If there are children in your life, especially if they go to public school in a big city, it’s likely you’re familiar with Code.org. The popular tech non-profit offers programming classes for students that include the characters from Frozen (and instructors like Mark Zuckerberg) alongside computer education training for teachers. Two weeks ago, Code.org announced that it had reached a new benchmark: As of January 8, 1 million girls, and 1 million African-Americans and Hispanic students, had signed up for their popular online Code Studio courses. The announcement indicates that founder Hadi Partovi and his organization are succeeding in a very specific mission–teaching basic coding to every young student in America.
A total of 43% of Code Studio’s online students are female, while 37% are black or Hispanic; Code.org in-school courses are 34% female and 60% African-American or Hispanic. In a phone conversation with Fast Company, Partovi credited the organization’s metrics (which were obtained through data obtained from teacher surveys and voluntary information from new account sign-ups) to strong relationships with local school districts and aggressive outreach to teachers and principals.
Code.org’s programs are designed for either use in schools or for independent learning at home or in after-school programs. An “Hour of Code” program (promoted by President Barack Obama) designed to be implemented in classrooms by teachers with minimal training has been tried by approximately one out of every three school-aged students in the United States. The more extensive Code Studio course package is designed for independent or in-school work, and the organization gives school systems a choice of curriculum packages to implement, along with professional development packages for teachers that include stipends.
The non-profit (which is funded by Google, Microsoft, the Ballmer family, Bill Gates, Jack Dorsey, Ron Conway, and other tech industry heavy hitters), works with school districts–many of which lack funding for implementing large scale computer science programs for younger students–to implement curricula and train teachers at no cost to the school system. Partovi says the organization works closely with principals and teachers so individual lesson plans can be tailored from Code’s source materials. “Districts commit to adding computer science to their curriculum over a number of years and we provide training so no cash is spent out of pocket,” he told Fast Company in a telephone conversation. “We help them create a computer science program using their existing teaching staff.”
Participating school systems include New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami-Dade County public schools. (A full list can be found here.) Because Code.org provides learning at essentially no cost to public school students across the country, it exercises a strong influence on the form and variety of computer science curricula in the United States that belies the non-profit’s relatively small size. Moreover, Code.org’s success demonstrates that a multi-pronged approach is necessary when attempting to reach notoriously elusive demographic groups: more girls participated in the courses online while more students of color enrolled in the courses in-school, indicating that neither approach alone would have produced such striking results.
Hopefully this is an indicator of more great things ahead–for Code.org and for the entire tech industry. “We believe every child deserves to learn the foundational basics of how software and the Internet are changing their world,” Code.org staff wrote in a blog post addressing the milestone. “But we also know that solving the diversity problem in CS education will dramatically address diversity in the tech industry as well.”