These programs will provide training and support to teach computer science to more than 5,300 teachers and trainers and 165,000 young people. Microsoft, along with 293 other organizations, are creating a true movement in computer science education in the U.S.
“It appears to be an unknown classroom teacher back in 2014 who first tweeted out #CSforALL,” says Leigh Ann DeLyser, co-founder and managing partner of CSforALL, the central hub for the K-12 computer science education movement in the U.S. “Who would have guessed that a simple, declarative hashtag would become a rallying cry for computer science education?”
In a way, it’s entirely fitting that this nameless teacher’s demand for leadership, equity and action came straight from the frontlines of the now-national movement.
“We went, in the course of a very short period of time, from trying to convince people that all kids can learn computer science to everyone agreeing they should learn computer science,” says Michael Preston, CSforALL’s other co-founder and managing partner. “And now we are looking for ways to scale that education effort, a dramatic evolution of commitment that took place all in the course of about five years.”
The giant question of ‘how do we scale’ is as big as the entire nation’s education system. And the complexity of that question is why the 2018 CSforALL Summit is so essential to discovering answers, says Allison Scott, chief research officer of the Kapor Center in Oakland, Calif., a CSforALL member organization focused on increasing diversity in tech.
“As somebody who works deeply in state and local initiatives around CSforALL, it’s important to be in a community of people from around the country engaged in the same things to hear what they’re doing,” Scott says. “The CSforALL Summit is the one opportunity to gather the computer science education community together to share knowledge, and address challenges to ensure access and equity for all students.”
And there’s bound to be plenty to share with 294 organizations announcing new CS education commitments and initiatives during this year’s summit, an increase from 170 organizations in 2017 when such commitments were first sought from partners. The first Summit on Computer Science for ALL was convened in 2016 at the White House by then-President Barack Obama.
This year’s new commitments, say summit organizers, will create upward of 47 million computer science education opportunities for K-12 students — nearly a 400 percent increase from the 12 million students served by CSforALL commitments last year. This 2018 commitments also represent 246,000 new computer science educator opportunities compared to 77,416 in 2017.
It’s just this sort of growth that generated the support of Siegel Family Endowment (SFE), the New York-based foundation that yesterday announced its commitment to the long term sustainability of CSforALL, says Thea Charles, Computational Thinking Portfolio Head at SFE.
“In my mind, CSforALL works hard to grow and understand the entire landscape of CS Education in the U.S. — it’s a voice that’s not tied to any one aspect of the movement,” Charles said. “That objectivity is really valuable to increasing momentum across the entire community.”
Always at the core of maintaining that objectivity is ensuring equity, she added, noting that there was a lot of momentum initially for the movement, but efforts were not coordinated and designed for long-term growth and sustainability. That approach would only ensure positive results for the luckiest students in the most well resourced schools, who are able to afford costly solutions. CSforALL, she says, is “about transferring the power, so that schools themselves have the power to improve CS education locally.”
When school districts and educators are able to make informed choices about what offers equitable opportunities for all kids, the movement becomes sustainable.
The nearly 300 commitments this year represent the kind of impact SFE hoped for when they signed on to support the mission, Charles says.
But this impact was almost unimaginable less than a decade ago, around the time that Jeff Forbes was working as a program officer at the National Science Foundation under Jan Cuny, a computer scientist charged by NSF in 2004 with heading the Broadening Participation in Computing Initiative that grew eventually into the modern renaissance in computer science education.
“One of the things that is just amazing about this is — as someone who’s been around this for a while — is the interest,” says Forbes, now a professor at Duke University, who said the most exciting thing about CSforALL is the genuine opportunity to ensure that the “all” in the name is more than just an afterthought. “Everyone is committed to the equity mission of computer science. We’re trying to make it so everyone has the opportunity to learn engaging, rigorous computer science.”
But Forbes’ tempers his excitement with words of caution for the community he’s been a part of virtually since its birth.
“We’re not going to get a lot of chances,” he says, of what really is a once in a 100-years opportunity to truly disrupt public education as we’ve always known it by adding its first core subject really since the beginning of formal public education. “If we fail, people aren’t going to say ‘oh, you had the wrong approach and you just need to try it a different way.’ No, people are going to say ‘oh, computer science in schools doesn’t make a lot of sense.’”
That’s a lot at stake, which is why the approach of CSforALL by all is so essential, says CSforALL managing partner Preston.
“My view is that this work is not so much of a targeted education reform thing, it’s getting lots of stakeholder groups focused on a single goal,” he says. CSforALL includes hundreds of partners from higher education, the STEM ecosystem, all areas of industry, from government and from nonprofit and philanthropy. “Getting everyone to focus on a common goal and what we want to achieve together translates very well.”
And in coming years, Preston predicts, the CSforALL universe will continue its expansion, growing around its three essential objectives.
“The first is getting more people at the table — growing the movement,” he says. “The summit is the epitome of that.”
Second is supporting local change, with CSforALL, the organization leveraging what it learned during its early days when the New York-based organization was focused solely on its work in New York City schools. “It’s trying to replicate some things we learned in New York City,” Preston said, adding that the third equally important and connected role is fostering a research agenda that assesses and evaluates the latest best-practice approaches, publishing reports that will help further expand the movement.
The CSforALL movement has unquestionably come a long way in a short time, as most agree. But this universe still has a long way to expand before CSforALL truly means computer science for all students, says Allison Scott, with Kapor Center, who as a black female in technology knows firsthand the hurdles that are likely to continue facing women and underrepresented minorities in computer science and in all areas of education and industry for many years.
Still, if ever there was a glimmer of opportunity for a brighter future, it is now, she says.
“I think it’s the most exciting and potentially innovative time in public education in quite some time,” Scott says. “We have the opportunity with computer science to start at the front end and ask how can we ensure that all kids have equitable access to computer science.”
For more information about CSforALL and its members, click here.