Nextech goes to D.C.

September 28th, 2016

On January 30, 2016, President Obama announced the Computer Science for All Initiative, a plan to give all students across the country the opportunity to learn computer science (CS) in school. As a partner of Code.org, Nextech is working tirelessly to make that vision a reality in Indiana.

This past Monday Stephanie Zircher and I joined dozens of like-minded organizations at the White House to participate in discussions centered on the current state of K-12 CS education, proposed federal policies and the importance of establishing regional partnerships to tackle this national challenge. Hosted by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Stephanie and I were given first-hand access to many of the individuals who’ve dedicated countless hours on the CS for All initiative. Megan Smith, U.S. Chief Technology Officer. Ellen Moran, Executive Director of the Computer Science Education Coalition. Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Melissa Moritz, Deputy Director, Office of STEM for the U.S. Department of Education. Jan Cuny, Program Director for Computing Science, National Science Foundation. All were present. Ruth Farmer, Senior Policy Advisor for Tech Inclusion, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, moderated.

I’ve spent the past 48 hours reflecting on the trip and three things keep rising to the top as “memorable.” First, many behind the initiative were asked what CS for All means to them. I LOVED the varied responses, and the fact all were accurate.

  • “Providing access so every student in every school has the opportunity to learn CS.”
  • “CS is integrated in everything we do in education and is not just a standalone course.”
  • “We take a 21st century view on the skills needed to build the programs, products and skills of tomorrow.”
  • “For all, not just the wealthy school districts.”

Second, many really smart people share our passion to bring CS curriculum to the classroom and are implementing innovative programs to tackle the same challenges we face. How do we ensure rural communities benefit from our efforts to the same level as areas where resources and job opportunities are more abundant? What additional programs and experiences do we bring to the table to maximize teacher success in the classroom? Given that CS Education is not required and funding is limited, how do we get attention from educators who are already pulled in a million directions? It was so refreshing to be in the company of organizations thinking about these critical issues. It was even more refreshing to know every organization is committed to collaboration and coordination in all efforts.

Finally, I was reminded how democratic our legislative process truly is. By definition “a democratic process is a practice that allows democracy to exist. Democracy is based on the idea that everyone should have equal rights and be allowed to participate in making important decisions.” Having direct access to policymakers is one thing; however, Stephanie and I had the special opportunity to visit the office of Congresswoman Susan W. Brooks, Indiana’s 5th district representative. Congresswoman Brooks has long been a CS education advocate, having sponsored or co-sponsored several policy changes in the U.S. House of Representatives. Although Congresswoman Brooks was unavailable, we met with a member of her staff who is focused on education. We engaged in a meaningful conversation on the progress already made in Indiana and the work yet to be done to ensure every student has access to quality CS curriculum. I recall vague memories of learning about the democratic process in a grade school civics class; never did I imagine I would participate on such an intimate level.

I love the journey Nextech is on. As with any passion, it is easy to get mired down in details and occasionally lose sight of what your are ultimately trying to achieve. Our brief trip to D.C. may not result in any immediate outcomes; however, the experience reminded me of the greater good we are working toward and brought renewed vigor realizing others share in our commitment.

– Karen Jung, Nextech President

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