These cities should follow de Blasio’s plan for computer science education

Only three major cities in the country seem interested in advancing education so their students will have a better shot at co-mingling with their robot bosses. That will have to change as technical knowledge becomes more important to people in the workforce — and as cities around the United States try to become hubs for the startups attempting to produce new and innovative technologies.
First, some backstory. A new education plan from New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has been announced, and in addition to boosting graduation rates, it will require schools in the city to offer computer science courses within the decade. The courses won’t be mandatory, like they will be in San Francisco or Chicago, but students will at least have the option of signing up for the classes.
An important part of de Blasio’s plan involves expanding school budgets. Capital reports that schools will be given $81 million over a ten-year period to comply with this new requirement. That could help fix one of the biggest reasons many schools don’t have these courses already — dwindling budgets.
As I wrote when Google and Gallup said earlier this year that many students aren’t able to take any classes related to this subject despite parental interest:

More students qualify for free or reduced-price meals at school (a sign of belonging to a low income family) than ever before. Yet the schools these children attend receive less than their fair share of state or federal funding, according to a 2011 report published by the US Department of Education.

That could help explain why many superintendents who responded to the survey said there isn’t enough money to train or hire a teacher (57 percent); nor a sufficient budget to purchase necessary equipment (31 percent) or software  (33 percent); nor enough equipment (20 percent) or software (27 percent) already in their schools for them to introduce computer science courses.

All of which got me thinking: What other cities might benefit from expanding their school budgets for computer science classes? And, since the answer is likely all of them, which cities with expanding tech communities fit the bill?

To answer that, I looked at the U.S. Census Bureau data for several cities known for their startup communities, or for their potential growth in the sector. Some are more established (Chicago, Boulder) while others are just starting to be recognized as potential tech hubs (Atlanta, Nashville) by the wider industry.

I was looking for one statistic in particular: The percentage of households within those cities below the poverty line. Gallup’s survey found that many poor parents want their children to learn computer science skills — ostensibly so their kids will have opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable to them — and that those schools are the least equipped to offer those courses.

What I found is that a larger-than-average percentage of families in these cities live in poverty. Nashville and Austin fared the best, with 18.9 and 19.1 percent, respectively, of their population falling below the poverty line. That’s slightly more than the country’s average, which the census bureau pegs at 14.5 percent.

Cities like Boulder, Chicago, and Atlanta didn’t fare so well — between 22.6 and 25 percent of their population lives in poverty. That doesn’t come as much of a surprise, given reports that 51 percent of students lived in poverty during the 2012-2013 school year, but that clearly doesn’t make it any less of a problem.

All of these cities have, to varying degrees, become known for fostering tech communities. Perhaps allocating more resources to teaching children the skills that will quickly become necessary for them to hold well-paying jobs could help them bridge the gaps between them and more-established startup hubs.

Though I suppose each of them is off to a better start than Irving, Texas, which handcuffed a ninth-grader for bringing a homemade clock to school. That might not count for much, but it’s good to know there’s space between Irving and New York. That makes the dismal state of computer science teaching seem a smidgen less awful.