UW–Madison’s Ain Grooms conducts research aimed at dismantling inequities in school leadership, computer science education

By Laurel White

Dismantling racial and other inequities in school leadership and computer science education are at the heart of two research projects led by School of Education faculty member Ain Grooms. 

Grooms, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, recently presented papers from both ongoing projects at the 2023 University Council for Educational Administration conference in Minneapolis, Minn. 


In the first project, which is part of the Wallace Foundation’s Equity Centered Pipeline Initiative, Grooms is examining how the central offices of eight large, urban school districts across the country can take their histories into account as they attempt to recruit and retain school leaders who value and promote equity. 

Grooms calls the work a “massive undertaking” that seeks to support districts as they think about their past roles in things like school desegregation, housing segregation, and gentrification. As Grooms explains, this historical examination also encourages districts to consider how such events have influenced who is leading their schools, and how schools have interacted with vulnerable communities over the years. 

“Often in communities where there is a high proportion of families of color, there is not always a positive relationship between school systems and those families,” Grooms explained. “Families are blamed for things that are out of their control, like limitations on their transportation to and from school.”

Grooms says elements of the project resonate on a personal level. 

“The scholars I’m working with on the project, we’re all scholars of color — it’s important for us because we could have grown up in any of these school districts,” she said.

Grooms’ colleagues on the project are Joshua Childs of the University of Texas at Austin, Eligio Martinez Jr., of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and April L. Peters-Hawkins of the University of Houston.

In her second ongoing project, funded by a grant from Google’s Computer Science Education Research Fund, Grooms is examining how state government policies are supporting equity-focused computer science education.

The qualitative study is gathering survey and interview data from state-level leaders, as well as reviewing a wide swath of state policy documents and reports. As Grooms explains, she’s working to assess how state leaders are working to implement a surge in nationwide efforts to increase the diversity of students interested in computer science.

“It’s a look at the ecosystem that exists between the money coming to support these efforts and the policies in school districts changing to support them,” she said. 

Grooms says the work isn’t focused on classroom-level teaching (what computer science lessons look like and how they are taught, for example), but rather a higher-level picture of how states are making sense of new pushes to create and implement policy that supports diversity in computer science classrooms. Ultimately, Grooms hopes the work will inform future state-led efforts to promote equity in computer science education and to meet the needs of marginalized youth across the country.

“As interest in computer science has taken over, everyone is pushing computer science in schools,” she said. “Some huge corporations, like Google, are putting money toward efforts to diversify the workforce. The goal is to not only have more students go into computer science, but to expand access to students of color, students who live in rural spaces, students who identify as girls, LGBTQ students, students with disabilities, and others.” 

Her collaborators on the project include Stefanie Marshall of Michigan State University, Joshua Childs of the University of Texas at Austin, SJ Hemmerich, a graduate student in the School of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, and Grace Tukurah, a graduate student at Michigan State University.

Grooms’ first project is expected to continue through 2025, and the second project through 2024. 

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