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CPS to make computer science a core subject

Mayor Rahm Emanuel Chicago Public Schools CEO BarbarByrd-Bennett announce Monday thevery high school will offer foundational computer science course next

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announce on Monday that every high school will offer a foundational computer science course in the next three years. | Maudlyne Ihejirika~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 11, 2014 6:12AM

Touted as a trailblazing move, computer science is to be elevated from elective to core curriculum in all public high schools and be offered at elementaries — the latter unprecedented elsewhere — the Chicago Public Schools announced Monday.

In the next three years, every high school will offer a foundational computer science course, and within five years, CPS plans to be the first urban district offering kindergarten through eighth-grade computer courses, officials said.

“Among all S.T.E.M. careers, computer science represents one of the most dynamic and fast-growing fields, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2020, the U.S. will have one million more jobs in computing than they have trained professionals to fill them,” Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said.

S.T.E.M. fields are those in science, technology, engineering and math.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined Byrd-Bennett at the announcement at Von Steuben High School — bolstered by video-beamed congratulations from President Barack Obama on a hometown initiative answering his State of the Union challenge “to redesign America’s high schools” by teaching teens technology skills, including coding.

“We live in an era where you earn what you learn, and the new language, a lot of people talk about Spanish and Chinese, but the new language is writing code,” Emanuel said after touring Von Steuben’s strong computer science program, which includes an after-school technology club for girls to address the gender gap.

“The new bilingual is knowing computer code writing, and what we’re setting up today, while it’s a good foundation, the fact is that in the UK and in China, computer science and computer coding is now fundamental to elementary school education, and we’re playing catch-up to that effort,” the mayor added.

The Chicago Teachers Union said the initiative partnering with the nonprofit for free computer science curriculum and teacher training is positive on its face, but pointed out most schools still struggle for basic resources.

“It’s a nice bubble gum and popsicles announcement, but is it going to be done fairly? Which schools are going to get adequate computer equipment?” CTU spokesman Michael Harrington said. “Remember, we’re still dealing with over 100 schools with no library, and just as many with no librarians.”

CPS teachers will receive stipends to implement the plan, said founder Hadi Partovi, whose nonprofit, with other groups as Codeacademy and the Starter League, will be leading CPS students in computer programming exploration this week as part of worldwide “Hour of Code” events.

Such efforts strive to bridge the digital divide, as well as gender and skills gaps. Fewer than 3 percent of college students nationally will graduate with a degree in computer science, and of all students taking AP computer science, fewer than 20 percent are women and fewer than 10 percent are black or Latino.

On the video, the president said students at CPS and public schools nationwide will find themselves left behind without computer programming as a core skill.

“Learning these skills isn’t just important to their future, it’s important for our country’s future,” Obama said. “No one’s born a computer scientist, but with a little hard work and some math and science just about anyone can become one.”

Meanwhile, according to CPS, computing jobs are among the highest-paid for new graduates, and a quarter of Chicago’s jobs are in fields related to science, technology, engineering or math.

Twitter: @Maudlynei

Contributing: Jon Seidel

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