The President Wants Every Student To Learn Computer Science. How Would That Work?

January 15, 2016 at 8:15 am 13 comments

My daughter said to me Wednesday morning after the President’s State of the Union Address, “Your Interwebs are going crazy today.”  It’s true.  The President said that he wants every student to learn CS, which is something that we’ve been talking about for decades (as in this blog post and this book I wrote).

The NPR piece that came out Wednesday (thanks to Shuchi Grover for the link) did a nice job of touching on a wide range of issues to address in meeting this goal, and talking to people like Mitchel Resnick, Alfred Thompson, and my favorite quote, from Leigh Ann DeLyser which touches on what I think is the most critical issue — where are we going to get the teachers?

“The [teacher] pipeline is the biggest issue. There isn’t a pipeline. There’s no certification for teaching computer science [in New York]. We’re taking people who trained to be teachers and giving them some CS knowledge so they can step into a classroom and help kids. This is a Band-Aid.”

Source: The President Wants Every Student To Learn Computer Science. How Would That Work? : NPR Ed : NPR

The Office of Science and Technology Policy sent out a letter the next day, amplifying the President’s remarks:


Tonight was an important step forward for students across the country, as the President said in his final State of the Union address:

“We agree that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job.  The bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start, and together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, and boosted graduates in fields like engineering.  In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by providing Pre-K for all, offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one, and we should recruit and support more great teachers for our kids.”

Our economy is rapidly shifting, and educators are increasingly recognizing computer science as the new basic. There are over 600,000 high-paying technology jobs open across the U.S., and by 2018, 51 percent of all STEM jobs are projected to be in computer science-related fields. However, computer science (CS), is taught in less than 25 percent of American K-12 schools, even as other advanced economies, such as Britain, are making it available for all students aged 5-16. In addition, students of color, girls, and students in high-need schools are less likely to take computer science than other students, and few middle school or elementary schools offer any computer science experiences.

A year ago, President Obama became the first President to write a line of code, and issued a broad call to action to expand computer science across the nation’s classrooms. Thanks to the efforts of parents, state and local officials, educators, philanthropists and CEOs, a movement to give every child the opportunity to learn computer science is building in this country.

In the coming weeks, the Administration will announce new steps to support these state and local efforts to give students of all ages the tools to not just live in the digital age, but to be the designers and leaders of it.

We look forward to working with you on this important effort to better serve our students.

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13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Dan Anderson (@dandersod)  |  January 15, 2016 at 9:39 am

    Small nit to pick. You claim in the first paragraph that the president wants every student to take CS, but the State of the Union transcript and the letter talk about “offering every student hands-on CS”. I think this might be an import difference between “want” and “offering every student”. The White House language implies that CS would be more like technology – an elective, and less like math – a requirement. Interesting.

  • 2. alanone1  |  January 15, 2016 at 10:53 am

    There’s no question that lack and quality of teachers are a problem.

    But the much bigger one is lack of a good sense of computing and curriculum. This will lead to the same kind of tokenism we see in math and science — and to the same kind of aversion reactions by students: it’s not just that bad conceptions of subjects don’t provide enough knowledge and perspective, it’s that bad conceptions are generally also ugly and unappealing and drive potential learners away. (That is what we currently have.)

    Also, I’m quite sure that a concerted effort over the next 5-10 years can make interactive sensitive computer media that can do much of the depth, quality and quantity needed for teaching computing — but it can’t invent lofty enough conceptions of computing, and it can’t do much about automatically choosing great pathways for learning.

    This is a “physician heal thyself” dilemma in our “not quite a field”.

    • 3. Mark Guzdial  |  January 15, 2016 at 3:24 pm

      I love the goal, Alan, and it may be possible in 5-10 years — with a huge effort. I look at the work we’ve been doing in my group in the last few years. We just figured out subgoal labeling a few years ago which has led to a huge improvement in CS learning, but it’s not being used everywhere yet, and we’re just figuring out how to use those insights to improve learning about loops. We’re not up to figuring out how to teach about feedback yet, for example. To build things, iterate on them, and evaluate their effectiveness (remembering your advice about evaluating in the third year as things settle) — big effort, broad effort to cover all of CS.

