In an effort to quell Silicon Alley’s diversity problem, the city unveiled last month a new program that will bring computer science to all public school students by 2025.
Computer Science for All will take $81 million of public-private monies to implement over the next decade. But experts believe the citywide program will produce the future drivers of New York’s tech economy who will diversify the sector.
“Making sure that every kid is exposed to [computer science], you are going to find that there are kids who would have otherwise never considered going into programming,” said Jocelyn Leavitt, CEO and co-founder of the open-source coding app Hopscotch. “[They’re] getting some exposure to it, realizing that it might be kind of interesting and fun, and that they might be good at it.”
Leavitt and 24 other tech and business leaders across the nation signed an open letter on Medium expressing how Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new initiative, which will teach computer science to over 1.1 million public school students, is a good investment both for the city’s youth and for their own businesses. The executives, including Microsoft President Brad Smith, write that Computer Science for All will create greater equity in the recruiting pipeline by being inclusive of who is exposed to software programming.
That means more young girls and children of color — who make up over 48 percent and over 83 percent of public school students, respectively, according to New York City Department of Education data — will have access to a field often closed off to them, said Michael Preston, executive director of the New York City Foundation for Computer Science Education (or CSNYC), one of the city’s private partners.
“Providing exposure to every kid is both ensuring that there is an equitable access,” said Preston. “You’re substantively changing the landscape of whose going to consider that pathway and have the foundational skills to really take it seriously.”
Computer Science for All will roll out in 100 to 200 public schools a year, with the first round of schools determined through an application process overseen by the Department of Education, said Liz DeBold, spokeswoman for the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City. DeBold said the money invested in the program — $40 million from the city and $40 million raised by private partners — will go towards running the program in all 1,700 public schools and training nearly 5,000 teachers in computer science.
“[The tech economy] is one sector that is growing and will continue to grow,” said Leavitt. “Having this means that ultimately we’ll create more homegrown talent.”
The city is still working on the program’s strategy, but that’s in order to tailor the new computer science syllabus to the school’s existing curriculum and programming, said DeBold.
While Computer Science for All intends to level out the tech playing field across gender, racial and economic lines, the lack of available details leaves critics questioning whether the program is filling a real need or is an attempt by the mayor to score points with his base.
If the city fleshed out the program’s details before its announcement, then it could’ve identified where Computer Science for All may fail in solving the issues the city claims it will, said David Bloomfield, professor of Education Leadership at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center at CUNY. But instead, the city announced a “vague” mandatory program with a questionably long implementation time that could overburden public school students who are already overworked, he said.
“It hits all the political points,” said Bloomfield. “But is this just about getting the political brass ring or about substantive education?”