President Calls on Country to Deliver CS Education to All Students
- By Dian Schaffhauser
President Obama said he wants to see a stronger commitment to computer science in American schools, and he's laid out a new initiative to make that a reality. The "Computer Science for All" program will seek Congressional funding to add CS at all levels of K-12, the use of resources at federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) to expand CS training for teachers and public and private support for promoting CS education.
"In the new economy, computer science isn't an optional skill — it's a basic skill, right along with the three 'Rs,'" Obama said during his weekly Saturday morning address, in which he announced the initiative. "Nine out of 10 parents want it taught at their children's schools. Yet right now, only about a quarter of our K through 12 schools offer computer science. Twenty-two states don't even allow it to count toward a diploma."
The new plan is intended, Obama noted, to give "every student in America an early start at learning the skills they'll need to get ahead in the new economy."
The White House is counting on bipartisan support. A Gallup poll found that 91 percent of parents of students in grades 7-12 want their kids to learn more CS. Yet, there's a lot of ground that needs to be gained to make that education available. For example, only about 12 percent of high schools offer CS advanced placement courses. The availability of those courses is even scarcer in poor urban areas and rural communities.
Computer Science for All has three aspects:
- Inclusion in the White House's forthcoming 2017 budget of $4 billion in funding for states and $100 million directly for districts to increase access to K-12 CS. Those funds will be used to cover teacher training, "high-quality" instructional materials and the building of "effective regional partnerships." Specifically, Obama wants to see "hands-on" CS courses in every public high school and more learning opportunities in the subject in elementary and middle schools.
- Obama is also asking the NSF and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) to invest "more than $135 million" in training CS teachers. The White House stated that the agencies will make those investments over the next five years using existing funds.
- Finally, the President is calling on state and local governments, education leaders, CEOs, philanthropists and others to get involved.
Already, the White House said, 30 districts as well as the state-wide district of Hawaii have committed to expanding the CS opportunities in their schools. Delaware will be launching an online CS course for its students. Those educational agencies have been joined by a number of companies that have announced their own commitments to the program.
Microsoft, for example, has publicly backed the initiative. President Brad Smith published a blog on Saturday that emphasized the measures the company has already taken to support CS education, including an employee-founded program that enlists tech employees to teach CS classes in local schools and its continued support for YouthSpark, a global program to increase student access to learning opportunities for CS. Now Microsoft will be launching a "50-state campaign" to stretch the reach of those efforts.
Other company commitments include:
- Cartoon Network, which will launch a $30 million campaign to "engage young people in creative coding";
- SalesForce.org, which has said it would invest $13 million in 2016 alone to support CS and STEM education; and
- Qualcomm, which will collaborate with Virginia Tech to create a Thinkabit Lab, a combination classroom, lab and makerspace, on its campus, with the goal of supporting computer science education for middle school students in the region.
Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.