A slew of tech and education industry leaders sent California governor Jerry Brown a letter today, asking him to meet with them about California’s computer science education, or lack thereof.
Code.org, an organization working to increase the access to computer science education to public school students, drafted the letter and enlisted the support of a number of prominent tech and education leaders. The letter outlines the current gap in California between the number of available software engineering jobs and the number of students pursuing college degrees in computer science, and asks the governor to meet with a subset of them to start discussing and planning efforts to increase computer science education in public schools.
The list of backers includes Salesforce chief executive Marc Benioff, SV Angel founder Ron Conway, Twitter cofounder and Square chief executive Jack Dorsey, LinkedIn chief executive Jeff Weiner, Stanford University president John Hennessy, San Francisco Unified School District superintendent Richard Carranza, and Khan Academy founder and executive director Salman Khan, among many others.
“We’re hoping the response will be to set up some sort of summit… to talk about solutions for how we can make this happen,” said Code.org founder and chief executive Hadi Partovi in an interview with VentureBeat.
Code.org has been working to increase the quality an access to computer science education in U.S. public schools both through training and curriculum development programs, as well as through advocacy and policy efforts such as this one.
Despite being home to Silicon Valley and many technology-related industries, California currently has 16 available computing jobs for every college student studying computer science, and out of 10,000 schools, only 400 currently offer computer science courses, according to the organization.
“Learning to code at a young age opened my eyes to the incredibly exciting world of technology and entrepreneurship,” said Salesforce chief executive Marc Benioff, one of the backers of the letter, in an official statement.
“Our youth deserve the opportunity to learn the skills that will enable them to succeed in our connected world,” he said.
Partovi and Code.org seem hopeful about this effort. Last month, the state of Texas updated its regulations to require every high school to offer at least two computer science courses.
“In Texas, the state has simply decided that every school needs to teach this,” Partovi said. If Code.org’s California efforts are successful, it plans to turn to Florida, New York, and Washington as its next targets due the states’ large populations and technology industries.
This appeal to California’s governor is only the latest in Code.org’s advocacy efforts. Last month, the organization announced a partnership with 30 public school districts across the nation to help them develop and implement computer science programs, including offering free training and resources to current math and science teachers.
Although Code.org boasts having impacted education policy in eight states already, today’s letter is still a long shot. Even if Governor Brown were to agree to a meeting with some of the letter’s supporters, the future of this effort beyond the meeting would still be nebulous. Setting up a coffee chat about education is one thing, but actually pulling together resources to make the caliber of changes Code.org wants is a whole other mountain to scale.
But Partovi is optimistic. While he’s seen other attempts to work with public schools and the government fail, he’s confident his advocacy group will make headway. “We’re not like most efforts,” he said at the end of our phone call with him.
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