The United States has a problem with access to computer science programs in schools. In nine states, not a single African-American student took an AP computer science exam last year. Significantly fewer girls took the exam than boys.
A new initiative announced Saturday by the White House seeks to rectify some of these inequalities.
The plan comes after President Barack Obama announced his commitment to expanding computer science offerings during this year’s State of the Union address, in which he said he wants to every student to have hands-on computer science and math classes. The push, titled the Computer Science for All initiative, includes $4 billion in Obama’s upcoming budget and $100 million to be distributed directly to districts.
“In the new economy, computer science isn’t an optional skill — it’s a basic skill, right along with the three ‘Rs.’ Nine out of 10 parents want it taught at their children’s schools,” Obama said during his weekly address Saturday morning. “Yet right now, only about a quarter of our K-12 schools offer computer science. Twenty-two states don’t even allow it to count toward a diploma.”
The plan will “help make sure all our kids get an opportunity to learn computer science, especially girls and minorities,” he said.
If passed, the $4 billion Obama allocates for the effort in his upcoming budget would be distributed to states over the next three years. To receive the funds, states will have to submit plans describing how they intend to expand computer science access in schools.
The $100 million for districts will be distributed in the form of a competitive grant. Districts will have to apply for the grant by describing nationally replicable plans to expand computer science offerings for students.
The $4 billion and $100 million in funding “will allow more states and districts to offer hands-on CS [computer science] courses across all of their public high schools, get students involved early by creating high-quality CS learning opportunities in elementary and middle schools, expand overall access to rigorous science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) coursework, and ensure all students have the chance to participate, including girls and underrepresented minorities,” according to a press release from the White House.
Other organizations and federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation and the Corporation for National and Community Service, are committing funds to the initiative specifically intended for training and supporting computer science teachers. Obama has also called on companies, politicians and philanthropists to get involved in the initiative through increased investments.
On a call with reporters, Microsoft President Brad Smith called the initiative an “economic and social imperative.”
Acting Secretary of Education John King said the initiative builds on progress already happening at the state and local level.
“If all do our part we can create a movement that not only gets our students ready for the future, but gives them a voice in shaping that future,” he said.