Closing the technology gap in NYC begins expanding K-12 computer education

The pandemic has changed life in New York City so much — from the rise of remote work and the embrace of open space, to the uneven economic recovery and the ongoing challenges small businesses face. Through all of this change and upheaval, one factor has remained a welcome constant: the city’s good jobs are growing in technology.

New research from the Center for an Urban Future and Tech:NYC shows that New York’s tech sector has been one of the city’s few economic bright spots since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the pandemic began, the urban tech sector has added jobs faster than any other major industry.

The sector’s recent gains build on years of notable job growth. Since 2010, the city’s tech sector has created 114,000 jobs and grown 142% — more than seven times faster than the city’s economy as a whole — and tech roles are driving demand in industries well beyond tech, including healthcare, finance, education and advertising .

But New York needs to make a lot more strides to expand access to these well-paying tech careers and ensure New Yorkers of color and women are fully represented. New York City Mayor Eric Adams has already demonstrated his passion for bridging this technological capability gap and building a stronger and fairer economy.

The way to get there is to strengthen and expand computer education in the city’s schools.

Undoubtedly, the city also needs to expand adult technical education programs, apprenticeships, and investment in CUNY. But there is no area in which the mayor could have a greater impact than through bold new investments in computer education at the K-12 level.

The time to act is now. After more than two years of disruption due to the pandemic, many students from the city’s lower-income neighborhoods have almost certainly fallen further behind than students from more affluent communities. At the same time, far too few young people have the basic numeracy and digital skills that make them stronger learners and problem solvers — and which are now required for more than half of all job openings in New York City.

To achieve this, no huge new investments are required. Why? Because the most important thing the city can do is reinforce and expand the work already underway to make computational thinking – the ability to ask questions, organize data and solve problems with a computer – a fundamental part of a solid basic education to do for every child. There are two things Adams and New York City Schools Chancellor David Banks can do right now to prepare students for future careers in technology.

First, equip the city’s current and future teachers to become masters of computational thinking. Every teacher—not just those who focus on computer science—should receive continuing education in computer education.

Adams should expand efforts like CUNY’s Computing Integrated Teacher Education program to ensure that every educator receives comprehensive training in the practice of teaching computational thinking. This would include research into equitable computer education practices and assisting in testing and scaling training, coaching and leadership development programs for current and prospective educators and school leaders.

For the past 2 1/2 years, the city has worked to put computers in every classroom and right into the hands of students. However, this investment in technology will only be effective if every teacher and student has the ongoing support needed to use it. To drive the effective implementation of technology tools in the classroom, Adams should work with the New York City Department of Education to convert existing IT professionals instructive Technology Specialists – dedicated professionals certified to coach teachers on how to integrate technology into their classrooms – and embed it in every school.

Second, build on the city’s vital Computer Science for All initiative to ensure every child emerges from the K-12 system computationally fluent—with rich computer-based learning experiences at every grade level and clear pathways to further education and careers, as directed by the Government new mandated standards for computer science and digital fluency. This means ensuring that computer instruction is integrated into every primary school classroom as a daily practice to encourage learning of all subjects, from demonstrating pattern recognition in early literacy to using building blocks for model decomposition in mathematics. Every middle school should offer all students a course that introduces the fundamentals of computer engineering, enriched with career opportunities. At the high school level, every school should introduce an introductory computer science course for all students and a computer course that earns college credits to ensure that thousands of young people graduate high school with numeracy fluency and are already progressing toward a degree at one have made computer field .

As technology-driven jobs continue to fuel the city’s economic boom, preparing New Yorkers for these jobs should be a top priority for city leaders. Today, black and Hispanic workers make up 43% of New York City’s total workforce, but hold only 1 in 5 tech jobs. Only 24% of the city’s tech workers are women. Tech has long struggled to diversify its ranks and nurture more underrepresented talent. To successfully build a more inclusive economy in New York City, while also closing the learning gaps exacerbated by the pandemic, this must change.

No policy or investment is better positioned to achieve this than a full commitment to universal K-12 computer education.

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