I learn a lot about the state of science in Florida’s high schools by talking with the students with whom I work both in my capacity as a classroom instructor for majors in engineering and the mathematical and physical sciences and as an advisor for undergraduate physics majors.
Here are some things I have learned in the last few years:
Some students who want to be scientists and engineers can’t take physics in their high schools because it is not offered. In every class I teach, there are several engineering majors who are struggling through their first encounter with physics because their high schools didn’t bother to offer physics. And it’s not just the “bad” high schools where this happens. One incoming physics major told me that the only physics course he had taken in high school was through the Florida Virtual School because his high school – an International Baccalaureate school – hadn’t offered physics. Another incoming physics major from an IB school hadn’t taken physics at all, and had been told by the school administration that there is no room in the IB curriculum for physics. A science teacher from an IB school where physics is offered told me that most IB schools in Florida – particularly smaller ones – do not offer physics. Of course, all this contributes to Florida’s embarrassingly low physics-taking rate of 16%.