the marathon approached, I was curious to see what the tone of the city would be. On April 15 – the year anniversary of the bombing – I listened to news coverage of the memorial and the stories of recovery from the past year. I was reminded of the process of healing that people affected have undergone since last April, both physically and psychologically. Despite all the wounds, the consistent message from past participants, Boston residents, and city officials focused on the importance of continuing the historical civic tradition of the Boston Marathon.

Throughout my experience of the marathon – from my arrival in the city to my post-run celebrations – it was evident that this year’s event was especially meaningful for everyone connected to annual race  The city seemed eager to both commemorate those affected by the bombing last year and to continue with some of its most endearing traditions that have come to define the race. The Wellesley College girls were still cheering on the runners with their “kiss me” signs, residents along the route were back out in their yards grilling and offering runners cold beer, and crowds of people still gathered at Heartbreak Hill to remind the runners that our legs could survive the final climb. And though the final few miles of the marathon were painful, I remember being in awe of the thousands of people lining the fence, cheering us all on to finish “Boston Strong.”

There is no doubt that April 15 will continue to be an important day of remembrance for both the city of Boston and the global running community. But I believe this year’s Boston Marathon, which included a participant field about 20% larger than past years and hundreds of thousands of spectators, was a reminder of the how beloved this historical race is and its power that enables everyone involved to feel they are a part of something much larger than themselves. As a runner, I will look forward to returning to Boston, and to the unique experience of the city’s marathon.



Melinda Morgan Named Social Welfare Alumna of 2014 The two-time UCLA Luskin Alumna Melinda Morgan will accept her 2014 Social Welfare Alumna of the Year award on April 26th

Two-time UCLA Luskin Alumna Melinda Morgan (MSW ’89,  PhD ’98) has been named the 2014 Dr. Joseph A. Nunn Alumna of the Year by the Department of Social Welfare for her commitment to helping military families.

For over six  years, Morgan has served as site director of the Camp Pendleton FOCUS Program. FOCUS (Families OverComing Under Stress) is a resilience training program for military families, children, and couples implemented in 2008, in collaboration with the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior and the US Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. The program, now part of the UCLA Nathanson Family Resilience Center, is in operation in over 20 sites around the world and has provided services to over 500,000 service members and their families.

Morgan teaches as a field instructor for the University of Southern California San Diego Academic Center for Military Social Work and supervises interns placed at FOCUS. In addition, she works as a consultant for the National Military Family Association as an embedded team member in Operation Purple Camps for military families throughout the country.

Prior to receiving her MSW and PhD from UCLA, Morgan was a probation officer working primarily with Latino youth gangs and worked as a psychiatric social worker During her program at UCLA, Morgan maintained a private practice in psychotherapy, and was a co-investigator and assistant professor for UCLA’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology researching neurophysiologic correlates of women’s mood disorders. For the majority of her academic career, Morgan also raised four children as a single parent.

While one of Morgan’s favorite things to do is go on kayaking trips in the Sea of Cortez, she gladly will forgo a beach trip for the annual MSW Alumni Reception on Saturday, April 26 where she will accept her 2014 Social Welfare Alumna of the Year award.



Luskin Center Report: Tapping LA’s Vast Rooftop Solar Potential Could Reap Huge Benefits For City’s Most Disadvantaged Communities

LOS ANGELES, April 24, 2014 /PRNewswire/ — A significantly expanded commercial rooftop solar program in Los Angeles would create thousands of new jobs and spur hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment, with particular benefit to residents living in traditionally underserved neighborhoods in Los Angeles, according to a joint UCLA/USC study conducted on behalf of the Los Angeles Business Council Institute.

The report, Sharing Solar’s Promise: Harnessing LA’s FIT to Create Jobs and Build Social Equity, calls for the LADWP’s current feed-in-tariff (FIT) program, also known as CLEAN LA Solar, to be expanded from 100 to 600 megawatts, and to include incentives for solar developers and property owners to focus much of that growth in low-income communities where solar potential is among the most promising in the city. Incentives should also be provided to companies hiring disadvantaged workers for the installation of the solar systems, according to the report.

The CLEAN LA Solar program allows local commercial property owners to sell solar power generated from rooftops and parking lots back to LADWP at a competitive fixed rate. The report finds that expanding the program to 600 megawatts will help Los Angeles achieve a state mandate to generate a third of its energy from renewable resources by 2020.

