Psychology and Computer Science in Florida: High school AP enrollment and SUS bachelor’s degree production

A few statistics to follow up on Saturday’s Tallahassee Democrat op-ed on the broader discussion we should have about educational priorities in Florida’s K-12 schools.

Enrollment in Advanced Placement courses in Florida district high schools, Fall 2015:

Psychology:  32,972

Computer Science:  2,095

Florida State University System bachelors’ degrees in 2013-14:

Psychology (CIP code 42):  5,150

Computer and Information Sciences (CIP code 11):  1,272

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In Saturday’s Tallahassee Democrat: We need a broader discussion of educational priorities, not just computer programming vs. foreign language in high schools

My op-ed on this – in which I point out that while there are 2,100 students taking AP Computer Science A this year in Florida’s district high schools there are 33,000 taking AP Psychology – is in Saturday’s Tallahassee Democrat.

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Will the Florida Legislature do anything to improve K-12 math and science education this year? No.

At the halfway mark, it appears that this year’s Florida Legislature will not do anything to improve math and science education in the state.

There were at least a few small opportunities for progress, but hopes for even those small steps are fading fast.  Here’s a roundup:

STEM Teacher Loan Forgiveness (SB 290, HB 15):  The very modest proposal to forgive $16,000 of student loans for teachers in STEM subjects who serve for eight years has not made any progress in the House.  The Senate version, which is moving ahead, was further watered down by stretching the loan repayment – which only occurs after a teacher has served eight years – over four additional years.  But with the House version moribund, it probably doesn’t matter what’s going on in the Senate.

Exempting STEM master’s degree holders from teacher education requirements for permanent certification (SB 432, HB 189):  This very simple proposal would grant permanent certification to any STEM master’s degree holder who earns a “highly effective” teaching rating – presumably in a single year – without the widely reviled (in the science community, anyway) teacher education courses now required for permanent certification.  The problem is that at least some of those hated teacher education courses provide some really important training.  Like this:  Why is the traditional lecture model ineffective for most students?  This is something that most STEM master’s degree holders really need to find out about.  The House bill quickly advanced to the House floor, where it is awaiting action.  However, after passing the Senate PreK-12 Committee easily, the Senate version has become stuck – waiting for a hearing in the chamber’s Appropriations Subcommittee on Education.

Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program (SB 978, HB 7043):  I’ve been pushing differential pay for teachers in critical needs subjects like math and science and for those teaching in high-needs schools for a long time.  The Best and Brightest program, which provides $10,000 bonuses for certain teachers, could have been the way forward on recruiting strong teachers for those two priorities.  Instead, it is the differential pay program from Hell.  The program rewards teachers who earned a high SAT/ACT score when they were in high school themselves (Although they can take the test again!  Isn’t that nice?) and who earn a rating of “highly effective” on the state’s chaotic teacher evaluation system.  (Want to see how chaotic?  Read this from this morning’s Orlando Sentinel.)  It is a leadership priority in the House, and in HB 7043 it is welded to the highest priority of the Chair of the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee (performance-based funding for higher education).  So Best and Brightest, which had a rocky test ride this year, will undoubtedly be enshrined in the Florida Statutes, despite the almost comic level of frustration displayed by Senators about the program.

High school computer programming education (SB 468, HB 887):  Senator Ring’s attempt to raise the profile of computer programming education at the high school level by allowing students to substitute computer programming courses for the now-required foreign language courses when applying to public universities in Florida has attracted (not surprisingly) fierce opposition from foreign language education advocates.  And the bill’s requirement for high schools to offer computer programming courses has prompted Senator Montford, among others, to point out that such a requirement would likely result in some other high school courses being cut.  In contrast, the House bill would just ask for a study of the issue for a year.  However, the House bill opens the door to allowing computer programming courses to substitute for math and science courses in university admission requirements – a bad scheme that has been enacted in other states.  But since the Senate and House bills are not on the same page at all, it’s unlikely that anything will happen.

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Florida Senate version of STEM teacher loan forgiveness program further watered down

The Education Subcommittee of the Senate’s Appropriations Committee reported favorably on a proposal to provide a some student loan forgiveness for teachers in STEM subjects, but not before further watering down the already-modest original proposal.

As originally written, SB 290 would have provided $16,000 in student loan forgiveness to teachers in STEM subjects who had taught for eight years.  An amendment proposed by Democratic Senator and teacher Dwight Bullard and adopted by the subcommittee stretches the loan repayment over four years – so that a teacher receives only $4,000 in loan repayment after completing eight years of teaching, and must continue to teach several more years to reach the full $16,000 of student loan forgiveness.

The original proposal provided only $2,000 of loan forgiveness per year of teaching – a pittance compared to the salary penalties of $10,000 per year that strong math and science graduates pay to teach in Florida’s high schools when compared to their earning potential in other career paths.  By stretching the loan repayments out over several years, the amendment further reduces the impact of the program.

But it will probably not matter.  The House companion bill, HB 15, has not been acted upon and will probably die for the session when committee meetings end soon.


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House Committee tilts Best and Brightest in favor of teachers in Title I schools

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education sweetened the Best and Brightest program for teachers in high-needs schools yesterday before passing it on to the full House Appropriations Committee.

