Why Are U.S. Students Coding Deprived?

Okay, not just coding, but all computer sciences. Although brothers Hadi and Ali Partovi may believe that coding is the current embodiment of the American Dream, they aren't that myopic. They're trying to bring computer sciences to the masses with their new computer science education nonprofit, Code.org, which they have introduced in a 10-minute video. The video features some very high-profile computer programmers, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey — all of whom have a hand in moving Code.org forward.

Although they didn't appear in the video, other luminaries have provided a significant amount of support to Code.org. They include former President Bill Clinton, former Vice President and media entrepreneur Al Gore, and Randi Weingarten, who heads the American Federation of Teachers. The video was directed by Lesley Chilcott, who produced the documentaries An Inconvenient Truth and Waiting for Superman.

The Partovi brothers aren't as well known as many of their famous supporters, but they aren't exactly slouches when it comes to entrepreneurship in computer programming. After graduating with computer science degrees from Harvard in 1994, they founded several companies that they later sold to buyers such as Microsoft, MySpace, and Facebook (see Fundraising for College STEM). The brothers credit their success to an early interest in computers and to a strong formal education in coding.

Through Code.org, the Partovi brothers hope to provide funding and perhaps do some lobbying to improve the availability of computer education in more communities. They also hope to encourage parents to demand that more schools make computer programming courses available, especially in low-income school districts.

The Partovis believe that making such education available to the masses would go a long way toward "equalizing opportunity" by providing more young people with lucrative career opportunities. At this point, a basic computer education is available only to a fraction of high school students in the United States and only at what are considered "privileged schools." The problem is so acute that, in the state of California — the home of the tech sector — computer science courses do not count toward high school graduation requirements. In a perfect Partovi-world, computer sciences will become a permanent fixture in core curricula at every K-12 school across the United States. (See Fundraising for K-12 Education.) The Partovis want academia to see computer sciences as being as important as STEM and life sciences. 

The concern comes at a time when there seems to be a disconnect between job seekers and programming jobs. While they are among the best-paying jobs anywhere, the United States is experiencing a shortage of computer programmers, which is why the tech giants are involved in the project. The federal government shows signs of worry, especially with regard to falling behind in the global economy. In his State of the Union speech this year, President Obama said he hoped to lead a reform of high schools to "meet the demands of a high-tech economy." The Partovi brothers want to help with that mission.