Building the future for Newark’s students
By: Reshma Saujani, founder and CEO of Girls Who Code and Roger León, Newark Public Schools Superintendent
In 1919, Alice H. Parker, a black woman from Morristown, felt her fireplace wasn’t doing enough to warm her home during New Jersey winters so she invented the gas heating furnace. Ms. Parker filed a patent before women had a right to vote and before black children were allowed to attend school alongside their white peers.
New Jersey has a legacy of groundbreaking innovation — from Ms. Parker’s heating system to Thomas Edison’s light bulb to Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone. But today, the Garden State graduates only about 1,000 computer science graduates every year. And, in 2015, only 165 of them were women.
We’re seeing similar trends across the country. Most public schools in the U.S. still do not offer basic courses in computer science — leaving students unprepared for jobs in the fastest-growing and highest-paying industry in the country. In New Jersey alone, there are nearly 25,000 open jobs in computing.
Fortunately, New Jersey has started to expand access to computer science in earnest in recent years. In 2014, the state became the first to develop and formally adopt Computer Science standards. In January, Governor Murphy signed into law a bill requiring every public high school to offer a computer science course.
It’s a start, but access alone isn’t enough. We need to infuse computer science classrooms with inclusive curricula, with subject matter that appeals to girls and, especially, to girls of color.
Today, women make up only 20 percent of the computing workforce. According to research by Stanford professor Raj Chetty, when girls learn about women inventors, they are much more likely to consider becoming inventors themselves. For that reason, it’s crucial that students learn about engineers like Edison and Bell, but also about geniuses like Ms. Parker and Katherine Johnson and Ada Lovelace.
Girls Who Code, in partnership with Superintendent Roger León and Newark Public Schools, is setting out to make that happen.
Starting in Spring 2019, Newark Public Schools will introduce Girls Who Code Women in Tech lesson plans to every middle school, helping inspire young women to see themselves in STEM careers. The district will also open a Girls Who Code club in every school — providing more than 17,000 girls with the opportunity to learn to code. These clubs will build on the 250 clubs Girls Who Code already running in the state.
It’s not so hard to imagine that one of these girls might be the next Alice H. Parker. After all, Girls Who Code alumni are going on to major in computer science and related fields at a rate of 15 times the national average — black and latina alumni at 16 times the national average.
Our hope is that this initiative will go beyond Newark, that policymakers and advocates for education and equality embrace the possibilities that come with closing the gender gap in tech. Because this work is about so much more than parity — it’s about growing our economy, building our communities, and giving every girl the opportunity to change the way we live and work, to carry the legacy of the Garden State into the future.
Reshma Saujani is the founder and CEO of Girls Who Code
Roger León is the Superintendent of Newark Public Schools