Here's why San Francisco schools turned down money from Code.org
Last week Pando broke the news that San Francisco Unified School District and Oakland Unified School District passed on the opportunity to work with Code.org to implement programming in their schools.
Now, we’ve learned Code.org's loss was Mission Bit's gain, as SFUSD chose instead to work with the much smaller, bootstrapped Bay Area non-profit. It's still unclear what the decision signals about the district's approach toward integrating coding into its curriculum
Mission Bit volunteers have been teaching after school coding classes at SFUSD schools since the fall. Today, Pando learned that five SFUSD teachers are spending this week in a Mission Bit class focused on digital literacy. The aim of the initiative is to integrating more programming into their existing classes.
“In a photography class the students might build their own blog or slideshow, in mathematics they could program a calculator,” Mission Bit’s board member and a lead instructor Bob Ippolito says. When I raised the concern that it's unlikely teachers could learn enough programming in a week to teach such an array of skills, Ippolito clarified. “There’s a lot of contexts where programming is a means to an end, where teachers can download code and have students make small modifications. You give them the template and then they can apply creativity to it.”
SFUSD approached Mission Bit with the idea, according to Ippolito, a unsurprising development given that the organization had already been running local after school coding classes in some of the SFUSD schools.
Upon further inspection, it's also telling that working with Mission Bit requires far less commitment on the part of the school districts than would working with Code.org. After all, Code.org’s mandate is to get programming into all schools. Since the organization pours so much resources and funding into the districts it partners with, even going so far as to pay teacher’s salary during their summer programming training, it expects the districts to roll out coding classes as electives. That requires time, funding, planning, and interested teachers to step up on behalf of the districts.
In contrast, Mission Bit's purpose is to get digital literacy into all schools, contextualizing programming and making it relevant to art, music, physics and math. Unfortunately, a week long Mission Bit “digital literacy” training session is a far cry from sweeping efforts to launch coding classes. It’s possible that the teachers taking the session won’t leave with anything concrete to use in their lessons.
Unlike Code.org, Mission Bit’s main product isn’t teacher training and, as such, the SFUSD training is just a small pilot program at the moment. The focus is on offering after school programming classes for public school students. Local tech workers volunteer to teach the classes, which started as one in fall 2013, expanded to four in the spring semester, and will be ten in the fall of next year.
Mission Bit is limited to the Bay Area, for now. With far less in funding than Code.org, it’s having to huff and puff up the fundraising hill to prove its legitimacy to potential donors. The organization has only a year under its belt and is still working to figure out its model.
“Are we a giant organization like Code.org that does everything or do we try to be a hub with a lot of spokes?” Ippolito asks. “I’m leaning towards the hub and spoke model because I think that’s ultimately more scalable.”
He hopes Mission Bit will expand to other markets by partnering with local organizations and providing training, curriculum, or resources that these institutions can use. A grass roots approach as opposed to a top-down strategy like that of Code.org.
In the Bay Area, at least, this strategy appears to be working given that Mission Bit is teaching students and teachers alike in the SFUSD, whereas the district never applied for Code.org. Both San Francisco and Oakland districts have their own goals to juggle, especially with the new common core standards. This means that adding coding classes into an already complicated situations isn’t high on the priority list right now. But that doesn’t mean the districts are against the idea. SFUSD told Pando that the district is in the process of “finalizing” what a potential partnership with Code.org could “look like.”
As a SFUSD tells Pando, “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.”
Residents can take some solace in its proactive partnership with Mission Bit. It's proof that the district cares… at least a little bit.