Does the FIRST "Progression of Programs" as is contribute to systemic classism/hurt its own EDI goals?

Taking the suggestion from a reply to my post here and making a new thread.

It costs something like $20k, realistically more to meaningfully compete in FRC. It costs some relatively small fraction of that (under 5k) to meaningfully compete in FTC.

This disproportionately means that underprivileged communities are far less likely to try and compete in robotics at all, as the school systems typically are less willing than they usually are (even in more well off districts) to cough up the money to compete.

But starting a community FRC team is a much bigger burden (especially if there are few willing sponsors) to the point where many in Chief advocate against it. Economic privilege and racial issues are often intertwined in America.

Ergo, I think its a huge disservice on first’s end and their efforts to attempt to increase diversity and accessibility in the program to treat its HS FTC program, which is far more easily adapted to the community team format with many, many success stories, as second class citizens in the program.

I was also loosely inspired by the recent Bossi interview, where he wrote off the idea of expanding FTC champs slots as “it’s more or less fixed” and “more slots for the big kids” which largely ignores factors such as the average highschool FTC team, particularly if they are in a small region such as Alabama, likely never seeing Championships ever. The feeling that FTC is not a valid highschool program in and of itself is kinda insulting to programs where it might fit best. Seeing those banners with the arrows always pointing to FRC always felt really off. There’s an overshadowing paternalistic implication that they “haven’t grown up yet” or something, and it’s something that I’ve seen basically everywhere in FIRST, both when I was in it, and when I was long out of it.

And I think especially in recent times when FIRST suddenly has a new interest in equity, diversity, and inclusion, it really needs to think more to itself about if it’s selling a good package to underprivileged communities. Race and money in America are basically bonded together.

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Oh good, someone finally posted something where this has a context which will prompt me to shoot the engineer and ship it.

Over the last 2 months I’ve been working on some research along this line of thinking, more specifically, does FRC benefit underserved communities so I made a graphic…

Whole Graphic.pdf (51.8 KB)

And then, because it maybe irritates some folks, I decided to show my work in a less than perfect paper (look, I’m not the best writer on the planet).

FRC_Demographics.pdf (297.2 KB)

This is still incomplete, I’d love to have a larger sample size and am working on that but it is currently a very manual process.

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I’m going to post a picture of this graphic because I think people should see it without having to click:

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Going off of this, I’ve also had a hypothesis that Dean’s List also trends towards wealthier schools and programs, I don’t have any empirical data other than a quick glance at FiM shows that FiM has had 1 Dean’s list finalist (4680 in 2017) from a team in Detroit (a significantly sized region in FiM) in the 11 seasons that FiM has had Dean’s List (and it looked like winners tended to be from wealthier areas). Dean’s List also helps open doors for the students the further you get along in the process, and it being biased towards wealthier areas is detrimental to EDI.

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It’s funny you mention this - the exact line of reasoning that sparked this was curiosity if there was a bias in judging towards whiter schools due to judges being predominately white… Unfortunately I haven’t collected enough data yet to start segmenting it that way.

I can tell you that some of this information has been forwarded to the Chief Judge Advisors already. (In fact, a fellow JA, Jon Mittleman was one of the people that prompted this going a bit further than just looking at HoF teams)

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pretty much every single ftc inspire award winner in the last 5 (probably more) years is an affluent community team that is predominantly white or asian american

to add onto this, i think it will always naturally tend towards wealthier winners because those are the ones who can afford international outreach/more outreach in general/more expensive outreach to run (like camps/summer programs etc.) if none of your kids are available to help out on a weekend, you’re naturally not gonna have as much outreach capital.

I’d argue its one of the main arguments for keeping robot advancement in the loop more outside of awards - 2nd and 3rd picks aren’t always going to be the richest teams ever. FIRST seems wholly uninterested in that with regards to FTC though, and it really shows in small regions, who are often the ones with less affluent programs. It’s honestly baffling to me. Don’s comments on the matter on FUN don’t make me any more comfortable either.

