In the fourth quarter of 2015, Illinois companies had posted 34,906 job openings for technology workers.  In the first quarter of that same year, the number was 54,000.  The dip in numbers does not mean much; what matters is the extremely large number of workers needed in the technology sector, including those who can work with computers.  In fact, statistics show that by 2024, there will be 1 million job openings in computing.  And while demand is increasing at such an incredible rate, supply is having a hard time keeping up.  Fortunately, the Chicago Board of Educations has recently taken the first steps to filling this gap.

On Wednesday, February 24, the Board “voted unanimously to make computer science a graduation requirement starting with freshman [sic] who enter high school next fall.”  This comes on the heels of a 2013 announcement by Mayor Rahm Emanuel about a five-year plan to make computer science a part of the core curriculum of Chicago Public Schools.  The initiative is called CS4All (i.e. Computer Science For All), and it was executed in partnership with Code.org to develop a curriculum and prepare teachers for computer science education (other companies and universities, such as Google, Microsoft, DePaul, University of Illinois-Chicago, and Loyola, are also involved).

The great thing, in my mind, about the initiative is that while it seeks to balance the supply of technology workers with the great demand for their skills, it also strives for more general goals.  Simply exposing students to computer science will familiarize them with the subject as a whole and may teach them a few lessons along the way (as an aside, I personally had no computer science schooling as a kid and still today have never done anything to expose me to the subject).  After all, computer science is a specific discipline that may help students, no matter what field they get into.

In support, Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool stated that a goal of the initiative is for “students in Chicago to have exposure and training to the science, even if they go into other fields where it might not be as immediately applicable.”  So, CS4All may be largely about training students to have applicable skills for today’s job market (which makes sense), but it is also about familiarizing students with the world of computer science as a whole and potentially teaching them a couple new skills along the way.

Thankfully, while Chicago is taking its own steps to increasing computer science education, so is the federal government.  President Barack Obama recently called for $4 billion in funding to support the expansion of computer science education in K-12 schools.  The Republican-led Congress still has to approve Obama’s 2017 budget, but hopefully both sides can work together in the coming years to make this initiative a reality.  Either way, local governments—like Chicago’s—should take their own first steps to increasing computer science education.  Teaching students new skills—skills that actually have something to do with today’s society—can only be a good thing.

Jackson Sattell

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2 Responses to Coding For a Better Future: Chicago Requires Computer Science Education

  1. Natalie Gabrenya says:

    While I understand the impetus behind this initiative, I can’t help but lament the serious decrease in recent years in funding for the arts in public schools. I can only assume that a push toward technology will take educational programs further and further away from art and music programs, especially if schools have to provide their own funding should the federal government not get on board. While such exposure will serve to fill the predicted surge in technology job openings, what will happen to fine arts in the years to come if our current students are exposed to computer science at its expense?

  2. Neil Issar says:

    This is an interesting development. I think general CS/coding knowledge would also be beneficial for legal providers, as various legal startups and blockchain-based frameworks are pushing for the development and use of “smart contracts” (scripted contracts that can execute or enforce themselves). This might mean transactional lawyers of the near future will need to draft contracts similar to how developers write code for software applications. This, in turn, might require law schools and firms to include basic-to-intermediate level coding as part of their training.