President Obama Announces ‘Computer Science for All’ Initiative

By Liana Loewus — January 30, 2016 3 min read
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Today, the White House announced what it’s calling an “ambitious, all-hands-on-deck” initiative to get every student in the United States coding.

“In the new economy, computer science isn’t an optional skill—it’s a basic skill, right along with the three Rs,’” President Obama said in his weekly address today.

In a phone call with reporters, John King, the acting U.S. secretary of education, explained that the president’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2017, expected to be released early next month, will include $4 billion for states and $100 million for districts to expand access to K-12 computer science.

Under that proposed initiative, states would submit their “Computer Science for All” five-year plans, and those with well-designed strategies would receive funding. The $100 million would be allocated “like other district-level competitive grants,” King said.

The funding would bring hands-on computer science courses to more public high schools, help create computer science programs for elementary and middle schools, and “ensure all students have the chance to participate, including girls and underrepresented minorities,” the press release says.

It’s worth noting that the President’s budget is a pie-in-the-sky proposal—and much of it may very well be ignored by Congress. In fact, Obama may not even be around to sign the budget, depending on how long it takes Congress to agree on one for next year. In many ways, the move is symbolic—a way for Obama to reiterate his commitment to STEM and pencil in computer science on the next president’s to-do list.

Support on the Rise

King said the White House will partner with the National Science Foundation, which is committing $120 million in existing funding to the Computer Science for All effort. The Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that runs AmeriCorps and other service programs, will also give $17 million to supporting computer science teachers.

Support for computer science education has been growing steadily among state and local leaders, the White House representatives noted. As I’ve written, Chicago, New York, and San Francisco have all committed to making computer science courses available to all public school students in the coming years. And more states are putting policies in place that allow computer science to count as a mathematics or science credit toward high school graduation.

“The great news is, momentum is building,” said Megan Smith, the president’s chief technology officer.

The president has been a cheerleader for STEM education, with special attention to computer science, throughout his tenure. He launched Educate to Innovate, a billion-dollar public-private partnership to improve U.S. students’ performance in science and math, and has called for the recruitment of 100,000 new STEM teachers by 2021. He’s hosted science fairs, maker fairs, and astronomy nights at the White House.

A year ago, Obama became the first president to write a line of computer code. He hinted at this current effort in his final State of the Union address earlier this month, saying “helping students learn to write computer code” was among his goals for the year.

Image: President Barack Obama talks with middle-school students from Newark, N.J., during an “Hour of Code” event at the White House in 2014.—Jacquelyn Martin/AP-File

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.