Bridging the Opportunity Divide

The City With the Most Ambitious Computer Science Program in the Country

October 29, 2014
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The City With the Most Ambitious Computer Science Program in the Country
Every Chicago public school student, from kindergarten to high school, will soon have access to computer science programs. Scott Olson/Getty Images
Every single high school student has a surprising graduation requirement to fulfill.

Watch out, Silicon Valley. Our generation’s next tech hub might be in a much windier city.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has partnered with Code.org (a computer science education nonprofit) to help bring computer science classes to every public school in the city, from kindergarten to high school.

CNN Money reports that the most ambitious part of the mayor’s plan (which was announced last December) will require high school students to take computer science courses in order to graduate. Fifty percent of high schools will also be offering AP computer science courses within five years.

“In three years time, you can’t graduate from high school in the city of Chicago if you didn’t take code writing and computer science,” Mayor Emanuel said at a tech conference. “We’re making it mandatory.”

MORE: The App Teaching Children to Code Before They Can Even Tie Their Shoes

Computer science is one of the fastest growing fields with job projection numbers poised to reach 4.2 million by 2020. It’s also one of the most lucrative, with starting salaries between $60,000-70,000. However, this booming and high-paying field is one that’s alarmingly lacking in racial diversity. At Google, for example, only 1 percent of the tech staff is black and 2 percent are Hispanic.

The mayor’s new initiative could help close this gap. As CNN Money notes, the majority of Chicago’s 400,000 public school students are black (39.7 percent) and Hispanic (45.2 percent). By providing Chicago’s young men and women with these skills, it could help level the playing field.

Chicago’s computer education efforts reflects a larger national trend. Coding courses are popping up in elementary and middle schools across the country, and now even kindergarteners are learning how to program. Chicago will also incorporate computer science lessons into the curriculum of 25 elementary schools this year.

“Just having kids jump into computer science at the high school level, they don’t have a good context for it,” Cameron Wilson of Code.org tells CNN Money. “Having them exposed early and building on concepts year after year is really important.”

Code.org has partnered with 30 more school districts to promote K-12 computer education, but Chicago’s is the most far-reaching. As Mayor Emanuel says in the video below, “This plan will also compete with countries where children take coding classes as early as first grade and create an environment where we can support the next Bill Gates and Marissa Mayer.”

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