Code.org, the non-profit organization that has gotten children as young as five years old to try computer coding, has joined with the College Board to try to expand computer education in U.S. public schools, particularly to girls and minorities.
Seattle-based Code.org, founded by two tech entrepreneurs, and the College Board, the New York-based non-profit that administers the SAT and Advanced Placement tests, are offering to help 35 of the country’s largest school districts teach new computer science classes.
Too many students, particularly girls and teens of color, attend high schools that do not teach computer science, or they are not encouraged to take those classes if they are offered, said Hadi Partovi, a co-founder of Code.org.
Of the students in the high school class of 2014 who took the PSAT, more than 165,000 girls showed the capacity to learn computer science but just 2.5 percent enrolled in the AP Computer Science course and exam, according to the College Board. Thirty-three thousand African American and Hispanic students also showed aptitude for computer science, but just 4.7 percent took the AP course.
A recent study of California public schools by Level the Playing Field, a non-profit advocacy group, found that in the state’s largest 20 school districts, just 1 percent of students are enrolled in a computer science class. Of the state’s highest poverty schools, only 4 percent offer AP computer science.
To try to broaden the appeal of computer science, Code.org has designed a new AP Computer Science Principles class for the College Board that will be piloted in the fall and offered nationwide in 2016.
The current AP computer science class is focused on teaching the Java programming language, Partovi said. The new course aims to be more interesting to a broader swath of students by teaching them how to make apps, how the Internet works, cybersecurity and other topics, Partovi said.
Code.org and the College Board have agreed to help cover most of the costs of curriculum and teacher training for new computer science classes for the 35 largest school districts in the country.
To be eligible, schools must agree to use the PSAT — a practice exam for the SAT — to identify 8th graders and 9th graders with the potential to succeed in computer science.
Partovi called the partnership with the College Board “a big deal” for his group’s effort to expand computer education.
He and his brother, Ali, founded Code.org in 2013 to call attention to the fact that just one in 10 schools in the U.S. teach computer science. The group has funding from Microsoft, LinkedIn, Google and a number of other corporate sponsors, and it has received donations from Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Its first initiative was Hour of Code, a campaign that offered free computer coding lessons to anyone in kindergarten and up. Celebrities — including President Obama, NBA star Chris Bosh and actor Ashton Kutcher — promoted “Hour of Code”, giving it a glamorous sheen that’s absent from most education initiatives. The result was stunning: More than 116 million people in 180 countries wrote some computer code through Hour of Code.
The organization also created Code Studio, which offers free online tutorials in the basics of coding. One out of 10 elementary and middle school students in the U.S. have created accounts with Code Studio, Partovi said. Of those students, 43 percent are female, 22 percent are Hispanic and 15 percent are African American, he said.
Jobs in computing-related fields are growing at four times the national average, and the 600,000 open computing jobs in the United States pay, on average, 85 percent more than the national median wage, according to Code.org. But fewer than 2.4 percent of college graduates have computer science degrees, and the field is overwhelmingly white and male.