Chicago Public Schools to Establish Computer Science as Core Subject

Increased access to computer science classes could give students a leg up on finding jobs in this career field.

by Lauren Zumbach, Chicago Tribune / December 11, 2013 0

In an effort to bridge the digital divide and give students a better shot at jobs in a growing field, Chicago Public Schools plans to make computer science a core subject in high schools and provide additional training to teachers in partnership with a nonprofit that promotes education in the field.

"In order to prepare our children for careers in the 21st century, we've increased access to high-quality STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs throughout the district," said district CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett.

Under the K-12 computer science education plan announced Monday Dec. 9 by Byrd-Bennett and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, every district high school will offer an introductory computer science class within three years. In five years, half of all high schools will offer an Advanced Placement computer science course, Byrd-Bennett said. Computer science will no longer be an elective course at high schools under the program.

The plan also calls for classes in elementary schools that would give students the tools needed to build computer applications and programs. CPS plans to introduce the curriculum in about a quarter of its elementary schools in the next five years.

The district has partnered with Code.org, a Seattle-based nonprofit promoting computer science education that will provide free computer science curriculum and professional development for teachers.

Code.org counts Microsoft's Bill Gates, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Twitter creator Jack Dorsey and PayPal co-founder Max Levchin among its founding donors and offers coding tutorials online while already partnering with school districts in New York City, Boston, Florida and Washington, said Pat Yongpradit, director of education at Code.org.

"We don't just teach coding and programming, but how the world works digitally," Yongpradit said. "The goal is that they can make technology, not just use it."

Yongpradit said Code.org would begin training about 70 district teachers in the spring. Each will receive more than 120 hours of training in computer science education, Yongpradit said. The program will expand to include more teachers over time, and Code.org will pay teachers stipends for participating. Yongpradit estimated Code.org's total contribution to the program at about $2 million.

Officials said they hope the plan will help close the digital divide as well as gender and skills gaps. Of all students taking Advanced Placement computer classes, about 20 percent are women and about 10 percent are African-American or Latino, officials said.

They also cited estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that by 2020, there will be 760,000 new jobs in the U.S. requiring computer and information technology skills but only 40,000 graduates with computer science degrees.

"Whether or not you pick a field that is based on computer science or engineering, learning how to write computer code is now the fundamental language that everything will work off of," Emanuel said. "If the kids in the U.K. and China today are doing this, we can't afford to wait another day or another generation."

Author: Lauren Zumbach/Chicago Tribune
lzumbach@tribune.com
Twitter @laurenzumbach
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