President Obama today pledged $4 billion in funding for computer science education in the nation’s schools.
The Computer Science for All Initiative slated for the president’s forthcoming budget plan would include an additional $100 million that would go directly to school districts to fund computer science programs.
Under the president’s plan, the Department of Education will divide the $4 billion over three years to states that propose well-designed five-year plans to increase computer science access in classrooms. Along with billions in federal funding, the initiative also includes commitments from philanthropists and some of the country’s largest tech companies to help increase opportunities for computer science training, especially for underrepresented groups.
The overall vision is that every student in every school should have a chance to learn computer science.
“Our economy is rapidly shifting, and educators and business leaders are increasingly recognizing that CS is a ‘new basic’ skill necessary for economic opportunity and social mobility,” the White House said.
The initiative comes after President Obama highlighted the need for better computer science education in his 2016 State of the Union address.
By some estimates, just one-fourth of K-12 schools in the US offer computer science that includes coding. Only 28 states allow computer science courses to count towards high school graduation, and many districts struggle to make the field a priority. Meanwhile, the demand for such skills is only increasing. Jobs in computing are growing at twice the national rate of other types of jobs. By 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be 1 million more computer science-related jobs than graduating students qualified to fill them.
A significant part of the strategy to expand the pool of qualified applicants is to work harder to reach students who have historically lacked access to computers and computer training. The $100 million for districts will come in the form of competitive grants that reward ambitious efforts to expand computer science education in ways that reach as many students as possible, with the ultimate hope of finding a template that could work nationwide. The most successful efforts may serve as a model for a program to be rolled out nationwide.
The plan also comes with a range of commitments from tech heavyweights. Apple says it will expand coding opportunities for children by investing in training workshops and curriculum development, particularly around its Swift programming language. Facebook said it would double down on its outreach efforts, making sure it connects with underrepresented communities in the tech sector.
Other technology companies taking part include Microsoft, Google, Qualcomm and Salesforce, along with advocacy groups including the National Center for Women and Information Technology and Code.org. The National Science Foundation and the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) say they will invest resources to support and train computer science teachers.
Ruthe Farmer, a computer science advocate at the National Center for Women in Technology (NCWIT), says a critical part of the initiative is that it gives states the resources to make computer science a core part of their curriculums—which in turn can make computer science available to all.
Meanwhile, for Hadi Partovi, the founder of Code.org, it isn’t the details of the plan that matter so much as the overall vision that every student in every school should have a chance to learn computer science.
“The push for federal funding to support what’s already happening at the local level in hundreds of thousands of classrooms in every state—that’s the most meaningful part,” Partovi says.