New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on Wednesday announced his computer learning initiative, requiring that every student in the city’s public schools be exposed to computer literacy training at every grade level within 10 years.
The program will cost some US$81 million over the next decade. The mayor expects to receive at least half of that from private sources, including the initiative’s founding partners, the Solomon Wilson Family Foundation, the Robin Hood Foundation and the AOL Charitable Foundation.
“Just like reading, writing and arithmetic, computer science is an essential skill,” the mayor said.
One of the program’s goals is to ensure that students gain the computer literacy they’ll need for the 21st Century. New York City is now the largest school district in the U.S. with a program to offer computer science to every student, de Blasio said.
The computer classes are one part of a set of reforms dubbed “Equity and Excellence: Every Student, Every Day.”
“This is a good step forward by Mayor de Blasio,” said Elie Venezky, education director at Prestige Prep NY. “Students need to be prepared for the world today, and most schools prepare students for a world that has not existed for 20 years. Students need computer skills, and not teaching it to them is doing them a disservice.”
The purpose of the reforms is to improve educational equity and performance citywide. The program has three major goals: to have all children reading by third grade; improve on-time graduation rates; and give all students a shot at attending college.
Fewer than 10 percent of New York City’s public schools offer computer science courses. Only 1 percent of students receive computer science education, according to the city’s Department of Education. In contrast, the city’s tech sector increased 57 percent between 2007 and 2014.
Currently, the few computer classes that are available tend to focus on word processing, the mayor observed, which is insufficient for modern demands. Students must learn to code.
Computer science courses also will help foster teamwork, problem solving, critical thinking and creativity, the mayor said, adding that those are skills that will serve them throughout their lives.
The founding partners will fund the first two and a half years of the program, said Liz DeBold, communications manager for the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City.
Schools can apply for consideration to bring a universal computer science curriculum to their schools. The Department of Education ultimately will approve all applications.
“The main goal in 10 years is to have every single school providing universal access to every single student, and bringing in 5,000 teachers in computer education,” DeBold told the E-Commerce Times.
How realistic is this endeavor? It should be easy to achieve in a 10-year time frame, said John Paul Engel, president of Knowledge Capital.
“You could train existing teachers and find volunteers from the community. There is a lot of tech talent,” he told the E-Commerce Times.
For instance, administrators should be able to find math teachers with the right background, as most university math programs require programming skills. Summer boot camps could be developed in partnership with New York University, Columbia and The New School, Engel suggested.
Although finding teachers and supplying the necessary computer equipment could be a challenge, they are manageable issues, Prestige Prep’s Venezky told the E-Commerce Times.
A bigger issue is that some people will try to stand in the way of change, she said, “but the fact is this needs to happen, and so schools will have to adjust.”
The standards, materials, products and services required for professional development exist in the market, but commitments of time and effort on behalf of educators and administrators will be critical, said Robert Grover, co-CEO of PCS Edventures.
“One of the major challenges within the elementary infrastructure is many elementary educators are not as comfortable with [science, technology, engineering and math]-oriented topics that are more technical in nature,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “This comfort level in STEM must be addressed. Educators must embrace the challenge, and administrators must supply the teachers with the support and tools they need to be successful.”
De Blasio’s plan is highly realistic, said Grover. A movement nationwide recognizes the critical importance of integrating computer science into the core curriculum.
“There are tremendous resources available to educators and administrators to facilitate the implementation of this initiative, and many opportunities to leverage grant and corporate sponsorship dollars to help fund it,” he pointed out.
Coding and computer science are the fabric of today’s society, Grover added. Many students are digital natives who are constantly wired into social media and digital information streams.
“In addition to the basic technological literacy that a good citizen requires, coding and computer science are foundational topics for teaching problem solving, critical thinking and logic,” Grover pointed out.
Logistical obstacles such as cost, commitment, time and training are the primary concerns about a program that promises computer literacy for all students.
“The best response to this is to infuse it into the existing curriculum, so you don’t have to give up other core subjects,” suggested Grover.
Schools will have to supply proper hardware and settings to teach computer science, train teachers, and form an effective curriculum for students of different ages and skill levels, noted John Turner, CEO of UsersThink.
Those needs can be met with a strong focus on what is motivating the initiative, he told the E-Commerce Times. The falling price of hardware, augmented with remote teaching options like the Khan Academy and Codecademy, make the mayor’s mandate very realistic.
“We as a society have moved toward knowledge workers,” Turner said, and “most knowledge work is being more and more affected and altered by information technology and software. As that importance grows, the need for people who can alter and improve those systems grows.”