Computer Literacy Shouldn’t Take a Decade

BRISTOL, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 26: A pupil uses a laptop computer during a english lesson at the Ridings Federation Winterbourne International Academy in Winterbourne near Bristol on February 26, 2015 in South Gloucestershire, England. Education, along with National Health Service and the economy are likely to be key election issues in the forthcoming general election in May. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

A pupil uses a laptop computer during a english lesson at the Ridings Federation Winterbourne International Academy in Winterbourne near Bristol on February 26, 2015 in South Gloucestershire, England. (Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Enabling all New York City school children to learn computer programming is a wonderful idea. That Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña say it is going to take 10 years to accomplish…not so much.

Our frustration—indeed, our disbelief—was echoed by one of the world’s great software engineers: Anant Agarwal. Mr. Agarwal is the CEO of edX, the MIT/Harvard nonprofit that creates and provides massive open online courses (MOOCs) to millions of students around the world. Speaking at The New York Times Schools for Tomorrow Conference—along with his main competitor, Coursera co-founder and CEO Daphne Koller—Mr. Agarwal expressed shock at the mayor’s timeline. “It should take a year,” said Mr. Agarwal.

While the city’s Department of Education is dithering, the digital world will change completely—multiple times. NYC children will not just be left behind; they will be left out.

We have long been strong advocates of giving the mayor authority for running the school system. But with authority comes accountability.

 

Let us hammer home, once again, some disturbing facts: fully 36 percent of NYC high school students fail to graduate in four years. And two-thirds of those who do graduate are not ready for college-level work.

More significantly, the signals of this failure are obvious years earlier: two-thirds of third graders are failing the statewide exams and by eighth grade the results are even worse.

Yet the mayor and the chancellor say it is going to take 10 years to implement a computer programming curriculum. Did they formulate this plan via dial-up modems?

We have long been strong advocates of giving the mayor authority for running the school system. But with authority comes accountability. And this latest announcement by Mr. de Blasio and Ms. Fariña is an abdication of that responsibility.

The mayor and his schools chancellor should immediately turn over the task of teaching computer programming to Mr. Agarwal, Ms. Koller, or Khan Academy with the mandate to get the job done within a year. Even suggesting a 10-year timeline for something so basic as a new course is unacceptable.