Trump Targets Expanding Access to Computer Science Education

Trump  Targets Expanding Access to Computer Science Education

President Trump in September directed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to establish a goal of devoting at least $200 million in competitive grant funds per year to promote high-quality K-12 STEM education, including computer science. The idea is to educate students in the key fields that help defend the country and support the future economy.

Private sector contributions will augment the minimum $200 million commitment from the Department of Education, which would particularly target underserved groups.

The new initiative comes amid continued calls from technology companies for more skills training and reformed worker visas to fill high-demand technology and engineering roles and technology company executives generally reacted positively.

“Microsoft looks forward to partnering with other companies, nonprofit groups, and the federal and state governments to help bring computer science into America's mainstream education curriculum,” Microsoft’s president Brad Smith said in a statement. “It’s good for our country, our businesses, and most importantly, our nation’s young people.”

Less than half of U.S. high schools currently offer computer programming, according to Code.org. The new grant money is supposed to be made available to schools for science and technology programs during the 2018 fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1, 2017.

Funding for the Trump administration’s initiative is coming through executive action, in part because Obama administration efforts around computer science did not receive Congressional approval.

Computer Science for All, an Obama-era initiative to encourage K-12 computer science education, called for $4 billion in funding to the states and $100 million directly to school districts to train teachers, access instructional materials and build regional partnerships. Funding for it was not included in the fiscal 2017 funding for the Department of Education.

Who Will Benefit

If dedicated money for computer science education support is available to schools in fiscal 2018, the biggest beneficiaries may be organizations that have developed free courses and resources for the subject. If commercial providers want to benefit, it may be in their interest to partner with those organizations.

For example, Code.org (Seattle), which says it provides the leading curriculum for K-12 computer science in the largest school districts in the U.S., offers curriculum resources and tutorials that are free to use and openly licensed under Creative Commons. The company also invites those interested in licensing the materials for commercial purposes to contact them.

Online course providers also could benefit if more money is available for computer science education, as some schools have chosen to access online courses rather than try to find instructors for computer science. Courses come from a variety of vendors, and providers of computer science courses and other curriculum continue to innovate to differentiate.

The Virtual High School (Maynard, MA) in May launched a new certificate program consisting of combinations of courses that allow students to explore different aspects of the computer science field and earn a computing certificate. To earn a certificate, which can be added to a college portfolio, students must complete three or four semesters of study in computer science. VHS created suggested pathways to help guide students through a series of courses based on their interests. 

Globoria (New York), acquired by Carnegie Learning (Pittsburgh) in September, launched a Spanish-language version of its Essentials of Coding course, Fundamentos de Programación as well as an English-language-learner version called Essentials of Coding: ELL in December. In 2015-2016, Globaloria courses generated more than 700,000 hours of coding and design thinking in public-school classrooms, led by 650 educators in 150 schools across 15 states.