What would you say if I told you 90 percent of our schools don't teach what has been the most marketable skill in our economy for more than two decades? Would you believe me? How could that possibly be true? Get ready to drop your jaw because it is true.
Ninety percent of K through 12 public schools do not offer computer science classes.
Hard to Believe
Pamela Fox, who helps to create the programming curriculum for the Khan Academy — the non-profit educational organization designed to provide "a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere" — spoke at 2014 Velocity conference in Santa Clara. She dropped this dime on the devops-centric audience that aspires to create a better world and a better web, one person and one enterprise at a time.
I was stunned. I went straight to Google and there it was. Nine out of 10! The computer science and technology profession is so marketable in the US that it causes a specialized class of visas (which typically run out in the first quarter of a good economic year) and yet our primary education system does not teach it in nine out of 10 schools?
I shake my head in exasperation when I try to make sense of a country where there is so much political theatre focused on creating more high paying jobs and yet 28 out of 50 states do not count computer science as a math or science credit towards a high school diploma.
So many articles and editorials are written and conversations had about the increased need for STEM support in our schools and in our populous. And yet, once again, we come back to the fact that nine out of 10 public schools don't offer computer science classes.
The income inequality, national competitiveness, workforce shortages, as well as a host of other social and economic issues that plague our country, cannot hope to improve with so great a digital divide.
Service workers protest for increased minimum wage. Low income, unemployed and underemployed populations protest against Google employees for having a shuttle to and from Google. And yet no connection is made. I am in awed silence at the ridiculousness of the fact that the number of AP tests taken for computer science is 0.7 percent of total AP tests taken and history accounts for 30 percent. I may be the guy who predicted that enterprise IT would learn to play left handed, but this is just plain crazy!
Make no mistake, AP History is a good thing. I took the AP History test in 1987 and I had no clue about computer science as a profession and my high school did not offer AP Computer Science class. But 1987 is not 2014.
In 2013, the single highest-paying degree in the US is a computer science degree from Carnegie Mellon University. Depending upon your data source, computer science degrees rank either No. 1 or No. 2 across all universities for the highest-paying degree in the US. And for what it's worth, petroleum engineering (which sometimes gets the number one ranking) often requires living in some of the harshest environments in the world.
Computing is Indispensable
Maybe this statistic could be justified when I was in school. In 1978, I was in third grade and was given an opportunity to spend part of my days learning about computers with an Apple II. It was my first exposure and it changed my life for the better. It was a rare opportunity then and it makes sense. Who knew what a force computing would become in our world and in our economy? Maybe some people knew, but clearly they were not the mainstream. Fast forward 36 years and the jury is in. Computing isn't the only profession, it is however a profession that has become indispensable within the American and the world economy.
In China, every student learns computer programming. In the US, less than 5 percent. An entire generation of students in this country is missing what is being hailed as “the new literacy.” The numbers get worse and worse for women and minorities. The digital divide is growing in this country.
Pamela Fox, the Khan Academy and Code.org have all heard the world economy calling and stepped up their game. Some states have heard the call as well thanks to the advocacy efforts by Code.org and sister organization Computing in the Core. The list of states that allow computer science to count towards graduation credit has increased monthly, but the change is not happening fast enough.
If you are comfortable watching our descendant's and our country's economic relevance fade away, feel free to do nothing. If however, you believe we can fix this and want to be a part of the solution, go to code.org. There are dozens of ways to help. Sign a petition. Share a graphic. Donate your time. Buy a T-shirt. Write a blog. Do something.
The numbers aren’t lying. They just look unbelievable.