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LAUSD announces sweeping expansion of computer science course work

Students nationwide will have access to a computer course developed in L.A. Unified.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is teaming up with a nonprofit to launch a sweeping expansion of computer science course work, officials announced Tuesday.

The three-year effort will train L.A. Unified teachers to help students at all grade levels learn about how computers work, culminating in advanced computer coding at the high school level.

The training and materials are being donated by Code.org, a Seattle-based nonprofit, which also works with other school systems. The group is training a core of Los Angeles teachers to impart skills to their colleagues. Some of the training is online, as is part of the curriculum. The nonprofit also donates course materials.

This work is distinct from the better-known, $1.3-billion iPad program at L.A. Unified, which sought to provide a tablet to every student, teacher and campus administrator.

The purpose of the iPads was to provide a seamless window into digital curriculum; officials hoped the program would provide an easily accessible, more engaging way for students to learn math, English and other subjects. In contrast, the goal of the computer-science training is to help students understand and control the technology itself, said Todd Ullah, the coordinator for computer science education at L.A. Unified.

“It’s important to know what’s behind the applications and how they’re developed,” Ullah said in an interview.

The troubled and controversial iPad project has slowed down, with Supt. John Deasy recently announcing a new bidding process for purchasing computers. Computer training for students, however, is accelerating, although advanced instruction at the high school level remains limited.

“Teaching students how to code enhances their relevant skills, no matter what academic or career path they eventually choose,” Deasy said in a statement. “Coding is, by any measure in a digital-age economy, an essential skill, and is something that all students should have the opportunity to learn.”

L.A. Unified is far from alone in catching up with the teaching of programming. Fewer than 10% of schools nationwide offer computer science, said Hadi Partovi, founder and CEO of Code.org.

The problem is especially acute in urban school systems, where many students lack exposure to technology at home as well as in school, Ullah said.

“Our focus is about access and equity to kids in urban settings,” Ullah said.

With the aid of grant funding, L.A. Unified developed its own computer course in conjunction with UCLA. That curriculum now is used in 41 schools, reaching 3,000 students a year. The district also has added a semester of computer science to its graduation requirements.

The arrangement with Code.org includes making the L.A. Unified course available to other school systems across the country.

Twitter: @howardblume 

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