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Wait. We’re arguing with DATA? During summer on CD?

Carry on, it’s a refreshing change.

I know my team’s students are actively looking to reach out to more diverse students in the school (we’re majority white/Asian with a smattering of Hispanic, not 100% sure on the school’s ethnic breakdown so I can’t compare). And we’re suburban–can’t speak to the poverty level much but I don’t think it’s very high. We’re working on it…

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This has been on my mind for about 4 years now. Heck you look at the county I work in: there are really 3 FRC teams in the county and all of them are in the more affluent side of the county. Why does where a kid live determine their access to enrichment opportunities?

I think the answer still lies in the schools. I personally believe that every high school should have an FTC or FRC team. I really want to see FRC teams in all schools but the lack of 3rd party mentors would leave many schools with 15 kids and a teacher. FIRST must have outside mentors in the schools to be successful. You start there and grow the infrastructure.

First steps are acknowledging the problems, then find funding and training. after that? Well, let’s get those done and can think more deeply on this.

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I guess one of the main issues on my mind is just how FIRST seems to think of HS FTC as “lesser” in general, in its official messaging, in the ways Bossi talked about the program, in the champs slots allocation, in how much care and communication they get from HQ, questions like “Are you going to ever graduate to FRC?”, using FiM as a model to show how the program should be run, etc etc etc.

…yet somehow seeing far more support for community programs to form FTC teams rather than FRC ones. Like, remember when MentorBuilt had an article that said “Should you start an FRC team?” and all the paths lead to “No”? Meanwhile, scraping together a couple thousand even with zero school fundraising support is a lot more common in FTC, and you see a lot more cases of community teams forming and being successful.

I feel strongly that accessibility is accessibility (mostly), and this institutional implication of FTC accessibility of being “lesser” is harmful to FIRST and its participants. Right now, if you’re trying to sell to a small region, its either “Do you want an actually affordable program except you’re never going to champs unless you win the lottery or do you want a more expensive program that supposedly advances 20% of teams?”

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A deleted? post here asked for examples of institutional perceptions. I’m kinda sad they deleted the post to be honest, because it’s a bit of a fair question. But I understand if they felt it might be too pointed to ask.

Let’s start with this graphic (i know, i know, it’s outdated, but it was only outdated in like the last 3 months and CD already speculated on how it would change)

Everyone’s seen this graphic. Literally everywhere. And every time I saw it as a student, it bugged me. And my teammates. And many of our other friends in the program. Why? The implication that FTC naturally must lead to FRC, which…isn’t true for its highschool contingent, aka Most Places Not FiM Or Tied To An FRC Team. I don’t think it really helps that FiM codified this in how they run the program, but hey, when you’re big enough to force FIRST to implement districts, you can do anything, right? It’s the kinda thing that encourages affiliate partners to try and push FRC onto programs that really don’t have the finances to really pull it off. It’s the kinda thing that reflects how FIRST doesn’t really think of the HS FTC segment as…valid, if really those highschoolers are “supposed” to be doing FRC instead.

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Honestly I think that this is the goal FIRST has in mind, they just aren’t acting very promptly on funding. There’s a reason why HoF teams are the ones starting other FRC teams, not just FTC or FLL.

If HQ Thinks they can effectively grow FRC teams through other FRC teams, they have a screw loose.

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I have mentored both FTC and FRC. With the very small proportion of FTC teams that advance to Champs, the goals of FTC teams for a long time was to advance to their state championship. That was seen as the realistic limit. This bugged me for a long time until i really got to understand the appeal of FTC versus FRC. They are different programs.

