Why Computer Science for All?

President Obama’s recent announcement of a $4 billion initiative to bring computer science to all has many people scratching their heads.

“The message is that computer knowledge is needed in many professions. (The president mentioned auto mechanics and nursing.) But this is computer use, and does not require knowing how to program and design software,” writes Dr. Stephen Krashen in a letter to the New York Times.

According to the White House, we have a shortage of technology-trained workers – but this is a claim that Krashen and many others say is false.

So why 4 billion for this initiative? Certainly, there are many who would enjoy and benefit from computer sciences classes, but is it really worth this price tag – especially when school buildings are crumbling and class sizes are growing nationwide?

As with recent federal education initiatives, the ed-tech industry seems to have had a heavy hand in the plan.

“Coding is at the intersection of tech ed and EdTech,” Hadi Partovi, CEO of Code.org, told Tom Vander Ark in this article. “People ‘get’ online computer science.”

“It may be easier to sell blended computer science than blended math,” Partovi added.

Blended learning refers to a combination of online and in-person learning – a model that ed-tech investors like Vander Ark, who recently advised the Digital Learning Now Council, are eager to expand.

At the same time, Vander Ark believes that coding will be important as “machine learning” grows.

“Once we realize that machine learning is running in the background of our lives, we may be unhappy with the status quo because algorithms can only infer our behavior. You currently can’t tell the Zappos algorithm that you just bought sandals and don’t need another pair.”

(Apparently it’s not enough to just close the advertisement?)

Casting more doubt on the value of the plan is news that the White House initiative  has partnered with two India-based IT offshore firms for financial assistance.

According to this article, the two companies, Infosys and Tata, delivered IT services to Southern California Edison and Northeast Utilities, where employees said they were forced to train foreign workers to take their jobs.

Sara Blackwell, a Florida attorney representing laid-off Disney IT workers explains: “Thousands of tech American workers are being fired and replaced” by firms “that are offering money to help educate Americans.”

Ron Hira, associate professor of public policy at Howard University warns that “any rational IT worker would tell young people to stay away from the IT profession.”

Meanwhile, Brad Smith, president of Microsoft, called the computer science for all effort a “social imperative” for schoolchildren.

What do you think?  Do we need computer science for all?

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Author: Emily Talmage

My name is Emily Talmage and I teach fourth grade at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, Maine. In addition to teaching in Lewiston, I have also taught special education and general education in New York City, including one year at a “high-performing” charter school in Brooklyn. I also have two master’s degrees; one in Urban Education from Mercy College, and another in Developmental Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. I have also worked as a research analyst and assistant at the National Center for Children and Families at Columbia and Oldham Innovative Research in Portland.

4 thoughts on “Why Computer Science for All?”

  1. Yes and no is the answer ! Yes, it is highly desirable that all kids learn how to use the basic tools in a word processing program, to be able to use a spreadsheet with simple formulae, and to have a clue about different file types and their extensions. It would be good for them to be able to use a drawing app and a photo editor, and to be able to make sensible use of the internet. learning about programming (coding) would help with their math and give them some ideas about what goes on inside the machine. System design at a basic level would be useful.
    “Computer Science” is completely the wrong term for all this, and it is obvious that politicians and business folk don’t really know what they are talking about.
    In order to set some kids on a computer directed path the above is more than enough, and it should all be done in grades 5 to 8. Specialist stuff belongs in high school. Hopefully the approach will not put any initially enthusiastic kid off for life !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    1. No, this initiative is NOT what they say. It is similar to the government of India, that teaches orphans “coding” rather than educate them.
      Your article on Baltimore
      sounds like a testing ground. Isn’t that great, we are now trying “OUR” children like developing countries.

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  2. You’re absolutely correct! The politicians only listen to the lobbiests and unions ($$$) and not the people or educators, who know the ESSA bill is, in many respects, WORSE than NCLB. Common Core is NOT gone and states have not been given their power back. So until parents band together and go to their school boards and tell what they see daily happening to their children…teachers, admin. and school boards are not speaking out because they have no parent support…only the teacher’s union telling them to be quiet.
    Until we can get parents to speak for their children and not remain silent, we must continue to stop the data collection. That means parents need to continue to OPT-OUT from the testing. They require 95% of students to take the tests in each school district. We need the OPT-OUT numbers to grow in order to help STOP this unconstitutional take over of our public, Catholic, charter, cyber and soon to be Christian and private schools if they continue to get their way.

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