Diversity in STEM: Obama Announces $4 Billion 'Computer Science for All' Initiative
Over the weekend, President Obama announced he was pledging $4 billion in funding to boost computer science education in the nation's schools as part of the Computer Science for All Initiative.
The initiative proposes that the Department of Education divides the $4 billion in federal funds over the next three years to states that produce solid five-year plans to increase the amount of access kids have to computer science classes.
The White House outlined the initiative in more detail, including a $100 million starting fund directly going to school districts in Obama's forthcoming budget for the year, intended to increase computer science (CS) training teachers' access to K-12 kids and to begin building the kind of curriculum and partnerships needed to boost early STEM education.
"The funding will allow more states and districts to offer hands-on CS 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," explained the White House's fact sheet, "and ensure all students have the chance to participate, including girls and underrepresented minorities."
The initiative is attempting to fix a couple major problems in Silicon Valley and the pipeline that supplies the technology industry talent. First, Silicon Valley infamously has a problem with diversity, with the majority of major companies employing mostly white men.
The root of the problem, as the White House put it, is that "access to CS education is limited and wide disparities exist even for those who do have access to these courses. For example, in the fewer than 15 percent of all high schools that offer any Advanced Placement (AP) CS courses in 2015, only 22 percent of those who took the exam were girls, and only 13 percent were African-American or Latino students."
The White House is betting that building STEM coursework into public schools at such an early stage will expose more underrepresented minorities and girls to careers in technology, expanding the talent pool from which tech companies pull from.
Secondly, Silicon Valley has a dearth of qualified applicants in the U.S. to pull from, especially when comparing current students in STEM fields with the projected future growth of the tech industry. According to Wired, only a fourth of K-12 schools offer hands-on coding classes in the U.S., while only 28 states include CS classes that count as credit towards graduation.
But at the same time, jobs in that field are projected to grow at twice the rate of the general job market, leading to a shortfall of about 1 million qualified STEM graduates to fill positions expected to be open by 2020. Last year, there were 600,000 tech jobs open in the U.S., and the Federal government alone needs an additional 10,000 IT and cybersecurity positions to be filled this year.
The $4 billion total in federal funding will be supplemented with donations from some of the largest technology companies in Silicon Valley. The White House announced that a diverse range of companies has pledged more than $60 million in new philanthropic investments, including Salesforce.org, Cartoon Network, and Google. Microsoft has also announced a fifty-state campaign to help expand access to computer science coursework, while Code.org will offer 25,000 additional teachers training in CS materials. Apple, Facebook, and others have also pledged support.
"Our economy is rapidly shifting," cautioned the White House, "and educators and business leaders are increasingly recognizing that CS is a 'new basic' skill necessary for economic opportunity and social mobility."
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