Open letter from 27 governors and business leaders push congress on CS education

In an open letter, 27 state governors and a who’s who of technology business leaders have urged congress to help provide CS education in K-12 schools, stating “We ask you to provide funding for every student in every school to have an opportunity to learn computer science”.

The list of signatories includes Bill and Melinda Gates, Eric Schmidt, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl Sandberg, and Tim Cook.

The letter notes that three quarters of U.S. schools do not offer meaningful computer science courses, and states: “… what is increasingly a basic skill is only available to the lucky few, leaving most students behind, particularly students of color and girls. How is this acceptable?” The letter also cites 500,000 unfilled computing jobs, contrasting this with only 50,000 graduates per year.

This letter, combined with President Obama’s CS4All initiative and recent announcements from Microsoft and Oracle (committing $200 million) on efforts to computer science education have given congress more than ample pressure to effect meaningful change on a national level. However to-date many of these efforts represent only the beginnings (however substantial) of what is required. Other efforts, including this letter, so far only amount to (very welcome and convincing) calls for action, leaving big questions remaining:

  • How much will congress apportion and how?
  • How much change can industry along with local, or even statewide actions deliver without congress?
  • How will underrepresented groups benefit?
  • Will they benefit?

The letter and full list of signatories follows:

Dear Members of Congress and fellow Americans,

As business leaders, elected officials, and educators, we join forces to deliver a bipartisan message about opportunity and the American Dream. Technology is transforming society at an unprecedented rate. Whether it’s smartphones or social networks, self-driving cars or personalized medicine, nothing embodies the American Dream so much as the opportunity to change or even reinvent the world with technology. And participating in this world requires access to computer science in our schools. We ask you to provide funding for every student in every school to have an opportunity to learn computer science.

Support for this idea is sweeping our nation. Ninety percent of parents want their children to have access to computer science education at school, and teachers agree. They know that technology opens doors. A hundred thousand teachers have taken matters into their own hands and already begun teaching computer science. Over 100 school districts are rolling out courses, from New York to Chicago to Los Angeles, from Miami to Las Vegas. Twenty states have passed policies and are now looking to support professional training for new computer science teachers. Private donors have collectively committed tens of millions of dollars to solving this problem, including $48 million of new commitments announced today by many of the undersigned.

Despite this groundswell, three-quarters of U.S. schools do not offer meaningful computer science courses. At a time when every industry in every state is impacted by advances in computer technology, our schools should give all students the opportunity to understand how this technology works, to learn how to be creators, coders, and makers — not just consumers. Instead, what is increasingly a basic skill is only available to the lucky few, leaving most students behind, particularly students of color and girls.

How is this acceptable? America leads the world in technology. We invented the personal computer, the Internet, e-commerce, social networking, and the smartphone. This is our chance to position the next generation to participate in the new American Dream.

Not only does computer science provide every student foundational knowledge, it also leads to the highest-paying, fastest-growing jobs in the U.S. economy. There are currently over 500,000 open computing jobs, in every sector, from manufacturing to banking, from agriculture to healthcare, but only 50,000 computer science graduates a year. Whether a student aspires to be a software engineer, or if she just wants a well-rounded education in today’s changing world, access to computer science in school is an economic imperative for our nation to remain competitive. And with the growing threat of cyber warfare, this is even a critical matter of national security. Despite this growing need, targeted federal funding to carry out these efforts in classrooms is virtually non-existent. This bipartisan issue can be addressed without growing the federal budget.

We urge you to amplify and accelerate the local efforts in classrooms, unlock opportunity in every state, and give an answer to all the parents and teachers who believe that every student, in every school, should have a chance to learn computer science.

