College Futures Foundation to Support Data Science Instruction in LA Schools

A new grant and partnership between Center X and LAUSD will expand teachers' skills, opportunities for students.

Since the days of the launch of the Sputnik satellite in the 1950’s, high school mathematics instruction has been driven by the completion of Algebra II. The thinking was that algebraic skills were needed to build the missiles and rockets needed to win the space race. Algebra II grew to become a key requirement for entry into the UC and CSU systems, and even today, the subject remains a gatekeeper for entrance to many colleges and universities. But in a rapidly shifting world where the collection and analysis of “big data” is reshaping our lives and future, that may be changing.  Data Science is in high demand and students need the opportunity to develop the knowledge and skills to work with large and complex data sets.

In response, a growing number of schools across California are offering courses in data science. Introduction to Data Science was introduced in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) in the 2014-2015 school year and in 2018, UCLA joined with the LAUSD to provide additional support for the course.  Introductory Data Science (IDS), which fulfills the UC/CSU A-G subject matter requirement in mathematics, is currently available in 16 high schools in the school district. 

Looking to build on the early success of IDS, the LAUSD and UCLA Center X recently announced a $245,000 grant from the College Futures Foundation in support of the Introduction to Data Science Project. The two-year grant, Foundations in Data Science, will provide professional development and technology support to LAUSD mathematics teachers to further their knowledge and skills as they work to implement the IDS course. The project will build capacity and leadership by preparing current IDS teacher leaders to become mentors to new IDS teacher leaders, with the ability to support professional development. Additionally, experienced IDS teachers will participate in a second year of professional development, engaging them more deeply in data science concepts and continuing to refine their understanding of inquiry-based pedagogy. IDS teachers will also learn more advanced skills in R, a programming language used by academics and statisticians in industry, in order to better support student learning in data science. Finally, the partnership will work together to continue to refine the IDS curriculum and its technology components.

“Data science offers great opportunities to students,” said Suyen Machado, director of the Introduction to Data Science Program at UCLA Center X. “Aside from preparing them for college, data science equips students with employable skills and tools for 21st-century citizenship. Because technology changes rapidly and understanding data science is in demand, we need to teach sooner and reach more students, rather than wait for them to learn it after high school. This grant offers important support for our efforts to expand and strengthen teachers’ abilities to help students learn these valuable concepts and skills.” 

The study of data science is the study of big sets of data, looking for trends and patterns to inform decision-making and solve problems.  The IDS course engages students in explorations of real data, introducing them to statistical, computational and graphical tools for reasoning. Students act as researchers, collecting their own data and examining data from other sources while learning to make hypotheses, use statistical data and to think computationally. The main goal of the IDS course is to teach students to think critically with data. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for High School Statistics and Probability relevant to data science are taught along with the data demands of good citizenship in the 21st Century. IDS provides access to rigorous learning that fuses mathematics with computer science through the use of RStudio, an open-source programming language that has long been the standard for academic statisticians and analysts in industry.