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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

April 23, 2014 at 9:00 PM

Code.org to help 2 million students learn to program

Apparently Code.org’s successful “Hour of Code” event in December was just a warm-up act.

The Seattle-based nonprofit on Thursday is announcing the rollout of its computer-science education programs at 30 school districts around the country. Altogether they’ll reach more than 2 million students – nearly 5  percent of all K-12 students in the country — starting this fall.

Code.org will provide curriculum and professional development and mentor teachers. Participating districts will teach Code.org’s free courses in elementary, middle and high schools.

To help prepare teachers, Code.org hired about 20 contract workers who will travel to districts and provide workshops during the summer. It also has 23 full-time employees in Seattle.

The initial effort will cost about $1 million, which is being funded in part by donations from a who’s who of the tech industry and companies such as Microsoft, Google and LinkedIn.

The rollout is partly a test of Code.org’s approach. Computer science has been taught on a smaller scale in various schools, but Code.org is trying to develop a system that can be scaled up to serve the entire country in a cost-effective way.

Hadi Partovi. Image from Code.org.

Hadi Partovi. Image from Code.org.

“Our next step is to prove ourselves out with this initial rollout,” said Code.org Chief Executive Hadi Partovi, a former Microsoft manager turned startup investor.

The announcement comes just ahead of a keynote speech Partovi is delivering Thursday at a Washington, D.C., conference hosted by U.S. News & World Report on science, technology, engineering and math education and workforce preparedness.

Code.org has been lobbying for more support for computer-science education, which it hopes to see in every school in the country. That coverage would cost around $300 million to $400 million, Partovi said, and require public as well as private funding.

Code.org is intentionally partnering with a mix of districts — coastal and central, right and left leaning — “to show that this is something for every American,” Partovi said.

Simultaneously, Code.org has been pressing states to change their education requirements so that students studying computer science receive credit toward graduation, comparable to the credit given for studying math and other sciences. Partovi expects that by mid-summer, 76 percent of the country will have education laws recognizing computer science, up from 22 percent when Partovi and his brother, Ali, launched Code.org last year. 

Participating school districts include three of the nation’s 10 largest and extend from Bremerton to Broward County, Fla.

“This is a transformative moment for public education, where we must develop the ability of our students to learn new things and apply their understanding to solve real world problems. Computer science brings all of this together for us,” Broward County Public Schools Superintendant Robert Runcie said in a release.

Eleven districts in Washington are among the first partners, including Shoreline, Tukwila, Highline, Bremerton, Bainbridge Island, Enumclaw, East Valley, Central Valley, West Valley, Cheney and Spokane.

Code.org wasn’t able to reach a partnership with the Seattle School District, Partovi said, and it didn’t pursue Eastside districts that already have computer-science programs and benefit from local support provided by Microsoft and its employees.

The group is hoping to partner with 70 more school districts by the end of the year.

Code.org also announced that 22,000 classrooms are now using its free, online, introductory computer-science course. The course was used by more than 10 million students in December during an “Hour of Code” event in December.

UPDATE: Partovi will also be the featured speaker at the Washington Education Innovation Forum on May 8 at the University of Washington’s Kane Hall. Partovi and State Rep. Reuven Carlyle will discuss ways to increase access to computer science education and preparation for STEM jobs. Registration for the event is here and it will be streamed by UWTV here.

Comments | Topics: Education, Microsoft, Philanthropy

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