Prior studies commissioned by the LABC Institute have concluded that Los Angeles has 10,000 acres of rooftop solar potential, enough to support a FIT far larger than the 600 megawatt program recommended in the study released today from the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) and the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. And according to the report, over 40 percent of the current CLEAN LA Solar project applications are located in Los Angeles’ solar equity “hot spots,” or neighborhoods with abundant rooftop space for solar installations and also in need of significant socioeconomic and environmental investment. Areas identified as “hot spots” include the San Fernando Valley, Downtown Los Angeles and the region surrounding the Port of Los Angeles.

“It’s very encouraging to see that FIT applications are rolling in from across the city, particularly low-income neighborhoods where the environmental and economic benefits are so important,” said Dr. Manuel Pastor, Director of the USC PERE and one of the report’s authors. “Significant growth of the CLEAN LA Solar program is absolutely achievable, which is why we were so encouraged by Mayor Garcetti’s expression of support in his budget message for expanding in-basin solar generation to 600 megawatts,” he added.

“The CLEAN LA Solar FIT program is paving the way to secure our city’s future as a statewide and national leader in solar production, helping our environment and economy alike,” Mayor Garcetti said. “I applaud this program’s successful efforts to direct our abundant supply of sunshine to support local business and workforce development while reducing our carbon footprint.”

The program is already reaping benefits for workforce provider groups targeting disadvantaged workers across the Los Angeles region, including Homeboy Industries’ Solar Installation Training and Certification Program, the L.A. Conservation Corps’ Green Job Training Program and Empower America’s training program for veterans with Solar Provider Group.

The Sharing Solar’s Promise report also identifies areas of potential improvement to the LADWP program, and makes several recommendations designed to ensure that Los Angeles’ diverse workforce is an equal participant in and beneficiary of the FIT. Scaling the program from its current 100-megawatt capacity to 600 megawatts would add stability to the program and increase its potential environmental and economic benefits, researchers concluded.

The report proposes streamlining the FIT application process where possible, in particular moving the permitting process online for commercial, industrial and multifamily rooftop solar projects— which together comprise 69 percent of LA County’s solar potential. It also outlines strategies to expedite the processing of smaller commercial projects, which tend to have greater local economic development and job creation benefits for the local community.

“CLEAN LA Solar installations are already providing clean and sustainable power to communities across the city, from North Hollywood to Downtown Los Angeles to Chatsworth,” said Councilmember Paul Krekorian. “As the FIT continues to expand, it’s important that the process be streamlined and simplified as much as possible, particularly for the applicants that commit to hiring local developers and disadvantaged workers.”

Governor Jerry Brown believes incentives through efforts that include California’s Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program are important to driving continued solar energy development in the state’s urban areas. “PACE enables homeowners to buy solar panels, install low-flow toilets and make other smart investments that save energy and water without breaking the bank,” he said. “As California confronts a severe drought and a rapidly changing climate, this program gives homeowners another opportunity to do their part.”

According to Sharing Solar’s Promise, California leads the nation in solar job creation with over 47,000 workers, accounting for about one-third of the nation’s total solar industry employment. And across the state itself, job growth in the solar sector (8.1%) outpaced overall job growth (1.7%) in the past year, a trend that is expected to continue.

“Rooftop solar on commercial buildings is a critical piece of Los Angeles’ economic development strategy which is why we’ve worked so hard to see the FIT realized,” said LABC President Mary Leslie. “Our CLEAN LA Coalition, including the Sierra Club and leading business, civic and other environmental and community-based organizations, is confident that an expanded FIT will place Los Angeles at the forefront of the clean energy movement in urban America, while spurring long-term economic benefits locally.”

LABC Chairman Jacob Lipa was enthusiastic about the study’s positive outlook on the FIT for workers and businesses alike. “It’s clear that the FIT is successfully creating a strong foundation for a thriving in-basin solar industry, while also stimulating local job growth and generating economic opportunity for the neighborhoods that need it the most,” he said. “Los Angeles has truly set a model for the rest of the country to follow, and we look forward to a bright future for this smart program that is simultaneously bringing in direct investment to the city and decreasing our impact on the environment.”

About the Los Angeles Business Council Institute

The LABC Institute is a forward-thinking research and education organization dedicated to strengthening the sustainable economy of California. Founded in 2010, the Institute provides a bridge between the business, government, environmental, labor and nonprofit communities of Southern California to develop policies and programs that promote investment, jobs and business development. The Institute is the research and education arm of the Los Angeles Business Council, one of the most respected business advocacy organizations in the region. Founded in 1936, the LABC is known as an innovator and catalyst for policy development on a wide range of issues, including education, housing, green building, energy efficiency, transportation and solar development. For more information, please visit www.labcinstitute.org.

