Emanuel, who previously served as President Obama's chief of staff, predicted that if the administration made it a national priority, a host of other education policy decisions would fall into place around it.
"Just make it a requirement," he said during a tech policy event sponsored by The Washington Post. "I am fine with Common Core. We adopted it in the city, one of the first cities to do it. I'm great. [But] you need this skill — national policy. Make it a high-school graduation requirement."
At 55 years old, Emanuel said he can get away with only knowing the basics, joking that he has to have his kids turn on the TV for him.
"They need to know this stuff," he said. "In the way that I can get by kind of being OK by it, they can't."
The Democrat has served as Chicago's mayor since 2011. In that time, he set a goal to make computer science a requirement of high-school graduation in the city by 2018. Under the program, those classes could count toward a math, science or foreign language credit.
"You'd be amazed if you make the goal, how much all the other choices will be made to get to that goal," he said.
Obama has put a focus on coding in the past, participating in Code.org's short introduction meant to familiarize students with the basics of computer science. Last year, the White House announced a series of private donations meant to train computer science teachers and solicited pledges from a number of large school districts to provide computer science courses.
Emanuel also talked about the importance of the Federal Communications Commission's E-rate program, which provides Internet connections for schools and libraries usually paid for by extra costs tacked on phone customers' bills. Last December, the commission voted to increase the funding cap on the program to $3.9 billion — an increase of $1.5 billion.