Business Leaders

  • Arne Sorenson, CEO, Marriott
  • Barry Diller, Chairman, IAC and Expedia
  • Bill and Melinda Gates
  • Bobby Kotick, CEO, Activision Blizzard
  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Brian Chesky, CEO, Airbnb
  • Brian Cornell, Chairman and CEO, Target
  • Doug McMillon, CEO, Walmart
  • Daniel Schulman, CEO, Paypal. Chairman, Symantec
  • Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO, Expedia
  • Devin Wenig, CEO, eBay
  • Doug Parker, Chairman and CEO, American Airlines
  • Edward Breen, Chairman and CEO, DuPont
  • Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman, Alphabet, Inc.
  • Ginni Rometty, Chairman and CEO, IBM
  • Grant Verstandig, CEO, Rally Health
  • Herb Allen, President, Allen & Company
  • Jack Dorsey, CEO, Twitter and Square
  • James Murdoch, CEO, 21st Century Fox
  • James P. Gorman, Chairman and CEO, Morgan Stanley
  • Jeff Bezos, Chairman and CEO, Amazon
  • Jessica Alba, CEO, The Honest Company
  • Joe Lonsdale, Partner, 8VC. Founder, Palantir
  • John Donahoe, Chairman, Paypal
  • Julie Sweet, Chief Executive, Accenture North America
  • Larry Ellison, Executive Chairman and Chief Technical Officer, Oracle
  • Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO, BlackRock
  • Lowell McAdam, Chairman and CEO, Verizon
  • Marc Benioff, Chairman and CEO, Salesforce
  • Mark Cuban, Owner, Dallas Mavericks, Magnolia Pictures, Landmark Theatres
  • Mark Zuckerberg, Chairman and CEO, Facebook
  • Rami Rahim, CEO, Juniper Networks
  • Randall Stephenson, Chairman and CEO, AT&T
  • Reid Hoffman, Chairman, LinkedIn
  • Rich Barton, Chairman, Zillow
  • Richard Anderson, CEO, Delta Airlines
  • Robert A. Iger, Chairman and CEO, The Walt Disney Company
  • Sam Altman, President, Y Combinator
  • Samuel Allen, Chairman and CEO, John Deere
  • Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft
  • Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook
  • Terry J. Lundgren, Chairman and CEO, Macy’s, Inc
  • Tim Cook, CEO, Apple
  • Vishal Sikka, CEO, Infosys

Governors

  • Asa Hutchinson, Governor, Arkansas (R)
  • Brian Sandoval, Governor, Nevada (R)
  • C.L. “Butch” Otter, Governor, Idaho (R)
  • Charlie Baker, Governor, Massachusetts (R)
  • Dannell P. Malloy, Governor, Connecticut (D)
  • David Y. Ige, Governor, Hawaii (D)
  • Earl Ray Tomblin, Governor, West Virginia (D)
  • Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Governor, California (D)
  • Gina M. Raimondo, Governor, Rhode Island (D)
  • Jack Dalrymple, Governor, North Dakota (R)
  • Jack Markell, Governor, Delaware (D)
  • Jay Inslee, Governor, Washington (D)
  • John Hickenlooper, Governor, Colorado (D)
  • Kate Brown, Governor, Oregon (D)
  • Maggie Hassan, Governor, New Hampshire (D)
  • Mark Dayton, Governor, Minnesota (D)
  • Mary Fallin, Governor, Oklahoma (R)
  • Matt Bevin, Governor, Kentucky (R)
  • Matt Mead, Governor, Wyoming (R)
  • Mike Pence, Governor, Indiana (R)
  • Peter Shumlin, Governor, Vermont (D)
  • Phil Bryant, Governor, Mississippi (R)
  • Rick Snyder, Governor, Michigan (R)
  • Steve Bullock, Governor, Montana (D)
  • Susana Martinez, Governor, New Mexico (R)
  • Terry Branstad, Governor, Iowa (R)
  • Terry McAuliffe, Governor, Virginia (D)

K-12 Leaders

  • Antwan Wilson, Superintendent, Oakland
  • Bob Runcie, Superintendent, Broward County Public Schools
  • Carmen Fariña, Chancellor, NYC Department of Education
  • Forrest Claypool, CEO, Chicago Public Schools
  • Kimberly Hill, Superintendent, Charles County Public Schools
  • Michelle King, Superintendent, Los Angeles Unified School District
  • Pat Skorkowsky, Superintendent, Clark County School District
  • Richard Carranza, Superintendent, San Francisco Unified School District
  • Susan Enfield, Superintendent, Highline Public Schools
  • Tom Torlakson, State Superintendent, California

Education / Nonprofit

  • Bobby Schnabel, CEO, Association for Computing Machinery
  • Cornell Brooks, President and CEO, NAACP
  • Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director, AASA, The School
  • Superintendents Association
  • David Coleman, CEO, College Board
  • Elisa Villanueva Beard, CEO, Teach For America
  • Gail Connelly, ED, National Association of Elementary School Principals
  • Hadi Partovi, CEO, Code.org
  • Lee Hood, MD, PhD, President, Institute for Systems Biology. Co-founder, Amgen
  • Linda D. Hallman, CEO, American Association of University Women
  • Lucy Sanders, CEO, National Center for Women and IT
  • Mark Nelson, Executive Director, CS Teachers Association
  • Matthew Randazzo, CEO, National Math & Science Initiative
  • Peggy Brookins, CEO, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards
  • Telle Whitney, CEO, Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology
  • Thomas J. Gentzel, Executive Director, National School Boards Association

New Google CS education site

Dr. Chris Stephenson, Google’s Head of Comptuer Science Education Programmes has announced Google’s new CS Education website on Google’s Education Blog  and their Research Blog.

