Hadi Partovi's Code.org ramps up with 3.5M students

Bambi Francisco Roizen · July 31, 2013 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/30fb

Code.org merges with Computing in the Core, partners with ACM

Having chronicled the evolution of the Internet for almost two decades, it would be nice to see one of my sons participate in the ongoing innovation that I see every day. Getting one of them to embrace coding (the two older ones are 10 and 12), would be an accomplishment, however, as they are more video-game obsessives than precocious creators, at least at this point.

And it's not because there aren't available resources. We have a household of multiple computers and tablets. Even my 15-month-year-old son has his own iPad. There's also no shortage of schools/camps that teach computer science. 

They're more fortunate than many other children. They're just not aware of the value and importance of having these skills. It's not entirely their fault. Computer science is usually an elective at schools that do offer some introductory courses. If kids aren't required to learn code, like they have to learn their ABCs and addition, then how would they see the value?

Importantly, most schools in America don't have computer science programs - either because they can't afford it, or because there aren't enough teachers.  

Of the estimated 140,000 schools (K-12), about 90% don't have computer science programs, said Hadi Partovi, co-founder and CEO of Code.org, a non-profit focused on getting each K-12 schools to offer computer science courses across the country.

"There are over 40,000 high schools in the US. About 2,300 teach AP Computer Science," Partovi added, in an email conversation with me. "Nobody knows the exact stat on how many teach introductory CS, our best estimate is under 10,000." 

Launched earlier this year by both Partovi and his twin brother Ali Partovi (pictured above), Code.org is making strides. In the last six months, the non-profit organization has seen 3.5 million students attempt to code on the Code.org site, specifically on this page, which offers potential students a taste of four different online coding courses, from Scratch, Kahn Academy, Codeacademy and CodeHS

Code.org is Partovi's ambitious endeavor to overhaul the educational system in America. Partovi, who is CEO of Code.org, is part of the tech digerati - making his millions having founded iLike as well as TellMe Networks (see his Vator profile for all his investments and exits) - who are contributing their time and resources to change education. The brothers have invested $1 million of their own money to get Code.org up and running.

"This is my passion because my own life has turned out 10 times more successful than I would have dreamed, because of my early exposure to computer science and computer programming," said Partovi, who was given his first computer at the age of 10 and told by his father that "If you want to do anything fun with it, you need to write the software yourself."

Partovi's father gave him access, and incentive.

Some kids get access and no incentive.

Some kids get neither. 

"90% of kids are basically denied this sort of access in their public schools, which is completely un-American," Partovi said ruefully. "Computer science is the biggest area of opportunity growth in the world, and if you believe in America, and you believe in the American dream, we need to allow all Americans access to it in our education system."

To accomplish its objectives, Code.org has enlisted partners. The company just merged with Computing in the Core and Technically Learning - two organizations with similar missions. Computing in the Core is a non-partisan advocacy coalition founded in 2010 by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). Technically Learning is a Seattle-based non-profit. 

By joining forces, Code.org is poised to have an even greater impact. Already about 13,000 schools have asked Code.org for help to add computer science to their curriculum. 

But that's just a start to a journey frought with challenges.

Not only do schools need computers, they need the teachers. "There are <3,000 AP Computer Science teachers (compared to over 20,000 AP Calculus teachers)," said Partovi. In addition, states don't recognize computer science as a 'real' field of study (it's treated as a vocational elective). 

The result is that a small percentage of students are equipped with these technical skills.

Currently, fewer than 5% of kids (K-12) are exposed to computer science programs and 2.5% graduate college with a CS degree.

"For 2013-2014, our goals are in three areas: 1) Bring computer science to more schools 2) Get more states to set policies that favorable to computer science and 3) Grow awareness of computer science education broadly at the national level," said Partovi. 

Lofty goals indeed. But there are factors helping Partovi rally supporters to his cause.  

Computer science majors can get the highest salary right after graduation vs other majors, and computer science jobs outnumber students three to one.

Revamping education

There is something very admirable about trying to remake the educational system. It does seem, as entrepreneur-investor-philanthropist Peter Thiel has said, that education is not improving in this country and that despite having more resources, today's children are receiving the same kind of education we received, if not less.

For his effort to improve the educational system, Thiel isn't trying to affect change at the governmental level, rather he started his Thiel Foundation, and the 20 under 20 program, which for the last two years has encouraged and mentored promising students with aspirations of building game-changing and life-transforming products and services.    

Through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates, recently interviewed by Forbes, says his goal is to graduate twice as many students from college over the next 20 years. 

Partovi would probably agree with Gates about more students graduating college. More importantly, he would want the percent of students graduating with a Computer Science degree to go up from 2.5%.

I couldn't agree more. It does strike me as a bit ironic that something so powerful as "coding" -- a skillset needed as the basic building blocks for tomorrow's innovations across media, healthcare, finance - is not required. It's equivalent to learning a foreign language and taking English, which were both required in my school.

And there's quite a few similarities in writing an essay and writing code, I think. 

I've often said to my engineers that too many lines of code is as wasteful as too many words. It doesn't matter how much code you have, what matters is how effective it is. The problem is: I can't read code. So I can't edit them.

I wish someone taught me in my youth. I wish someone told me in my 7th grade class that understanding the language of computer codes was as important as studying English literature and Algebra. But I can't change that.

Fortunately, maybe people like Partovi can change it for my sons.

(Image source: blogs.technet 

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Bambi Francisco Roizen

Founder and CEO of Vator, a media and research firm for entrepreneurs and investors; Managing Director of Vator Health Fund; Co-Founder of Invent Health; Author and award-winning journalist.

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Tech investor & entrepreneur. Harvard graduate, helped lead the Microsoft Internet Explorer in the 90s. Co-founder at Tellme, iLike. Investor or advisor at Facebook, Dropbox, Zappos, Airbnb, OPOWER