Only eight years away from the science and engineering workforce, Florida’s 8th graders now face major obstacles

Those 8th graders in Florida who are proficient in both math and science (about one-quarter of them, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress) are only eight years away from joining the state’s science and engineering workforce.  If they stay on course, these students will graduate in 2019 and contribute to closing the “talent gap” of 100,000 science and technology professionals that Florida’s business community discussed in its report, Closing the Talent Gap, released in January, 2010.

Last week, the Florida Legislature erected some serious obstacles for these students.  Next year as high school freshmen, many of these students will take Algebra 2, having completed Algebra 1 and Geometry while still in middle school.  Their Algebra 2 classes will be capped at 25 students each.  Their Biology 1 classes will also be capped at 25 students each.

But from there, things will deteriorate.  Their sophomore year Precalculus classes will not be capped, and the fiscal pressures on the school districts and high school principals will drive the sizes of these classes to 40 students or more.  These students will now have to depend on their parents or peers for individual help instead of getting it from overtaxed teachers.  Parents who are not (say) math or physics professors and are unable to afford private tutors will leave their own children in a deep hole.  Students from disadvantaged backgrounds will be all but eliminated from what Closing the Talent Gap called the “talent supply chain”.

The Advanced Placement calculus class and science class these students take during their junior year will not be capped.  Once again, students will depend on their parents for help – most likely through private tutoring services.  The labs in their AP science classes will be recipe-driven and rushed – little or no learning will take place.

Senior year will be more of the same.

This isn’t the way to grow the science and engineering workforce.  In fact, eliminating class size caps on these courses is anti-business, if we are to take Closing the Talent Gap seriously.

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