The site aims to make it easier for educators and students to access all of Google’s CS Programs and initiatives, providing fast, easy access to Google grant programs, resources and tools, scholarships and internships. The posts above highlight the CS4All initiative, and cite the known lack of computer science graduates, caused in large part by too few students having the opportunity to study computer science in high school. Google’s research shows that only 25% of U.S. schools currently offer CS with programming or coding, despite the fact that 91% of parents want their children to learn computer science. In addition, schools with higher percentages of students living in households below the poverty line are even less likely to offer rigorous computer science courses.

The post notes that increasing access to computer science for all learners requires tremendous commitment from a wide range of stakeholders, and that Google is striving to be a strong supportive partner of these efforts. The new CS EDU website shows all the ways Google is working to address the need for improved access to high quality computer science learning in formal and informal education. Some current programs you’ll find there include:

  • CS First: providing more than 360,000 middle school students with an opportunity to create technology through free computer science clubs
  • Exploring Computational Thinking: sharing more than 130 lesson plans aligned to international standards for students aged 8 to 18
  • igniteCS: offering support and mentoring to address the retention problem in diverse student populations at the undergraduate level in more than 40 universities and counting
  • Blockly and other programming tools powering Code.org’s Hour of Code (2 million users)
  • Google’s Made with Code: movement that inspires millions of girls to learn to code and to see it as a means to pursue their dream careers (more than 10 million unique visitors)
This is also a fantastic student resource, showcasing significant efforts to improve the accessibility of Computer Science study for all students.

Choose your own adventure in computational thinking

A recent post by Andy Ko (here) provided several interesting ideas on literacy and coding, all which begin with “If learning to code were like learning to write…” This reminded Mark Guzdial (here) of Mike Horn’s work on computational sticker books (here).  As Mark pointed out, Mike asks the question, “If computational literacy were integrated into our daily lives, how would parent and child do computation while reading a book at bedtime?” This made me think about Choose Your Own Adventure Books.

The Computational Thinking possibilities introduced by CYOA books are many (from Wikipedia):

The stories are formatted so that, after a couple of pages of reading, the protagonist faces two or three options, each of which leads to more options, and then to one of many endings. The number of endings is not set, and varies from as many as 40 in the early titles, to as few as 12 in later adventures. Likewise, there is no clear pattern among the various titles regarding the number of pages per ending, the ratio of good to bad endings, or the reader’s progression backwards and forwards through the pages of the book. This allows for a realistic sense of unpredictability, and leads to the possibility of repeat readings, which is one of the distinguishing features of the books.

What other CT and mathematical concepts could be learned from CYOA books?

  • Algorithms
  • Determinism
  • Logic
  • Conditionals
  • Randomness
  • Flow of Control
  • Branching
  • Probability

What about programming concepts? It wouldn’t take a significant deviation from the traditional CYOA device ‘if this, go to page x, if that, go to page y‘, to move towards:

  • Loops, including infinite
  • Recursion
  • Nesting
  • Inheritance
  • Threading
  • Parallelism

Indeed, CYOA books have already been related to:

I really enjoyed the above page on visualizations, which  led me to the excellent work of Christian Swinehart on multiple data views of twelve CYOA books, a project that took 13 months to complete, and mentions CYOA relationships to hypertext, memory access, finite state machines, and even Easter eggs.

It so happens that Jeff Atwood, founder of stackoverflow.com (and many other things) describes his own decision to leave his job and start stackoverflow as choosing his own adventure.

Of course, in order to champion CYOA books as a device to instill computational thinking, purists would have to prepare a way to carefully handle the fact that CYOA books contain liberal amounts of Goto statements!

If the above doesn’t convince you that in some respects CYOA books were ahead of their time, this might – they were consciously non-gender specific – over 30 years ago.

For anyone who wants to write their own CYOA, there’s an app for that, which makes many aspects of CYOA authorship difficult (such as tracking down loose ends) much easier.