California and the SF Bay Area decline to accept free money to teach coding to kids
Code.org, the non-profit hoping to get coding taught in all American schools, announced its first 30 partnership districts last month. The partnerships sees Code.org underwriting the ~$1m cost of training 600 educators to teach coding to students.
One region was noticeably absent from the list of funding recipients though: The San Francisco Bay Area.
Chicago was there, Denver was there, as were Shoreline and Douglas County and 26 more. But no San Francisco Unified School District or Oakland Unified School District (OUSD].
In fact, Pando has learned that despite hearing about Code.org’s program, both school districts chose not to participate in the program. “I’ve met with the superintendents of both and spoke with them not about being part of the initial 30 [partners], but about being in the 2015-2016 school year,” Code.org co-founder Hadi Partovi says. “Generally from both school districts the reaction is that they’re interested but it’s not their priority.” We’ve reached out to the districts for comment on why [~1hr 30mins before publication] and will update this when we hear back. [See update below]
It’s strange that programming classes wouldn’t rank high enough for the schools to accept free teacher training in the subject matter. Students in the area would particularly benefit from learning how to code early on, given the local career opportunities in tech and the local tension over income inequality tech workers flooding into the region. Wouldn't more young, local coding talent help restore the balance? It seems almost pig headed for Bay Area schools to refuse money from evil old tech billionaires who, arguably, are trying to improve the future earning potential of local students.
Partovi suggested that the districts might have other priorities — like rolling out common core standards. Teachers need to be trained on other programs, and coding just doesn’t rank high enough on the list.
Code.org’s other co-founder, Ali Partovi, explained the process for how districts were selected for the program. “School districts have been lining up to essentially receive these partnerships with us,” Partovi says. “We focused on school districts most eager to work with us.”
The 30 chosen initially were proactive and aggressive about getting on the list, with the City of Chicago even promising to introduce coding classes in all its K-8 public schools in the next half decade.
But SFUSD and OUSD wouldn’t be alone in resisting a technology curriculum. Part of Code.org’s efforts also include lobbying state legislatures and education boards to allow programming to count towards math or science curriculum requirements in schools. 20 states have implemented that, and California is not one of them.
The fact that California’s education system refuses to prioritize technology training, when the world’s most powerful technology ecosystem is here, is backwards-assed to say the least. In early May, more than 30 tech heavyweights — like Reid Hoffman, John Doerr, and Mark Pincus — and education officials sent a letter to California Governor Jerry Brown, begging him to reconsider and making programming a priority. The signatories said, “We would be grateful if you and your staff would consider meeting with a subset of us to discuss how we can work together and make California a computer science trailblazer.”
Funny enough, Gary Yee, Superintendent of Oakland’s Unified School District and Richard Carranza, Superintendent of San Francisco’s Unified School District, both signed that petition. Apparently they felt comfortable haranguing the Governor about computer science education but didn’t feel the need to make it a priority in their own districts.
“Would you send your kids to a school that didn't teach photosynthesis or how digestion works? It's not right that Bay Area schools don't offer our kids the option of learning how their computers and smartphones work,” Ali Partovi says.
“I’m confident that in the next five years we’ll get both those school districts and the rest of the Bay Area to participate,” Hadi Partovi concluded.
Update: Troy Flint, OUSD Director of Public Relations responded:
OUSD is working directly with CODE.org and is very supportive. Our Superintendent signed the open letter to California governor, Jerry Brown, urging the adoption of the mission of Code.org and OUSD participated in the Hour of Code. OUSD's 'STEM Corridor' schools have adopted Project Lead the Way for next school year thanks to grants received from Bechtel and Chevron... PLTW shares some of the same goals as Code.org. In addition, John Krull, Information Technology Officer at OUSD, has been working with one of its retired computer science teachers, Eugene Lemon, since November 2013 to find funding and resources to develop a plan to implement the Code.org program in the district.
A SFUSD spokesperson responded:
SFUSD sees teaching coding, digital literacy and computer science as critical to preparing our students for success. We have a long term plan in place for how we will phase in teaching computer science, including coding, throughout a students’ preK-12 career. Several programs that teach coding, including academies of Information Technology, already exist in our high schools and several efforts are underway in K-8 classrooms as well.
SFUSD is in the process of finalizing what a deeper partnership with Code.org will look like and thousands of students from SFUSD participated in Code.org’s Day of Code this year and last year. Our partnership with Code.org would focus on addressing the systemic challenges to moving computer science from after school and summer programs serving a few to 100% of students having the opportunity to experience and build capacity in computer science as part of the core curriculum at K-8 and as a required course in high school. Meanwhile, we are already actively partnering with another organization, TEALS, which is working in more than half of SFUSD’s high schools. Several teachers in SFUSD middle schools have already integrated Code.Org and other coding curriculum into their classes.
California school budgets are among the lowest in the nation. After years of budget cuts, we are starting to receive a small amount of new state revenues. Also have strong partnerships with several tech companies and entrepreneurs including Salesforce, Zynga, Autodesk and Twitter. SFUSD is actively working with tech companies to support our goals for student learning, which definitely includes coding.