For a few years, FIRST introduced the super-regional model where there was a layer between state champs and worlds. This allowed something like 4 times as many teams to advance to the “next level”. The proportion of FTC teams advancing to their super-regional competition was still smaller than the number of FRC teams that advanced to worlds at the time but it did feel like more teams had an opportunity to advance and that could be a realistic goal for a team. Of course when they added the second championship event without adding more super-regional events, something like half the teams at super-regionals would advance to worlds, so they added a lot more “wait list” slots which made advancement feel more like luck than a reward for achievement. In the end, having 2 major “travel tournaments” (super-regionals and championships) was cost prohibitive as well as a big issue with school work. Since FTC’s strength is that it is a lower cost alternative to FRC that can be run as an extracurricular, this double tier system didn’t make sense and FIRST got rid of it.

So, now we are back at the point where advancement to the state championships is the realistic goal for most FTC teams rather than trying to win your way to Worlds. And this bugs me. But, when you think about the costs involved in travel to champs, and consider that one of the reasons FTC has been able to grow as big as it is is that the costs are lower, maybe we should not be trying to emulate FRC’s emphasis on championships. Maybe the state championships is a good ending point for FTC.

The reality is that most other High School sports end at the state championship and competing in the state tournament is considered a worthy goal. Towns will put up signs proudly celebrating that their team won the state championship in football, basketball, baseball and several other sports. If we want to keep FTC accessible, maybe we need to do more to make the state tournament a “big deal” and a worthy goal for FTC teams.

One of the ways that we could do that is to change the state tournament from a 1 day event with 5 qual matches per team to a longer format 2 day event with closer to 10 qual matches. I realize this will increase the cost of travel for a lot of teams as it will add an overnight stay. But a 1 or even 2 night stay, road trip for a state tournament feels like the right scale for FTC compared to the 3 - 4 night stay, airline trip for Champs.

As much as I would love to see FTC better represented at champs, I really don’t think the cost model of champs works for FTC.

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The following may be a re-hash of some things, as I’m feeling too lazy to go back and re-read threads. But words are offered anyway:

The progression of programs very much assumes students are able to move on to “bigger and better” things. Larger scope & larger budgets provide unique challenges, and lead into “college-sized” and “professional-sized” problems. I think this is a good ideal to strive for, and would argue that (in its current form) FRC is a good stepping stone from FTC-sized problem-solving to college-sized problem-solving.

But, as noted, FRC’s current cost and expertise barrier tends select toward wealthier areas, leaving less wealthy areas behind. This in turn drives bias, especially a large amount of racial bias (which can feed back on itself). This is bad.

So here’s the honest questions:

  1. Can a group of students and mentors in a relatively impoverished area, but with FLL/FTC experience, reasonably expect to grow into a sustainable FRC program? Why or why not? And, if we keep the progression as is, what should be done to decrease the barrier of entry?

OR

  1. If we want to change the progression to put FTC and FRC on the same parallel-path… how do we reconcile the fact that FRC is indeed “Bigger” than FTC?

Specific to #2 - I think there’s gonna be a really hard “image” thing to overcome here. By a lot of measures (most visible externally), FRC looks “Bigger” or “more-Varsity” than FTC. Bigger robots, bigger teams, bigger challenges, bigger budgets, etc. Without finding a way to put the two on an equal playing field in the public eye, I don’t think you actually manage to fix the EDI problems (as there’s still division between haves and have-nots).

To be clear, this is in no way to poo-poo the potential of FTC. The engineering design and life lessons that come out of participating in an FRC team are just as achievable with FTC equipment and games. It’s a question of external appearance & scope of skills. How do you ensure the low-cost option doesn’t look lesser in the eyes of an uneducated public? And, how do you bridge the gap from FTC construction limits and materials to college-level project construction limits and materials? (Alternatively - should FIRST be attempting to do so?)

In a similar vein - @guineawheek, would you be willing to share your personal background that has led you to your opinions? I know you spent time as a student on an FTC team - have you also spent time as a student or mentor on both FRC and FTC? Have you been involved in starting teams in either program? What sorts of income & diversity backgrounds did your team(s) have to pull from? To be clear: It’s not required that you have all these experiences for your opinion to be valid (On the contrary: anyone is allowed to have an opinion, and as long as the holder is willing to discuss in good faith, any opinion is worthy of discussion.) But I am curious what experiences you’ve had that have led you to your pro-FTC positions.