      • 4. alanone1  |  January 15, 2016 at 3:39 pm

        There’s no question that one of the most difficult things to pull off is a great — even good — curriculum. Yes, it will take quite a while.

        But (I think) no matter what effort is put forth, a good curriculum is not going to be manifested from a flawed notion of the subject.

        That’s really what I’m hammering on about.

        I (personally) would first look at the best conceptions of computing intersected with the best uses of it for the kinds of thinking and doing that citizens of the future need.

        In other words, I think we have to start with “powerful ideas for the general public of the future” and see how computing might help.

        (It’s entirely likely that many old constructions — like loops — might not survive the cut.)

        Right now it appears that a lot of things are being done just because they can be done (and that is an example of “inverse vandalism”).



  • 5. gflint  |  January 15, 2016 at 1:50 pm

    Alan has it right, the lack of a clear concept of what a CS curriculum consists of is a big issue. Most K-12 schools see CS as programming. Programming is not for everyone, just like welding and wood shop are not for everyone. Leigh Ann’s comment about teaching regular classroom teachers some CS has a point but those teachers are not taught CS, they are taught a little programming and thrown to the sharks. Again the lack of a clear K-12 curriculum is an issue. Until we get the pipeline built we do need something that we can teach regular classroom teachers in the way of CS, not just programming, so those teachers can fill the gap until the pipeline starts delivering trained CS teachers. Hopefully the attempt to build a framework for K-12 CS Ed will bear fruit.

    • 6. alanone1  |  January 15, 2016 at 2:00 pm

      I don’t know how to respond to the “hope” of your last sentence without ruffling lots of feathers (or more).

      But the current state of that process is missing important considerations in a number of critical areas. On the one hand it is much too much about computing — especially trivial programming — and on the other hand it is not enough about the systems and processes that computing can model and which need to be modeled by computing (including, very importantly, itself).

      There are more dimensions than 3 here, but it misses height, width, and especially depth.

    • 7. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  January 15, 2016 at 2:32 pm

      While I agree that CS contains much more than just programming (only a small fraction of the courses I took for a PhD in CS were about programming), I think that what the President wanted was a little coding for all, rather than CS.

      • 8. alanone1  |  January 15, 2016 at 2:38 pm

        In a conversation about education with Murray Gell-Mann in the 80s, he said “Education in the 20th century is like being taken to the world’s greatest restaurant and being forced to eat the menu!”

        We need much less tokenism in our important subjects, not more — don’t you think?

        • 9. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  January 15, 2016 at 3:45 pm

          The question is “what is the important subject”? I’m not convinced that CS is an important subject for everyone, but I think that programming is.

          • 10. alanone1  |  January 15, 2016 at 3:54 pm

            Good point. A large part of my agreement is based on my claim that “CS” is anything but right now, and that “programming in something suitable” could be a great additive literacy in lots of areas. (However, I don’t think there is anything suitable right now, so I’m more interested in the 3:39 comment above.)

    • 11. Mark Guzdial  |  January 15, 2016 at 3:20 pm

      One of the themes in my book is that programming *can* be for everyone — but programming in a different definition for a different goal than in traditional CS classes. Programming is a literacy that helps people in learning and doing in many different ways. Supporting programming for literacy is different than supporting the development of programmers.

  • […] Parker (who has been working on privilege issues and on the SCS1), and Leigh Ann Delyser (of CSNYC and CS for All fame) will present on the new K-12 CS Framework (see blog post here) and the research support for […]

  • […] January 2016, President Barack Obama launched the “CS for All” initiative. When he said that he wanted students to be “job-ready,” he wasn’t saying that […]


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