President Donald Trump on Monday directed his education secretary to prioritize science and technology education and spend at least $200 million annually on competitive grants so schools can broaden access to computer science education in particular.
During an Oval Office appearance, where he was surrounded by students from local schools, Trump said more than half of U.S. high schools don’t teach computer programming and that nearly 40 percent don’t offer physics.
He said more widespread access to such instruction will help students develop the skills they need to compete and win in tomorrow’s workforce.
“Who likes to win?” Trump asked the students. “Who likes to lose?”
The decision drew praise from two groups emphasizing STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education
Erin Siefring, chair of the Computer Science Education Coalition (CSEC) pointed out that the coalition has been working with members of the House, senators, the Obama administration, and the Trump administration to make this funding a priority. By redirecting existing federal funding to these vital areas via a competitive process, teachers will be given an important tool to educate our children in the key fields that help defend the United States and support the jobs of the future.
“Making computer science a priority is vital to our country’s national security,” Siefring said. “There are thousands of cyber warrior jobs in our military that are going unfilled due to a lack of qualified applicants. In the civilian sector, computer science and STEM related jobs are the fastest growing in the United States. Our students must be equipped for these jobs in order for our homeland to be secure and for our economy to thrive. Prioritizing computer science is a significant step forward in helping our schools prepare our students to defend the United States and to compete in the economy of the 21st century.”
Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a leading science and tech-policy think tank, also welcomed the news.
“I applaud the administration for tasking the Department of Education for prioritizing STEM educationand in particular, computer science. This is good public policy that is long overdue. It will pay dividends throughout the economy, because computer skills in particular are in high demand in a wide range of industries, not just high-tech sectors,” he said.
“The fact is computer science is the most important STEM field for today’s economy—yet it isn’t even represented in the STEM acronym, and it’s the discipline that the fewest high school students study. ITIF has researched this issue in detail, and our findings were discouraging. Consider that number of high school students taking AP computer science has more than doubled in recent years—from about 20,000 in 2010 to almost 50,000 in 2015—but that figure still pales in comparison to the number of students taking AP calculus. And in California, more high school students take ceramics than computer science.”
Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior White House adviser on the workforce issues, told reporters during a telephone briefing earlier Monday that it is vital that students, especially girls and racial minorities, learn how to write computer code and study computer science.
She said exposure in grades K-12 is vital.
“Today represents a giant leap forward as we think about aligning the skills that are taught in the classroom with the skills that are in demand in the modern economy,” Ivanka Trump said in the Oval Office before the president signed a directive instructing Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to act.
Money for the grants has been appropriated by Congress, officials said. Trump’s order asks DeVos to prioritize high-quality STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – education along with computer science education under an existing grant program that schools and districts have access to.
Ivanka Trump is visiting Detroit on Tuesday with private sector officials as they announce pledges in support of computer science education.