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Chicago Public Schools Makes Computer Science Core Subject

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools (CPS) CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett have launched plans to elevate computer science to a core subject in the district.

According to information from the mayor's office, every CPS high school will begin offering a foundational course called "Exploring Computer Science" within the next three years. Exploring Computer Science was originally developed for the Los Angeles Unified School District through a K-12/university partnership and has been available through CPS's Career and Technical Education program since 2010. In the next five years, the initiative will also introduce an Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science course to at least half of all CPS high schools and offer K-8 computer science courses at one quarter of CPS elementary schools. The district also plans to allow computer science to count as a graduation requirement within five years.

CPS is partnering with Code.org, a nonprofit computer science education organization, to implement this initiative. Code.org will provide the district with free computer science curriculum and ongoing professional developement and stipends for teachers.

According to the report in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Teachers Union is criticizing the initiative, citing concerns about adequate computer equipment to support the courses when many of the district's schools lack basic resources.

However, Todd Thibodeaux, president and CEO of CompTIA, a nonprofit association for the information technology industry, applauded the announcement. "Early identification of students who have a real aptitude for computers and technology is a key factor in educating these kids on the many career opportunities available to them later in life," said Thibodeaux in a prepared statement. "More importantly, technical literacy is a prerequisite for virtually every occupation in today's information economy, even beyond technology positions."

According to the mayor's office, less than three percent of college students in the United States earn computer science degrees, even though it's one of the highest paid professions, and in AP computer science courses, less than 20 percent are women and less than 10 percent are African American or Latino. This initiative is part of the school district's plan "to bridge the digital divide and gender gap" by providing computer science education at an earlier age. 

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at leilameyer@gmail.com.

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