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Public School Reform in the Digital Age

Organizations have been forming since the 2000s to combat a learning gap–a flaw in our public education system. Cohorts like CSTA—Computer Science Teachers Association—whose mission statement is, “To establish K–12 computer science as an essential academic discipline and participating in a cohort online community to share experiences, strategies, and successes.” Recently, Code.org partnered with many organizations and public schools, most notably the Chicago Public School District, to reinforce the need for computer science opportunities earlier in life, “so [students] can compete for the jobs of the future”.

I’m not prepared to open up the can of worms that is national public school reform, but recent years have gone in a more financial direction. It has focused on ways to make education cheaper, often sacrificing quality or purpose.

Enter code. Public school rejoice.

We are living in a tech-driven economy. It stands to reason that the most plentiful job market going forward would be code-based. Why not train this new generation to build the future of the industry? After all, it fits into education reform’s new way of doing business.

Code is free for everyone.

The open source initiative is the foundation of the internet, building on open source platforms like WordPress. An open source project allows developers to build, deconstruct, improve or repurpose without restriction, and then repackaged and reused as something new.

Learning is crowd-sourced.

One downfall of the current education system is having only one teacher. Don’t get me wrong, there are amazing teachers, but relying on only one voice restricts you. The development world is a community built on diverse but common goals. You’ve seen us recommend that people find different voices, different communities, and feedback from as many places as possible. The perfect environment for multi-layered learning, constructed by an infinite number of voices.

We’ve just touched the surface.

There are hundreds of programming languages and just as many libraries. New infrastructure gets built to solve a problem, and has no visible ceilings. A perfect world for young minds burdened with boundless energy and imagination. More over, all development requires an understanding of math, syntax/grammar, and science. Physics and chemistry can also play a role when using microprocessors or batteries. You’re hitting every subject of study with one stone.

PBS Idea Channel Typing Gif School
Courtesy PBS Idea Channel.

A paradigm shift

This shift in education is coming to a head. Computer science is being integrated into public school education, though only 31 states count it toward graduation. This initiative sparked reactions from President Obama who has called for a $4 billion budget for funding his “Computer Science for All Initiative.” A large portion of which would funnel directly into K–12 schools, recognizing the need for improvement in our ever-changing technology infrastructure.

The fact is that there are upwards of 120,000 code jobs available in this country, but only a fraction of those can be satisfied by new graduates entering the workforce—an obvious deficit.

We’re thinking differently about our new generation and how we teach them, but it’s slow to catch on. As such I can’t speak of its success just yet, though Chicago’s Public School District has become the template for other districts integrating code into their curriculum. It’s been shown that developers can earn up to 40% more than any other field of study on average. In a study conducted by ChangetheEquation.org, computer science boasts more interests among middle and high school students than any other. I venture to guess that perhaps it’s because code provides a sense of freedom and control that isn’t often apparent in the early years of education.

Summation

The demand is there. It is inexpensive and has a major return on investment, long-term. Even a single class may introduce students to a new world of possibility. In a release from Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool, he stated, succinctly, “No matter what field our students pursue, having exposure to STEM will provide critical skills and training for success in their careers and in life.” And that’s really all that childhood education should be about in a capitalist society. I dare to say this could be a cure-all for the public school education system.

In 2013, President Obama said that it’s time “to redesign America’s high schools [so we can prepare them] for the demands of a high-tech economy.”

I’d like to know what you think: Should code be part of the standard public school education curriculum? Should it replace curriculum? And how can we, as developers, encourage this step forward in public education?

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