Teaching the Future – New Initiative Would Provide Public Schools With Computer Science Classes

Fewer than 5 percent of all New York City public school students study computer science, according to city officials. That means just a tiny fraction of these schoolchildren are learning the subjects of the future: computer programming, coding, robotics, and more.

A new initiative by the New York City government called Computer Science For All seeks to change this by delivering a computer science education to every public school student from kindergarten through 12th grade by 2025.

Liz DeBold, communications manager for the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, tells Opportunity Lives that nine out of 10 U.S. schools don’t offer computer-programming classes. And as of 2011, she notes, fewer than 5 percent of U.S. high schools offered the Advanced Placement test in computer science — down 25 percent over the previous five years.

If successful, Computer Science For All would make New York City the largest school district in the country to provide computer science education to all public school students.

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CS4A would make NYC the largest school district to provide all public school students with computer training. | Photo: robinhoodnyc Instagram

DeBold outlined for Opportunity Lives the program’s four pillars:

Education. Computer Science For All is not just about computing; it’s also about learning 21st century skills, including creative problem solving, peer collaboration and effective communication via technologies.

Early Exposure. Computer Science For All intends to emphasize early exposure as the key to long-term success.

Equity. As part of tackling this lack of representation, Computer Science For All would target schools in all five boroughs, ensuring that all schools have the resources they need to successfully expose students to computer science. “We want to engage all students — especially girls and minorities — to ensure diversity in educational and career persistence in technology,” DeBold said. Data show women and minorities are poorly represented among tech startups, venture capital funds and computer engineering employees. DeBold reported that only 29.4 percent of AP Computer Science test-takers in New York City in 2014 were girls, 6.4 percent were African-American students and just 12.5 percent were Hispanic.

Economic Opportunity. New York City’s booming tech ecosystem is driving demand for talent in excess of the current supply across the five boroughs, DeBold says. Computer Science For All wants to connect with New York City’s tech industry to upgrade curricula, demonstrate real-life importance of classroom learning and help place students with private sector career development opportunities.

Employment in the technology industry in New York City grew by 57 percent between 2007 and 2014 — nearly six times faster than citywide employment overall, DeBold notes. Average earnings in the field are 75 percent higher than the average salary nationwide.

Under the initiative, the New York City Department of Education will develop a system to track how schools implement Computer Science For All, and DeBold said principals will work with their staff to determine which teachers will provide computer science instruction.

Right now teachers from across multiple disciplines teach software engineering pilot classes around the city. “From a range of instructional backgrounds, these teachers have shown an incredible capacity and dedication to teaching computer science, and there are a number of professional development opportunities that are already in place to train them,” DeBold said.

New York City’s Tech Talent Pipeline, a public-private partnership currently focused on adults seeking careers in the technology industry, will be revamped to ensure Computer Science For All’s education is responsive to workforce demands. The hope is this will inform curriculum development and foster career opportunities for students.

DeBold said Computer Science For All represents one of the largest public-private partnerships pursued by the DeBlasio administration: $81 million over 10 years, with a one-to-one public-private match. The city’s investment of $40.5 million is slated to garner $40.5 million from private sector partners, including CSNYC, Robin Hood and AOL Charitable Foundations—which have already committed $11.5 million to the initiative.

The $81 million budget will pay for staff hires, professional development and teaching materials such as computers, LEGO robotics kids and 3D printers. The money will also help with internship stipends and placement, building and maintaining an online platform for teachers to access curriculum, and research and evaluation of the program.

While we at Opportunity Lives have been critical of Mayor Bill DeBlasio in other areas, Computer Science For All appears to be a major step toward empowering vulnerable students across the city.

Carrie Sheffield is a Senior Writer for Opportunity Lives. You can follow her on Twitter @carriesheffield and on Facebook.