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Obama Administration Continues Push for Computer Science Education

Washington

With its eight years in the White House rolling to a close, the Obama administration is continuing to beat the drum on improving K-12 science, technology, engineering, and math education—with particular attention to computer science.

At a White House summit today, federal officials and representatives from STEM-focused public and private organizations highlighted the work going on to help bring computer science to more students across the country.

"We need all Americans to become literate in computer science and computational thinking," Megan Smith, the U.S. chief technology officer in the Office of Science and Technology Policy, said in an interview at the event. "Coding is not rocket science—it's one of the new basics. It's fun, collaborative, creative, and critically important to our economic and social futures." 

Reginald Brothers, the undersecretary for science and technology for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, went so far as to call computer science education a "national security imperative" during his short speech to the more than 200 people in the auditorium. 

President Obama has been pushing to raise awareness about computer science education and expand student access to it for several years now. In 2014, he became the first president to write a line of computer code. He opened his final State of the Union address by listing "helping students learn to write computer code" among his goals for the remainder of his presidency. And in January he launched a "Computer Science for All" initiative by including $4 billion for states and $100 million for districts to expand access to K-12 computer science in his 2017 budget proposal. (It's important to note that this proposal is not likely to pass as writtenand that the move is in some ways a symbolic one.)

The summit was held to follow up on that Computer Science for All initiative, which hundreds of organizationsincluding universities, nonprofits, tech companies, school districts, and federal agencieshave pledged to support.

The National Science Foundation announced at the gathering that it had awarded more than $25 million in grants to groups working on improving teacher training and curriculum for computer science since the initiative launched eight months ago. The NSF expects to give out another $100 million in computer science education grants over the next four years. 

Kumar Garg, a senior advisor in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said in an interview that 15 federal agencies are currently involved in the Computer Science for All effort, including the departments of Education, Homeland Security, and Defense. 

Among the other groups represented at the event were:

  • The Corporation for National and Community Service, which has committed $17 million to the effort and is starting an Americorps program to train computer science teachers;
  • The College Board, which officially rolled out its new Advanced Placement Computer Science Principles course this fall. That new course, which more than 2,000 schools are now implementing, teaches a broad range of computing skills and is designed to encourage more female students and underrepresentated minorities to take the subject;
  • Girls Scouts of America, which is making computer science one of its STEM focus areas and is developing computer science programming for girls of all ages;
  • DonorsChoose, the nonprofit that helps teachers crowdsource donations for classroom supplies and projects, which is now allowing teachers to raise funding for computer science professional development. 
  • CSNYC, a small nonprofit in New York City that is leading the way on a CSforAll Consortium, which will connect curriculum providers and funders with states and districts in need of computer science resources. 

In its press release, the White House also notes that 12 states have taken policy actions to support computer science education since the president launched his campaign. Thirty-one states now allow computer science to count toward high school graduation, it says.

Yesterday, the Education Commission of the States released a report that helps to further break down the numbers on computer science credits and states' high school graduation policies. It found that 20 states have formal statutes or regulations requiring that students be allowed to count a computer science course as a math or science credit toward graduation. Three states allow districts to make the decision about whether computer science fulfills graduation requirements. And another eight states use "non-policy means" to authorize computer science to fulfill a math or science credit. 


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