White House announces new AP computer science course, diversity efforts

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A year after President Barack Obama called on the nation to embrace the fundamental building blocks of computer science in the first-ever “Hour of Code,” the White House is now focusing on broadening diversity in the technology sector.

The Obama administration announced a number of new initiatives Monday as part of this year’s “Hour of Code,” including a new Advanced Placement computer science course, a teacher-training push funded by $20 million in contributions from tech companies and nonprofit organizations, and new steps to encourage women and minorities to participate in STEM-related ventures.

The new AP course will focus on fundamental computing skills as well as the creative aspects of computing, with students analyzing problems and creating computer programs. The course will be put into middle school curriculums for the 2016-2017 year with the first exams expected to take place in May 2017. However, 100 New York City high schools will begin teaching the program in 2015 as part of the city’s broader push to integrate computer science in the classroom.

John Holdren, the director of the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, said the course will not only serve to improve computer science education but also create a “science-savvy citizenry.”

“Citizens cannot be informed voters if they don’t understand anything about the science and technology content that their elected leaders are dealing with,” Holdren said.

Including New York City, more than 60 school districts have committed to offering at least introductory computer science courses. The programs will be in more than 1,000 high schools, including some in the country’s seven largest regions — New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Florida’s Miami-Dade and Broward counties, Nevada’s Clark County and Houston — reaching over 4 million students and 15 percent of the Hispanic and African-American student population in the U.S.

“We know there are far too many kids for whom the spark of discovery is never ignited,” Holdren said. “We also know that young people by nature, they are curious, they are creative, they’re interested in not only understanding the world around the, but in solving problems and addressing challenges.”

Since last year, more than 50 million students in more than 60,000 classrooms across the country have been exposed to computer science through the “Hour of Code” or other computer-science-based initiatives. More than 40 percent of participants were girls.

But while the tech sector in the country booms, it’s vastly populated by white males. An examination of the workforce at the nation’s top tech companies shows
a wide gap in diversity in both leadership and overall staff. At companies like Apple, Google and Facebook, nearly two-thirds of employees are white and/or male. Additionally, the number of women completing college degrees in computer science has fallen over the last two decades, with a smaller percentage of the country’s high school students taking computer science courses than they did two decades ago. Today, less than 20 percent of students enrolled in AP computer science courses are women or girls, and less than 10 percent are Hispanic or African-American.

In order to increase those numbers, Code.org co-founder Hadi Partovi — after helping Obama write his first line of JavaScript with students from Newark, New Jersey — announced a goal of introducing a computer science class to 1 million female students and 1 million black and Hispanic students. Partovi said this plan will also work with the organization’s goal of diversifying computer science.

“Teaching 1 million students isn’t just a dream, we are seeing the needle move right before our eyes,” he said.

Partovi also announced over $20 million in contributions from companies like Google, Microsoft and SalesForce.com and individuals like LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, noted venture capitalist John Doerr and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates to train 25,000 teachers in computer science in time for the school year beginning in fall 2016.

The teachers will be trained in Code.org’s new K-5 track, which was released at
FedScoop’s Tech Town Hall earlier this year.

“People ask me if this is possible because it’s been promoted by the president, on the homepage of Google, Apple and Microsoft, promoted by celebrities, and the answer is no,” Partovi said. “The driving force behind the Hour of Code is 75,000 educators, teachers who believe in preparing their students for the future and giving them opportunity.”

The administration also announced a computer science classroom design contest that will launch in January. Held as part of the USA Science and Engineering Festival, the contest calls on high school students around the country to create designs for K-12 computer science classrooms that encourage young women to study computer science and pursue careers in STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math.

During an event held at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith talked about how the skills highlighted Monday are becoming ubiquitous for children, no matter their background or upbringing.

“My friend [Netscape co-founder and tech entrepreneur] Marc Andreessen has a favorite expression, which is ‘Software eats the world.’ I think sometimes people think coding is one thing, but code permeates so many things,” Smith said. “We would never teach our children not to write when we teach them to read. But we also teach them math and science and other things without teaching them to make and create. That’s what this is all about.”

Read about all of the announcements made Monday on the
White House’s blog.

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Archives, Barack Obama, Department of Justice (DOJ), Departments, Government IT News, Hadi Partovi, White House
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