Betsy DeVos is the 11th United States Secretary of Education

An Open Letter to Betsy DeVos

Dear Secretary DeVos,

I am writing to you today simply as a concerned citizen that wishes to draw an important issue to your attention. To me and many others, innovation and technology are the gateways into the 21st century economy. Forbes reports that, while many manufacturing jobs are being taken by machines and computers, “the technologies that are eliminating one set of jobs will create others: jobs that require twenty-first century — mainly digital — skills”. However, I fear that today’s students will enter the workforce unprepared for the digital revolution, especially concerning computer science. Only 40% of American high schools offer computer science courses, despite the incredible job potential in this field. A thorough computer science education is essential for the 21st century innovative economy. You have spent your entire life fighting for America’s students, and now, as the honorable Secretary of Education of the United States, you have the opportunity to make national change.

These days, computer science is as essential as English or History. Business Insider has rated the college major as the best for entrepreneurs starting a new businesses. This is emphasized in the explosive growth of technology jobs in the past decade, making them the #1 source of new wages in the United States. Despite this, a strong majority of schools simply do not offer the course, putting millions of students at a steep disadvantage. This is, of course, not for lack of interest. Code.org, an organization dedicated to providing computer science education to every American student, reports that 54% of American students are interested in computer science. They also explain that “every industry is desperately trying to hire computer programmers everywhere”. In light of all of this, we continue to handicap our students by not offering computer science classes in a majority of public schools. As Forbes makes clear, “there are plenty of unfilled job openings. The problem is that many young people are leaving high school — and college — without the skills and work experience that business and industry need.” The incredible benefit for students and the economy would explain why there is so much bipartisan support, with vocal advocates ranging from Democratic Senator Cory Booker to businesswoman Meg Whitman to Republican Senator Todd Young.

In my home state of New Jersey, there is no state funding for computer science in the school curriculum. Due to this, we have fallen behind states such as Massachusetts in the innovative economy. Massachusetts does in fact provide this desperately needed state funding. Should your department choose to take this endeavor upon themselves for the sake of every American student, they would not be going at it alone. Google has formed an organization known as CS4HS that works endlessly to provide the skills necessary for computer science to school teachers. Partnering with such groups would alleviate the burden on the schools themselves to find qualified computer science educators.

Another incredible benefit of a computer science education is that, according to Code.org, these majors earn 40% more than the average for a college graduate, making these students successful enough to start their own businesses and contribute more to the great American economy. That potential explains why charter schools, a great landmark of American education, have taken it upon themselves to develop computer science courses. For example, Brooke’s Charter Schools of Boston, considered by many as among the greatest charter schools in the United States, has announced they will implement full computer science courses because they know that “computer science has become a new form of literacy, as important as reading or math”. They also note that “to understand the world around them, students need to appreciate the relationship between computer hardware and software, develop fluency with the language and structure of computer programs, and have the chance to author their own code. As an added benefit, learning to code will help Brooke scholars develop persistence in the face of challenge, analytical abilities, problem-solving skills, and other positive habits of mind.” You and I both agree that charter schools must lead the way in improving education for the future generations. It is time for our public schools to follow their great example.

What has so far gone unmentioned is the benefit that will be seen for America’s rural communities. The heartland of this great country has seen better days, and they elected President Trump under a promise to bring back their job opportunities. This doesn’t have to be tied only to manufacturing jobs. CNN Money reports that “there are more than half a million open computing jobs nationwide … But students growing up in the countryside aren’t prepared for them. Rural students are far less likely than their peers in cities and suburbs to gain exposure to rigorous computer science training. These skills have emerged as a fast track to high-paying jobs.” Partnering with organizations would prepare teachers to bring these opportunities back to rural America. Budget cuts also present challenges to computer science courses. Educators in your home state of Michigan fear that the sparse computer science courses may be on the chopping block when cuts are proposed, also according to CNN Money. This is why increased funding for these programs is so essential. Gina Green, a teacher in Missouri, lamented that these jobs are being lost to the coasts. She pleads that “it’s imperative that in rural America that we say, this is an option for you … All these jobs are disappearing. All across the nation, these traditional jobs are disappearing. I think it’s an opportunity for these kids to achieve the American Dream.” Under the status quo, a young girl growing up in Grand Rapids simply cannot achieve her dream of contributing to the 21st century innovative economy. Despite living in my home state of New Jersey, I care deeply about the forgotten people in the heartland that President Trump promised to protect. They deserve the same job opportunities as the rest of America.

“It’s imperative that in rural America that we say, this is an option for you … All these jobs are disappearing. All across the nation, these traditional jobs are disappearing. I think it’s an opportunity for these kids to achieve the American Dream” -Gina Green

There are many great ideas that the Department of Education could take advantage of in order to bring computer science classes to every high school in America. I have already written to my representatives about introducing legislation. Forbes suggests that bringing in outside experts, such as those working with CS4HS, to help train the teachers is a good first step. Increased funding for schools that need it would allow them to mandate a half year course for graduation. Code.org offers a plethora of policy ideas, including allocation of funds and defining computer science positions on school boards. These efforts very well may peak the interest of the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. The benefit for our economy would be unimaginable.

“What Most Schools Don’t Teach” by Code.org

The handicapping of the future generation, denying them the knowledge necessary for the fastest growing career field in America, must come to an end. Providing computer science classes in every high school in America will allow students in our great country to contribute to the massive technological advancements we’ve seen throughout the past decade. It would be a tragedy to deny the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates a thorough computer science education. It is my dear hope that you work with the United States Congress in order to make this goal a reality. You would have the support of organizations and business leaders alike. All agree that computer science must be the next step into the 21st century innovative economy. I thank you profusely for taking the time out of your busy schedule to read the thoughts of a concerned citizen. Through your great work in Michigan, you have proven that you are a fighter that understands what is best for the next generation. I sincerely hope that you take my words to heart and work to make a difference in our education system. It is time for all Americans, not just 40% of them to have a shot at a computer science education. Feel free to write back to me, as I am eager to hear your thoughts on this matter. I have no doubt in my mind in your ability to make a truly profound difference in our education system that will greatly benefit generations to come.

Sincerely,

John Curran