|Photo: Sonali Kohli|
|Flatiron School teacher Victoria Friedman gauges the class’s level of understanding.|
These high-school students gave up four hours each Saturday for three months this winter to learn how to build web apps at the Flatiron School. Their parents shelled out $2,500 for 12 weeks of lessons. There’s a shortage of coders in the US, and schools like this are trying to be the solution.
(STEM) fields with the most job postings (pdf) in the US in 2013, and job postings requiring coding skills stayed open the longer than most (pdf, pg. 35). A national non-STEM job opening is filled in about 33 days, compared to 56 days for jobs that require programming skills and 65 days for mobile developing, said Matt Sigelman, CEO of career analytics firm Burning Glass.
There’d be more people to fill these jobs if there were more computer science graduates, and there’d be more graduates if more people could start the subject in high school. And yet it’s difficult to find a high-quality computer science class in American high schools, let alone a programming class.
Hence the demand for places like the Flatiron School. It’s good for teens who already know they want to learn programming, or those who have parents nudging them toward it. But relying on schools like this one assumes that people who want to code will seek it out and have the money to pay for lessons.
Why there isn’t enough computer science in schools
There are many reasons why American schools are poor at teaching coding—so many that the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) published a 75-page report (pdf) enumerating them. The biggest is that the public school system is decentralized. Most public schools follow national teaching guidelines—the Common Core—and complete standardized tests based on those, but US states and local bodies make classroom-level decisions.
Computer science also has a hard time finding a place because it can fall under pretty much any letter of the “STEM” acronym. Some states classify it as its own subject, while others lump it into math or science. A Kentucky lawmaker even tried to have programming languages treated as foreign languages.