About the USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE)

USC Program for Environmental and Regional Equity (PERE) conducts research and facilitates discussions on issues of environmental justice, regional inclusion and social movement building. Since 2007, we have conducted high-quality research in our focus areas that is relevant to public policy concerns and that reaches to those directly affected communities that most need to be engaged in the discussion. PERE is situated within the University of Southern California’s Dornsife College of Letters, Arts & Sciences. For more information, please visit dornsife.usc.edu.

About the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation

The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, founded with a generous gift from Meyer and Renee Luskin, unites the intellectual capital of UCLA with forward-looking civic leaders to address pressing issues and translate world class research and expertise into real-world policy solutions. Research initiatives are supported by teams of faculty and staff from a variety of academic disciplines. The Luskin Center supports these initiatives by funding original research, scholars, conferences, technical internships and solution-oriented speaker series. The Luskin Center is based in the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. For more information, please visit luskin.ucla.edu.


SOURCE Los Angeles Business Council Institute


Creating a Digitally Fluent Workfoce

The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation hosted a panel discussion on April 1 titled, Public Policy for Innovation in the Digital Age: Creating a Digitally Fluent Workforce. Educators, technology policy experts, researchers, students and professors attended this fifth event of the Public Policy for Innovation in the Digital Age series, which featured speakers from Google, Microsoft, The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

Panelists discussed the importance of improving the role of digital literacy and computer science in the K-12 curriculum. They discussed the collaboration between the private sector, the public sector, K-12 schools and institutions of higher education to create innovative programming to address the digital literacy gaps. Additionally, panelists discussed digital fluency in the workforce, and the strong demand for computer science and technology skills in the job market today. The panelists defined digital literacy along a spectrum. Basic knowledge and safe usage of technology is at one end of the spectrum, while the other end is defined by innovation, in which innovators utilize computer programming skills and algorithmic thinking to create in the digital space.

Sarah Holland, Senior Public Policy Analyst at Google, described digital literacy as a universal skill that now applies to virtually everyone. She noted that it requires leveraging existing technology to create and advance new technology. Holland said that digital literacy also means using the internet safely and responsibly, “…security is only as good as the end user, and it is important for people to have basic skills to protect them from malware…they need to know how to use technology in an ethical and responsible way.”

Dr. Jane Margolis, Senior Researcher at the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, discussed the significant lack of diversity in the field of computer science. She noted that the underrepresentation of women and people of color in the computer science field stems in part from racial and income inequality. “Relatively few African American and Latino/a high school students receive the kind of institutional encouragement, educational opportunities, and preparation needed for them to choose computer science as a field of study and profession,” she said in her 2011 book Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race, and Computing, and underscored during her comments on the panel. Margolis’ research showed that many schools were “aglow” with technology and computers, but lacked teachers with the training to instruct computer science. This “technology-rich and curriculum-poor” environment can be created when money gets “thrown” at schools without appropriate companion efforts to integrate it meaningfully into the curriculum.

In response, Dr. Todd Ullah, Ed. D., Administrator of Instruction at LAUSD, discussed how digital fluency is a key piece in LAUSD’s strategy to make content accessible to all learners. “The LAUSD district has 80,000 employees, 545,000 students, and is the largest unified school district in the country…what happens in LA has an impact nationally,” said Ullah. The LAUSD began the Common Core State Standards to re-define education in the classroom. The standards encourage students to base arguments on evidence, and to look at claims and defend them across disciplines. As part of the District’s efforts to integrate technology into instruction and incorporate 21st century skills, it has launched the Common Core Technology Project. The Project is a new 1:1 tablet initiative that aims to provide devices to every child in the district.

Lori Harnick, General Manager of Citizenship & Public Affairs at Microsoft, discussed Microsoft’s Technology Education and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program, which enables engineers to volunteer to teach computer science in high schools alongside in-class teachers. Started in just several schools in Seattle, the program now has almost 300 volunteers teaching across the U.S. Harnick said that schools have seen very high interest and excitement for computer science programming.

However, there are still major barriers to instituting more computer science courses in public school curricula. Harnick explained that today only 19 states and Washington, D.C. count computer science courses for math and science credits. This means that even if students are taking AP computer science courses, those courses are not fully counted towards graduation. The panelists agreed that education policy has to recognize the importance of computer science in the K-12 curriculum.