A student works on computers at Ruggles Elementary (Courtesy of kCura)
A student works on computers at Ruggles Elementary (Courtesy of kCura)

Back in 2013, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a five-year plan to make computer science a core subject in Chicago Public Schools called CS4All, which included developing curriculum and preparing teachers for the new subject.

This week the Board of Education cemented that initiative, making computer science an official part of every Chicago Public School students’ education.

On Wednesday, the board voted unanimously to make computer science a graduation requirement starting with freshman who enter high school next fall (the class of 2020). Incoming students will be required to complete one credit of computer science education as part of a two-credit Career Education requirement, the district said.

“Making sure that our students are exposed to STEM and computer science opportunities early on is critical in building a pipeline to both college to career,” said Mayor Emanuel in a release. “Requiring computer science as a core requirement will ensure that our graduates are proficient in the language of the 21st century so that they can compete for the jobs of the future.”

Since the initiative launched in 2013, 107 CPS schools have implemented computer science curriculum already, and 41 of which are high schools that meet the graduation requirement standards already, according to the district.

The district said it would continue to support teachers and schools through ongoing professional development and technical assistance. Already 250 teachers and administrators are computer science certified, the district said. CPS has also partnered with Code.org, Google, Microsoft, the Illinois Technology Foundation, the CME Group, as well as Northside College Prep, DePaul, UIC and Loyola University to bolster teacher training and resources. A federal grant announced last year should enable CPS to outfit classrooms with high speed broadband and WiFi.

Chicago was the first district to make computer science a requirement. Since then, there has been a growing interest from other city districts, including New York City, as well as on a federal level to embed computer science in students’ education.

It’s a step forward for a school district that’s had a rough year, from the Barbara Byrd-Bennet scandal to credit rating downgrades to the current budget impasse.

But the need for tech skills is dire. The district cited stats that show there will be 1 million computing jobs open by 2024, due a shortage of talent. In Chicago last quarter, there were nearly 35,000 tech jobs posted.

“No matter what field our students pursue, having exposure to STEM will provide critical skills and training for success in their careers and in life,” added CPS CEO Forrest Claypool. “As a national leader in technology in the classroom, CPS will continue to push the envelope to challenge our students and ensure they’re prepared for the future.”

Note: The post has been updated to include Northside College Prep as a partner.