New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to reform New York Public School policies today, including a mandate that all schools must have “Computer Science for All” in the “next 10 years,” according to the Office of the Mayor’s website. New York City’s Department of Education is the largest in the country.
“Through this commitment, every student will learn the fundamentals of computer science, like coding, robotics and web design,” a statement on the Mayor’s website says. “This promotes critical skills like thinking creatively, working as a team, and interacting with technology, as well as technical skills that will power the 21st century economy.”
New York Public Schools’ “Software Engineering Pilot” program took place at “18 middle and high schools” during the 2014-2015 school year, becoming available to about 2,700 students. The New York Public School system currently estimates their number of students at 1.1 million attending 1,800 schools throughout the city.
“From Silicon Alley to Wall Street to the fashion runways, industries all across our city are increasingly relying on new technologies — and are in need of workers with the experience to help them achieve success,” Mayor de Blasio said during his announcement.
According to the press statement on the Mayor’s website, the $81 million cost-commitment of the new program will only partially be funded by the city. Helping them will be CSNYC, Robin Hood Foundation, and AOL Charitable Foundation.
According to the Business Insider article yesterday regarding the announcement, “public schools have difficulty obtaining qualified teachers to support similar programs.”
Adding to the lack of trained professionals in the computer science education field, according to the New York Times, there isn’t a state certification for being a CompSci teacher either.
While many students today are much more advanced compared to past generations when it comes to computer literacy skills, computer science classes, and the skills that supplement them, can be hard to come by.
“More than half of the seventh-to-12th-grade students surveyed (58%) say their school offers a dedicated computer science class, and 52% say computer science is taught as part of other classes,” according to the 2015 report “Searching for Computer Science: Access and Barriers in U.S. K-12 Education,” which was part of a partnership between Gallup and Google.
“Overall, approximately 25% of seventh- to 12th-grade students report having no access to a computer science class or club at school,” the report states.
Unsurprisingly, areas with lower-income students seem to have less computer science opportunities than households that make six figures.
“Among principals in schools that offer computer science courses, those with a higher percentage of students living in households below the poverty line are less likely to say their schools offer AP computer science courses,” Gallup/Google’s report says. “These schools are also less likely to have programming/coding included in their computer science learning opportunities.”
It also states that “The College Board reports that less than 15% of all the AP Computer Science A test takers in 2014 were Black or Hispanic.”
A demographic snapshot of the 2010-2015 school years by the New York Department of Education shows that 40 percent of students in the public schools system were Hispanic. Black students and Asian students made up 28 percent and 15 percent, respectively. White students made up 14 percent.
In 2014, some of the largest tech companies compiled data and information regarding internal diversity, releasing it in an effort to be transparent. It was very apparent that three of the top companies, Google, Yahoo and Facebook, were oversaturated with white men.
Only 3 percent of Google’s U.S. workers identified as Hispanic, with 2 percent identifying as Black. The numbers for women in tech companies were somewhat better: Google and Facebook’s workforce have around 30 percent women, while Yahoo’s women account for 37 percent.
The overwhelming white-maleness of major tech firms makes perfect sense if you look at the demographics of graduating computer science majors. 2013 data from the Computing Research Association shows that of all recipients of computer science bachelor’s degrees, 4.5 percent were Black, while 6.5 percent were hispanic. A report presented earlier this year found that in 2011, 15 percent of computer science majors were women, according to Inside Higher Ed.
According to the New York Department of Education demographic snapshot, about 49 percent of students in the public school system identify as female. The largest school system in the country is undoubtedly one that includes a mix of diversity that represents the general population of the country, and giving them all the chance to partake in computer science courses should help impact the next generation of tech workers. An important industry that is at the forefront of innovation for the next century should have a workforce that is reflective of the people they serve.
The program will impact a vast amount of people, and kickstart career ideas in the heads of thousands. They will innovate. They will learn how to use new tools, and then create ways which they can help impact other people through that use.
De Blasio’s announcement might seem daunting, but with a program of that scale, there could be a computer science renaissance in public schools. Other departments across the country will be watching them and taking notes. The opportunities given to these students, if the plan goes accordingly, will outpace about half of the country.
New York City’s Computer Science for All program is expected to start on a larger level at the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year.