The language amended to the Best and Brightest program was this:

Annually, by February 1, the department shall disburse scholarship funds to each school district for each eligible classroom teacher to receive a scholarship as provided in the General Appropriations Act. The amount disbursed shall include a scholarship award of $1,000, from the total amount of funds appropriated, for each eligible classroom teacher in a Title I school. Of the remaining funds, a scholarship in the amount provided in the General Appropriations Act shall be awarded to every eligible classroom teacher, including those in Title I schools. If the number of eligible classroom teachers exceeds the total appropriation authorized in the General Appropriations Act, the department shall prorate the per-teacher scholarship amount.

This language would provide awards to eligible teachers in Title I schools that are $1,000 larger than eligible teachers in other schools.  For example, if the appropriation is $44 million, there are 5,000 eligible teachers and 1,000 of those eligible teachers are in Title I schools, then each Title I teacher would receive $9,600, and all other teachers would receive $8,600 each.

In the House, Best and Brightest is embedded in HB 7043, which also impacts performance-based funding for the state’s public colleges and universities.

In the Senate, Best and Brightest has its own bill, SB 978, which has attracted bipartisan ambivalence and outright scorn, even from the bill’s author.

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How is Florida doing in STEM education? Here’s what Senator Ring had to say.

Democratic State Senator Jeremy Ring, who represents a district in Broward County and is a former executive at Yahoo, has become a lightning rod because of his bill (SB 468) that would raise the profile of computer programming education by allowing programming courses to substitute for foreign language requirements for Bright Futures scholarships and admission to public colleges and universities.

During the discussion of the bill by the Senate PreK-12 Committee on December 3, Senator Ring responded to a question from a panel with a brief assessment of Florida’s present STEM education policy:

We talk about STEM all the time.  To me, STEM is pure hollow rhetoric.  Look under the hood.  What does it mean?  What have we really done?  We’ve created a handful of electives…This is one of the few things we’re doing that’s going to create substance behind the buzzword of STEM.

Indeed.  To get beyond the rhetoric on STEM education, we need more students to actually learn to program computers.  We need students to learn math better (and solve the middle school math crisis, which we are completely ignoring right now).  We need more students to learn physics and upper level math.  We need to figure out how we are going to recruit more strong math and science teachers.  Playing games with robots and holding a few high profile science fair events largely populated with students who have extraordinary parental support is not nearly enough.

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The real issue behind the proposal to increase the emphasis on computer coding in Florida’s K-12 schools: Are we willing to set new priorities for our kids’ education?

In a recent issue of the Tallahassee Democrat, Johanne Deremble, Director of the Alliance Francaise of Tallahassee, complained about a proposal by Florida State Senator Jeremy Ring (SB 468) to allow computer coding to substitute for the foreign language requirements for Bright Futures scholarships and admission to the state’s public universities.  She argued that computer coding is not a language with which people communicate with each other, and that therefore computer coding should not be allowed to “count” as a foreign language.

Of course, Deremble’s argument is correct.  But the narrow argument over whether computer coding is somehow equivalent to a foreign language is simply a distraction from the broader discussion we should be having about what Florida’s kids learn.

During the discussion of Senator Ring’s bill at the December 3 meeting of the Senate PreK-12 Committee, the committee’s ranking Democrat (and my Senator, I am very glad to say), Bill Montford, pointed out the broader issue, saying “If we are offering the same number of hours a day and we require something else, something is going to fall out.”  If the Legislature asks the schools to emphasize computer coding and deemphasize foreign language (as SB 468 does), then there will be less foreign language taught in the schools.  If the Legislature does not target foreign language for deemphasis, then something else will be deemphasized.

Ring pointed out that school offerings are already evolving.  His own kids are taking Mandarin Chinese, which is obviously of increasing importance.  The presence of Mandarin in the program at their school is probably crowding out Latin or French.  And it is arguable that it should.

Should way more students be taking computer coding classes, including AP Computer Science?  The answer is clear:  Yes.  Calculus?  Yes.  Physics?  Yes, again.  How about Statistics?  Oh yes.  But does that mean we should stop teaching calculus in high schools to make room for computer programming and statistics, as Johns Hopkins professor and Forbes contributor Steven Salzberg suggested in 2014?  No, no, no.

But if we are increasing the emphasis on computer coding, calculus, physics and statistics, and if we are not, as Senator Montford pointed out, increasing the number of hours in the school day or the number of teachers we are willing to pay for, then something else will be deemphasized or maybe even fall right out of the schools’ instructional programs.  Should it be French?  Maybe.  AICE divinity classes?  IB film studies classes?   Those might be easier to dismiss than French.  How about Junior ROTC?  Band?  Drama?  Music theory?  Psychology?

This is a serious discussion we need to have, but we seem to be allergic to it.  Senator Ring is right in saying we should do more to coax more students into learning computer coding in our K-12 schools.  But using such an argument to target foreign language for deemphasis (or math or science for deemphasis as has been done in other states) just gives us an excuse for avoiding the broad discussion about resetting our schools’ priorities that we desperately need to have.

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