Maybe Florida should retract the “chemistry or physics” high school graduation requirement

Update (Wednesday morning):  Gradebook posted on this post and got a relatively vigorous discussion going.  Welcome to Gradebook readers who are visiting!


The passage of Florida’s “chemistry or physics” high school graduation requirement, which is phasing in, brought on all manner of angst, including the spectacle of Leon High School’s then-principal Rocky Hanna telling a legislative committee that if he had been required to pass chemistry to graduate from high school, he wouldn’t have graduated.  School boards and legislators have since looked for ways to retract or otherwise neuter the requirement, so far unsuccessfully.

But the worst blows to the requirement have been these:

There are no end-of-course exams for either the chemistry or physics courses that would fulfill the requirement, and none have been seriously contemplated, despite their mention in the “when budget conditions allow” piece of the law that instituted the “chemistry or physics” requirement in the first place.  They will not happen during my lifetime.  And so there will be no quality control on Florida’s chemistry and physics courses, and Honors Physics alumni showing up in my studio physics class will still pre-test at a level that is statistically equivalent to the level of students who haven’t taken any physics at all in high school.

There is no serious effort to bring a significant number of talented young people into Florida’s chemistry and physics teaching corps to address the shortage of highly qualified teachers in these fields.  Forget the UTeach programs at UF, FSU and (now) FIT – they produce significant numbers of biology and math teachers, but very few chemistry and physics teachers.  A serious effort to recruit chemistry and physics teachers would involve a serious differential pay program.  But there is no interest in such a program among policy-makers.

There is no effective professional development program for physical science teachers in the pipeline or being contemplated.  Forget two-week workshops – the IES says they don’t work.  Serious would look like Modeling Physics, or the Physics by Inquiry program at the University of Washington, which involve many weeks during consecutive summers and intensive follow-up.

Maybe Rocky has won, and it’s time for people like me to just admit it and move on.

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