Science Education Policy Menu: What Would You Order?
The Democrats and Republicans in the Florida House of Representatives now appear to agree on an adjustment to the state’s high school graduation requirements in science. At present, students are required to take three science courses, two of which must include labs. House members in both parties now agree that this should be modified to require that at least one of these courses be a biology course and a second be a course in chemistry or physics. The third would be a “higher-level” science course. At one point during House committee deliberations last year, the legislation under consideration included language specifying that “Agriscience Foundations I” be considered a higher-level science course, so such language is not as reassuring as one might assume. Of course, this agreement still leaves Florida behind our neighboring states, all of whom require four science courses for graduation. It also leaves out Earth/space science as a graduation requirement. No mention is made of the Gang of 90 proposal to require four courses for Bright Futures eligibility.
It seems likely that House Republicans will again attempt to replace the 11th grade Science FCAT (and it needs to be replaced) with a single EOC test in biology (biology is fine, but ignoring the other sciences is bad).
The House Democrats’ proposal that high-performing teachers be rewarded for working in socioeconomically challenged schools is similar to one offered by Republican Senator Don Gaetz last year, according to Ron Matus at Gradebook. Given the importance of excellent teachers to student performance, this seems like the best way to address the yawning achievement gap in K-12 science. In principle, the legislature could decide to focus this effort on secondary math and science to make the cost of the program more tractable.
Here is a short list of proposals for improving education in the physical and Earth/space sciences in Florida’s K-12 schools, together with back-of-the-envelope estimates of costs. Some of these ideas come from the Gang of 90 white paper. With several difficult budget years still ahead of us, it’s important to set priorities. (Despite the wish list the Florida Board of Education approved yesterday, it is unlikely that Florida’s K-12 budget is going up by a billion dollars anytime soon, according the Leslie Postal at School Zone) Which of these is most important? Submit a comment and we’ll get a discussion going on this.
Science Education Policy Menu:
- Comprehensive professional development for Florida’s 9,200 science teachers (The Gang of 90 estimated $30 million per year to do this well)
- Provide $10,000 salary supplements for 1,000 high-performing math teachers and 1,000 high-performing science teachers to work in socioeconomically challenged schools (2,000 teachers times $10,000 per year per teacher gives $20 million per year)
- Implement a comprehensive end-of-course program in high school science, including tests for biology, chemistry, Earth/space science and physics ($30 per student for 800,000 high school students gives $24 million. However, SAT subject tests in physics and chemistry cost only $15 each, so $24 million seems like a generous estimate. The FCAT is about $10 per student.)
- Require four science courses for Bright Futures eligibility (It seems likely that such a rule would drive up demand for science courses, but it’s difficult to estimate the cost of this. It might also drive down the number of students eligible for Bright Futures.)
A Bit of Perspective:
How much money is $20-30 million in the context of the state budget? Here is one way to look at it: The airplane hangar at Northwest Florida State College that former House Speaker Ray Sansom has been indicted for cost $6 million. Somehow the legislature found money for that. Scientists are all about using appropriate units, so let’s state the costs of the choices on the menu above in units of Sansom Airplane Hangars:
- Comprehensive professional development for Florida’s science teachers: 5.0 Sansom Airplane Hangars per year.
- $10,000 salary supplements for 2,000 math and science teachers in challenged schools: 3.3 Sansom Airplane Hangars per year.
- Comprehensive end-of-course testing program for high school science: 4.0 Sansom Airplane Hangars per year.
- Bright Futures four science course eligibility requirement: This is probably the cost of making sure we in Florida can continue to develop new technology like the airplanes of the future that will reside in Speaker Sansom’s hangar.