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Oh they can. Doesn’t mean they can start sustainable teams. Or teams that help change the status quo…

You get what you measure. And shipping a bunch of legos over to some country without reliable access to water only serves to benefit the teams chairman’s bid…

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A) I’m really glad that someone is bringing this up as its own thread :slight_smile:

B) I feel like one thing that I don’t see that often in FRC is doing stuff with real-life applications. We gain the skills to build something amazing, thinking that we can use this to make the world a better place later on, yet we forget that we have the skills to do it NOW. We are focused on, as Andrew_Schreiber says,

I’m a believer in establishing FIRST programs everywhere possible to teach kids STEM, but there’s no point in doing so if that program is not sustainable and if kids can’t reap those benefits.

Here’s what I believe we can do to improve the situation:

  1. Find opportunities to have students use their skills to build or at least design something that can benefit those who are less fortunate. It can be something relatively small, like how my team built a walker for a kid who couldn’t walk a few years ago. One of OnShape’s CADathons from this year, Robots to the Rescue, is a really good example of how to implement this.
    If you want to do this while starting a FIRST team, do this with students of this future team! For example, when establishing an FLL team in an area with unreliable access to potable water, have the FLL students design something, a filter for example, with the FRC students. I’ll share a quote here that exemplifies this:

People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, “And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.”

-Trevor Noah, from his book, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood

  1. Encourage teams to give continued support. If they want to start an FLL team in a third-world country, they must have a continued partnership with that team in order to sustain it. Yes, a team should learn to run on its own, but there’s no point in having the team in the first place if it’s set up for failure.
    If the team simply wants to establish another FRC/FTC team in an impoverished area across the county, that team should give continued financial support and give them opportunities to share resources (a build space, a joint kickoff if that’s a thing, etc.).

  2. Instead of framing the Chairman’s Award so that teams will be incentivized to impress the judges, frame it so that it encourages a laid-out plan. Instead of making students show off what they do, have them present their plans, their budget, etc., almost as if they were looking for funding, not an award.
    Better yet, maybe give teams a requested amount of funding to start a project, and make sure that it’s not an all-or-nothing situation where only one team gets funding. (I have no idea how well this could work out; this is just an idea that’s flowing from my brain.)
    These should encourage teams to think seriously about their outreach ideas rather than doing outreach for the sake of doing outreach.

There are many more ways to achieve this, but this is a starting point. Essentially, teams should improve the conditions for other areas (such as improving access to water) while giving students the skills to improve it for themselves (represented by FIRST programs) later on.

As always, these are my own personal opinions and don’t necessarily represent the opinions of my team as a whole.

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Just a few thoughts here, but I went to an LAUSD middle and elementary school before going to a STEM charter high school. I’ve noticed that most of the high schools my middle school classmates have gone to don’t have FRC teams. At the local regional, I see teams from Torrance, Redondo, Palos Verdes (all middle/upper class, suburban areas, predominantly white/asian), but not many teams from the local LAUSD high schools. Not trying to call out any teams here or anything, just commenting on what I’ve observed at 4 years of LA Regionals.

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For some reason the LAUSD teams don’t seem to last long.

The first thing I think of related to higher-income areas is funding for a team. The other factor that I feel exists is that those areas also are likely to have more qualified potential mentors earning those incomes. FRC seems skewed towards communities (i.e. schools) that already have embedded tech industries.
Teams may fail as much from having to struggle to compete as they do from lack of funds.

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I can’t talk much about finalists, but the DL Winners that i know (2019) all come from expansive backgrounds, whether that’s cultural, ethnic, wealth, etc. From what I’ve noticed, the winners also don’t always come from “S-Tier” teams either. Although I do think the award generally ends up favoring better funded teams due to the fact that most outreach costs money, especially the more expansive ones.

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