New York Wants To Make Computer Science Mandatory But Who’s Going To Teach It?

CREDIT: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Students learn to code during the global of Code initiative in 2015.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to announce Wednesday that in 10 years, each of the city’s public schools will offer computer science for all high and middle school students, a move that could set the bar for school other major school districts and address the tech industry’s current diversity problems.

Schools will be required to offer computer science as an elective for students starting in middle school, but the course won’t be required for high school graduation, the New York Times reported. Ultimately, de Blasio’s plan would encompass elementary students, and particularly poor youth, to increase access to the field and prepare them for the increasingly technologically dependent workforce.

De Blasio’s $81 million plan feeds on the city’s booming tech scene, which has grown almost 60 percent since 2007 and accounts for nearly 6 percent of the U.S. private job workforce.

Materializing the plan won’t be absent challenges. New York estimates it will need 5,000 new teachers to instruct computer science for every grade level. Critics of the mandatory K-12 computer science requirement argue that finding and training qualified teachers will be problematic. Moreover, the evolving nature of programming would make it hard to solidify course curricula, leading to constant revisions and could lead to watered-down courses without proper oversight.

Tech companies have become more transparent about their struggles with gender, racial, and socioeconomic diversity, pulling back the veil on company demographics and emphasizing the need for broad educational changes on all levels to fill the gaps.

Part of the diversity issue in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) goes beyond college-level education. The minority of women and people of color who do get computer science or other STEM degrees often leave the field after graduating or within the first few years in the workforce. They also tend to teach STEM at far levels lower than the student body and far less frequently than their white male counterparts.

But increasing representation through early education and exposure can help break down the decades-old barriers in the industry. Google, for example, launched several initiatives to get young people, especially school-age girls, more interested in coding.

Apple also committed more than $50 million in March to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund for students attending historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and the National Center for Women and Information Technology to address tech’s pipeline problem — the theory that too few women and people of color enter tech partly because of a lack of exposure and access in early and higher education.

In a similar vein, the White House pledged $25 million to to boost the number of cybersecurity degree programs. The White House also struck a deal with multiple school districts last year — Chicago, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York — to offer computer science in middle or high schools.

Some schools districts, on the individual level, have embraced computer science for all courses, with California and New York pondering legislation to make it a curricula mainstay. In February, Alabama became the first state to require computer science for all public high school students.

Interest in computer science is skyrocketing but the lack of instruction will be a hurdle that de Blasio and schools nationwide will have to clear if the U.S. wants to remain a tech innovation hub.