San Francisco to Push Computer Science Curriculum

computer_science

The San Francisco Unified School District plans on bringing Computer Science instruction to all of its students from preK to 12th grade.

Middle schools will be receiving compsci courses this coming fall, and elementary schools will follow. The goal is to have computer science curriculum in every school by the 2016-2017 school year.

Bryan Twarek, the district’s computer science coordinator, said:

We are not trying to produce an army of software engineers. We want to open all doors to this industry, and right now those doors aren’t open to everyone.

Because of the pioneering efforts of the school district, much of the curriculum will be experimental, writes Andra Cernavskis of the Hechinger Report. Existing models cater to high school students, but very little information exists on teaching computer science in elementary schools. According to Evan Faggart of Bitcoinist, developers plan on giving the youngest students tasks like making robots out of blocks.

Board of Education President Emily Murase said:

Information technology is now the fastest growing job sector in San Francisco, but too few students currently have access to learn the Computer Science skills that are crucial for such careers. We are proud to be at the forefront of creating a curriculum that will build on the knowledge and skills students will need starting as early as preschool.

A particular concern of school district officials is making sure that the classes promote lifelong skills instead of just overloading students with gadgets.

One organization involved in curriculum creation for the district is the Alliance for California Computing Education for Students and Schools (ACCESS), which also works to bring computer science to the state’s traditionally underserved students. Julie Flapan, the executive director of ACCESS, said:

We want to make sure that when people are talking about computer science education, they are talking about critical thinking and computational learning and not just bringing fancy technology into the classroom.

Most of the funding for the program comes from external organizations, according to Military Technologies, such as a $6 million donation from the Salesforce Foundation in 2014.

Twarek said:

We expect to fund the pilot primarily through external sources, and we continue to seek additional sources so that we can pilot in the elementary grades.

The Chicago school district requires a computer science course to graduate high school, but San Francisco is the first city to introduce such a comprehensive program.

Hadi Partovi, co-founder of Code.org, said:

Before this announcement, I would say San Francisco was behind the rest of the country in a field where you think it would be ahead. Now it’s ahead.

Out of the city’s 18 high schools, only 10 offer any type of computer science instruction. In the 2014-2015 school year, only 5% of the district’s students were in a computer science class, and most of those few hundred students were white and male, writes EdSurge. Out of the students who took the Advanced Placement exam in computer science in 2014, 22% were female and 3% identified as African American, Latino, or Native American.

Twarek said:

The students who access [the current classes] do not represent the diverse population that are in those schools.