A series of major milestones has Hadi Partovi’s Code.org on the brink of fulfilling its core mission
Hadi Partovi and his family fled revolution in Iran, landing in the United States when he was just six years old. In his basement as a young immigrant, Partovi learned to code. This wasn’t as incongruous as it sounded — before leaving Iran, Partovi’s father worked at the country’s main technology university, and he bought his kids a Commodore 64 and taught them programming.
These coding skills became the foundation for a successful career in technology, culminating in roles at Microsoft, Facebook, and many other high-flying tech companies.
Decades later, Partovi found himself wondering why more kids don’t have the chances he had. “Every high school in Iran now teaches coding,” he told me. “But thirty years after I learned, that was not true in the United States.”
Code.org is Partovi’s answer to that conundrum. Most famous for its “Hour of Code” program, which has brought rudimentary coding concepts to tens of millions of students around the world, Code.org’s true mission extends far beyond teaching kids to program. “This is about adding computer science to core school curriculum,” Partovi told me. “It’s not just about teaching kids to code.”
Partovi started Code.org with his brother Ali four years ago, and since then his organization’s accomplishments have been nothing short of extraordinary. Funded in large part by private tech firms, the company has built an at-scale learning platform and curriculum used by tens of millions of students and teachers in dozens of countries. Twenty percent of US students now have accounts on Code.org’s teaching platform, as do 600,000 teachers and nine million girls. Ten percent of all students in the world have tried Hour of Code, and 20 US states have changed policies to incorporate coding into their curricula. The platform has reached more than 100 million students across the globe, Partovi told me.
But perhaps the biggest proof of Code.org’s success came recently, when the first cohort of its students took the Computer Science Advance Placement exam, a true test of learning. Passing the exam means college credit for aspiring high school graduates. Code.org students essentially matched the national average for a passing score — significant validation of Code.org’s platform, which for the most part is still seen as an extracurricular, not a core subject in most high schools. Four years ago, 28,000 students took the AP exam in CS. Last year, in Code.org’s fourth year, more than 100,000 students did.
Partovi has been a tireless advocate for more funding and training for coding instruction throughout the US and indeed the world. But until recently, the US has lagged behind countries like Russia, Italy, and many others who have mandated CS literacy in their school systems.
That may be about to change: Code.org was front and center in a new administration directive, announced today, to fund STEM education to the tune of $200 million a year. Private corporations, including Apple, Facebook, Google, Lockheed, and Microsoft, among others, have pledged $300 million more in the first year. That money, which does not require Congressional approval, could dramatically change the face of computer literacy in the United States.
“$200M a year is enough to ensure that over 5 years every single school in America teaches computer science,” Partovi told me. “Computer science is the most highly-valued subject in all education, and the chance to study it shouldn’t be based on the neighborhood a student grew up in, or the color of her skin.”
Partovi’s mention of economic and race-based discrimination is personal. He personally lobbied the Trump administration to secure today’s funding, and in a personal post on LinkedIn, explains why:
“My support for new computer science policy that benefits children does not reflect on how I feel about other actions by the Trump administration. As an Iranian child who fled my home at a time of war, I wouldn’t have been allowed as an immigrant in the U.S. under the immigration policies of this administration. Like most Americans, I was appalled by the events of Charlottesville, and I unequivocally denounce such racism.
My decision to advocate for this policy was simple: it will benefit our nation’s students, especially the ones who need it the most.”