I think I get it now. I understand the argument that leads some folks to believe that the new high school graduation requirements are a “huge unfunded mandate”. It’s just that the argument is wrong.
School Zone posted a link to my op-ed on the chemistry teacher shortage that the Orlando Sentinel published yesterday. An Orlando-area chemistry and physics teacher named Steve argued that the “chemistry or physics” requirement (really just a chemistry requirement) will cost the state $50 million per year in salaries for new science teaching positions – he said 900 of them.
Here is why Steve’s argument is wrong: The new grad requirements do not increase the number of science courses each student will take – it is three now, and it will continue to be three. The total number of science courses being offered in Florida high schools will not increase, and we will not have to increase the number of science teachers we have now.
What will change is how those science courses are distributed among different subjects. Students who have been taking low-octane science courses to meet the present graduation requirements will have to replace one of those low-octane courses with chemistry. So we will need fewer teachers to teach low-octane courses, and we will need more teachers highly qualified to teach chemistry.
But the gentle reader might ask, “How are we going to replace teachers who are not qualified to teach chemistry with teachers who are?”
First of all, there is a certain amount of normal attrition. Every year, some science teachers leave the teaching corps. Every one of them should be replaced with a new teacher highly qualified to teach chemistry. (If the colleges of education and alternative certification programs can produce them, that is. And as I pointed out in the op-ed and elsewhere, Georgia-style differential pay would help.)
Second, the state should come up with the funds – from Race to the Top, or the National Science Foundation, or somewhere else – to provide opportunities for science teachers who want to do so to retrain to become highly qualified in chemistry. Based on my limited knowledge of the gold standard in professional development in physics – the University of Washington program – I’d say that such a program would require 6-8 eight weeks per summer for three summers, and would cost a total of $25,000 per teacher (including a stipend for the teacher).
Third, the state should aggressively expand its alternative certification effort and recruit practicing science and engineering professionals into the teaching force.
In summary, the science teacher salary pool might increase by a few million dollars per year if a large number of Florida’s districts implement differential pay for starting chemistry teachers. And the state might spend as much as $10 million or even $15 million one time to retrain in-service science teachers to become highly qualified in chemistry. But that’s it. The $50 million-per-year cost of creating 900 new science teaching positions in the state is just a fiction. Sorry, Steve.
Steve also mentioned that he anticipates an enormous drop in the graduation rate due to the chemistry-or-physics requirement. But the experiences of Brevard and Duval counties – where SB 4-style graduation requirements have been in place for years – do not support Steve’s assertion. Neither does the experience that the Chicago Public Schools had following their 1997 implementation of tougher graduation requirements in science. And very soon now, we will see how Michigan does with graduation requirements that are identical to ours and that were enacted in 2006.
Update (2:45 pm): Steve asked what science courses I would cancel to compensate for the additional sections of chemistry that will be necessary, if the science teaching corps is to remain at a constant size. A summary of the answer I posted is given by the Gang of 90 white paper – any science course that is not on the Gang’s “approved” list should not be taught.