January 30, 2016
Today President Obama is announcing a new initiative that focuses on bringing computer science to K-12 schools, resulting in a prepared workforce after high school. The Computer Science for All Initiative would include $4 billion in spending for states and an additional $100 million for districts from the proposed FY17 budget. The budget is due to be released in February.
“First, I’m asking Congress to provide funding over the next three years so that our elementary, middle, and high schools can provide opportunities to learn computer science for all students,” stated President Obama in his weekly address. “Second, starting this year, we’re leveraging existing resources at the National Science Foundation and the Corporation for National and Community Service to train more great teachers for these courses.”
In a White House release, they stated the money will go towards “training teachers, expanding access to high-quality instructional materials, and building effective regional partnerships.” The release further details how funding will make computer science more accessible in more states and districts, introducing it earlier on in K-12 settings. This will be done through new learning opportunities, STEM coursework, and be inclusive of all students.
The new initiative will focus on turning computer science into a core component of education in K-12 schools. Currently only about one quarter of K-12 schools offer computer science courses, and 28 states count them towards high school graduation. During a press call on January 29, Microsoft President and Code.org Board Member Brad Smith discussed how the lingering numbers not only put us behind other countries for computer science education, but also reduces diversity in the field.
There are “37,000 high schools in the US. The number of high schools that offer an advanced placement (AP) course available is 4,310. There are even more significant applications when we look at the diversity of it… Only 22 percent of student who took the AP course in high school were female, only 2 percent were of color,” said Brad Smith.
U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith mirrored Brad Smith’s comments, stating that only a fourth of schools are teaching computer science; however, nine out of 10 parents believe it should be taught. According to the White House statement, each year there are more and more jobs made available that require a background in computer science. We’re “seeing the US economy creating jobs that require comp science jobs at a fast pace,” said Microsoft’s Smith. He went on to say the skills gap are leaving too many of these jobs unfilled, the number of unfilled jobs are growing. There will be one million IT skilled jobs by the end of the decade. “Other countries are moving ahead of the US for learning comp science. The US is not moving at the pace that we need as a country”
Aside from needing bipartisan support on the new funding, the largest challenge for this new program will be to properly train the K-12 teachers. Other challenges will come in the form of ensuring schools have the appropriate broadband access necessary for these classes; however, programs like E-Rate are already focused on offering and funding the solution.
In addition to new and existing funding from NSF, private companies and nonprofits have committed to supporting the initiative. Among the likes of Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, Apple will offering coding opportunities, Cartoon Network is creating a $30 million creative coding program.
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