Why CodeVA Matters for Virginia's Children ...

Where can you go to find— in one place— Arne Duncan, Mark Zuckerberg, Marco Rubio, Stephen Hawking, and Snoop Dogg agreeing with each other? Not sure? Now add into the mix Dr. Oz, Richard Branson, and Michael Bloomberg. 

My friends Chris and Rebecca Dovi know where and why.

They see Computer Science literacy as a looming education crisis facing our schools and our children that few of us know about. That's why they stepped up and co-founded CodeVA.

Both come from backgrounds where they’ve established their commitment to making education better for our kids.

 Rebecca served as a Computer Science teacher and national expert on Computer Science curriculum for nearly two decades before co-founding CodeVA. Chris is an award-winning journalist who writes on all topics and is recognized as one of the top education reporters in Virginia.

CodeVA (www.codevirginia.org) is a nonprofit education and advocacy organization that promotes Computer Science – coding – literacy in our schools. And in Virginia, CodeVA is the independent affiliate partner of Code.org, doing work in this state that Code.org can't do. 

For example, in Virginia, Computer Science education is particularly essential. Virginia has the highest per-capita number of Computer Science jobs in the country. And counting DC, it has the most in sheer numbers. 

But because Code.org must focus on affecting large-scale change by partnering with large school districts like Chicago, Miami and Los Angeles, Virginia's comparatively small districts -- and its decentralized education system -- require a more nimble approach. 

Enter: CodeVA. Able to partner with small cities and counties in a single bound, the organization already has a presence in more than a dozen Virginia localities.

(Chris) Dovi explained: "In Virginia, of 375,000 high school students in 2013, only 1,655 took the AP Computer Science exam, which accounts for nearly all of the kids in the state who took a Computer Science course, since the AP Java class was pretty much the only computer science class available at that time. Only 16 of them were African American girls."

This year, he noted, the number is just over 2,000 Virginia kids taking the AP CS exam. 

  • Computer Science is the literacy of STEM, the literacy of the future — of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 
  • It is today’s modem chemistry lab. It is the aeronautical engineer’s wind tunnel. It’s how international banks let you keep track of your cash. 
  • It’s how your car works. 
  • It’s how your grandma’s pacemaker works. 
  • It’s how your phone works.
  • Nearly 70 percent of all STEM jobs are computer-science jobs. 
  • And the other 30 percent of STEM jobs require a basic working knowledge of computer science.

Teaching science or engineering in high school — or even in college — without also providing a firm foundation in computer science is a bit like teaching high school-level literature courses or journalism classes or history classes without the benefit of learning to read and write.

Dovi noted that 90 percent of American schools currently don’t offer coding while, by 2020, there will be about a million more computer jobs than computer science students. 

The linchpin of the awareness campaign is a short video featuring Zuckerberg, Will.i.am, NBA All-Star Chris Bosh and a host of other tech leaders and trendsetters.

The video, directed by Lesley Chilcott, a producer of An Inconvenient Truth, portrays learning to code as fun, not exceptionally difficult, and the gateway to a creative, fulfilling career. Released February 26, it has already accumulated over 9 million views.

The moment for this is now. Currently, less than one percent of Virginia’s children are taught this essential literacy in our schools. Yep, you read that right. Less than one percent.  

Last year, CodeVA partnered with Richmond Public Schools (RPS) and other area school districts, committing to training 28 new high schools computer science teachers. 

Remarkably, that number adds more than half again to the number of high school computer science teachers that existed statewide the previous year.

As of this school year, there are now computer science classes available at ALL of Richmond Public Schools’ comprehensive high schools.  And by next year, Henrico County will boast the same. Also coming next year – with our support – 
CodeVA will train dozens more teachers to teach a new Advanced Placement computer science course.

And this is not just high school literacy. Bellevue Elementary, an at-risk school in Richmond’s Church Hill, where the majority of students live below poverty level, partnered with CodeVA last year in a single classroom.

When Ms. Richardson, the 2nd classroom teacher piloting the program compared her end-of-year scores with other teachers at the school, she discovered something remarkable: double-digit gains in math and science scores.
And most remarkable of all, Ms. Richardson says her students, on average, showed 20-percent gains in Language Arts. Yep, you read that right, too.

The answer is that Computer Science is about more than computers. Computer Science is computational thinking – it is logical thinking. It teaches processing and problem solving – and comprehension.

These amazing results and statistics are just some of the reasons why I’m such a supporter of CodeVA.  I am not alone. Other supporters include President Barack Obama, U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton all support computer science education.

CodeVA is the only organization of its kind in Virginia, doing the hard work of making computer science more than an after-school or summer program accessible to only a few.

CodeVA is dedicated to making Computer Science literacy available for all.

In order to help Chris and Rebecca do this, I am asking friends, family and everyone I know to please consider making a financial contribution to this effort.

What is needed most of all right now is the money to enroll at-risk children in the summer camp classes.

The statistics stated in the video are not science fiction.

They’re compiled by national nonprofit Code.org, and they capture a very real and very disturbing snapshot of the prevalence — or lack thereof — of computer science courses in the nation’s public schools.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is a priority area for our country. In 2010, the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology released a report entitled Prepare and Inspire: K-12 Education for STEM and America’s Future, which stated:

“The success of the United States in the 21st century—its wealth and welfare—will depend on the ideas and skills of its population. These have always been the Nation’s most important assets. As the world becomes increasingly technological, the value of these national assets will be determined in no small measure by the effectiveness of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in the United States. STEM education will determine whether the United States will remain a leader among nations…"