Dual enrollment, early college, and the engineering and physics pipelines: A map of the eight years from 9th grade to bachelor’s degree

As a state, Florida is doing a lousy job of preparing students for bachelor’s degree programs in engineering, physics and other high-income STEM fields.

Students in Florida’s public high schools take physics at a rate only about half that of the nation as a whole.  And high school physics enrollments have dropped by 8% over the last three years.

Despite Florida’s financial incentives for Advanced Placement course success, the state is only about average for the rate at which students earn college credit in the program for Calculus 1, which the American Society for Engineering Education recommends for high school students who might major in engineering in collegeDual enrollment makes only a modest contribution to addressing this issue.

Even Florida high school chemistry enrollments are in free fall – down 9% over the last two years.

Former Florida Senate Education Committee Chair John Legg and former Step Up for Students editor Travis Pillow (now at the Center for Reinventing Public Education) proposed in an entry to the Fordham Institute Wonk-A-Thon that the conventional boundary between high school and college be rethought.  Could such a scheme open the doors of engineering and physics opportunity to more students?

The answer is a murky “maybe”.

Surely there is a need to open those doors.  Women are earning only about 20% of the bachelors’ degrees in those fields – both at the state and national levels.  Black students earn only 7% of the bachelors’ degrees in engineering and 4% of the bachelors’ degrees in physics in Florida’s State University System.   In Florida, 22% of the students in the public K-12 schools are black, so their underrepresentation in engineering and physics is severe.  (Bachelor’s degree numbers are for the 2015-16 academic year, and the K-12 numbers for 2017-18.)

And that underrepresentation begins in the K-12 schools.  Only 37% of the Florida high school students taking the AP Physics 1 exam in 2017 were female (although about half of the AP Calculus AB exam takers were female).  Of the AP Physics 1 exam takers, only 6% were black.  For AP Calculus AB, 7% were black.

So what Florida is presently doing is not working to address these inequities.  Could tinkering with the boundary between high school and college help?

Maybe.  But focusing too much on the high school-college boundary might obscure the most important issues, which are:

  • Providing access to great math and science educators; and,
  • Coaxing parents and students (and perhaps mostly parents) to enroll in the necessary math and science courses with those great educators.

One of the main selling points of Early College schemes is the idea of saving money by shortening the college experience.  If a student earns an A.A. degree at the same time as a high school diploma, doesn’t that shorten the total time spent in high school and college?

While that might work in Political Science, it doesn’t in Engineering and Physics.  The two tables below show the academic paths from the end of 8th grade to graduation with a bachelor’s degree in either mechanical engineering or physics for a student who successfully completes Algebra 1 in 8th grade.  The programs for Years 5-8 are taken from FSU’s Academic Program Guide.  The courses for Years 1-4 are the standard math and science sequences at most high schools.

Mechanical engineering


The mechanical engineering and physics degree programs are actually quite similar.  The math, science and engineering courses in both programs involve prerequisites that dictate the length of the conventional college-level program.  Just to take one example:  Calculus 1 is a prerequisite for the first calculus-based introductory physics course.  That particular situation actually drives a Year 5 feature of both degree programs – the “required summer term”.  If a student indeed completes Calculus 1 (either via AP Calculus AB or the Dual Enrollment Calculus 1) during Year 4 – that is, the traditional senior year of high school – then the student can take Calculus 2 and the first calculus-based physics course in the fall of Year 5, eliminating the need for a summer term that year.

Just to note one related thing that came up in conversation recently:  A student who has to start Year 5 (once again, the traditional beginning of college) with a Precalculus course adds a year to the bachelor’s degree program – five years of college instead of four.  (Or 9 years total instead of 8)

Yes, we are now way down in the weeds.  But that’s where I (and my students) live.  Adding a summer term or even a full year costs everybody money, and that matters.

So where should we draw the boundary between high school and college?  Which of the courses in the tables are best taken in a high school environment and which in a college environment?

It depends.  It depends on where students have access to the strongest educators and what it takes for parents to become convinced that they should nudge their children to take on the challenge of the next year’s math and science courses.

It seems self-evident that Geometry and Algebra 2 courses should be taken in a high school environment.  The standard biology course that Florida requires should be taken at a high school level, too.

It also makes sense to me that a first chemistry course should be taken from a high school chemistry teacher in a course titled “Honors Chemistry”.  But there are options:  In principle, the student’s first chemistry course could be a liberal studies-level college chemistry course, as long as it includes a lab component (For aficionados:  CHM 1025?).  But do we want a 15-year-old taking a college course on a college campus?

Alternatively, a high school could attract a chemistry teacher with the 18 graduate credit hours of chemistry courses required for college instructors and have that teacher offer CHM 1025 (or whatever the correct course number is) in the high school building.  But as hard as it is to find bachelor’s-level chemistry teachers now, what are the odds of a high school attracting a master’s-level chemist to teach?  Given all this, it seems that the traditional Honors Chemistry course with a Florida Chemistry 6-12 certification (and often a bachelor’s degree in biology) makes the most sense most of the time.

What about the Precalculus and Algebra-based Physics courses I’ve listed above in Year 3 (the conventional 11th grade)?  During the 2017-18 academic year, 4,183 high school students dual enrolled in Precalculus at Florida College System (FCS) institutions.  In contrast, 41,495 high school students were enrolled in the standard Honors Precalculus course and another 2,689 in the International Baccalaureate Precalculus course.  How should a student and parent choose whether to take the standard Honors Precalculus course or the dual enrollment option?  To me, it’s easy:  Pick the option with the stronger educator.  Learning Precalculus concepts with deep understanding is critically important for keeping the engineering career option open.  Whether or not a student earns a college credit for it is not important.

The same principles apply to choosing physics and calculus teachers in years 3 and 4.  In each subject, a parent and student should pick the option with the strongest educator.  How can you tell which educator is stronger?  In physics at least, a parent should choose the option that involves hands-on pedagogy.  Having a Golden Lecturer holding forth about physics at the front of a classroom is not effective.  If the high school physics teacher is hands-on, choose that option.  If not, and a student has access to a hands-on algebra-based college physics class, then pick that.

Class Panorama

A hands-on college physics class at FSU.

Dual enrollment can also offer other kinds of temptations.  If a junior in high school has to make a choice between a high school Honors Physics class and a dual enrollment “Introducing Biology” class (BSC 1005, which attracted 4,039 high school students last year), which should that student (and parent) choose?  That’s easy – the Honors Physics class that keeps the option for an engineering career open.  BSC 1005, which we call “Baby Bio” here at FSU, may carry college credit.  But it’s a dead end as far as STEM careers go.

Dual enrollment and early college can open access to bachelor’s degree-level STEM careers for students from a wide range of backgrounds.  Those options can also derail promising students.  What matters most is what always matters most – great educators and informed choices by students and parents.  In the end, the arbitrary boundary between what we call “high school” and “college” doesn’t really matter much.

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Dual Enrollment vs. Advanced Placement: Which college credit option is attracting more students in Florida’s public high schools?

While dual enrollment has proven to be a popular option for Florida’s college-bound high school students who want to satisfy their college freshman English requirements before graduating from high school, few high school students are using the dual enrollment route to take the introductory college math and science courses they need to pursue bachelors’ degrees in fields like engineering and computer science.

Instead, those STEM-oriented students are overwhelmingly using Advanced Placement courses in biology, calculus, chemistry and physics to get a head start on their college programs.

One of the reasons for this might be the availability of instructors.  Many students who take dual enrollment courses do so within their own high school buildings, from teachers employed by their own high school – even though these students are earning credits from their local Florida College System (FCS) institutions.  However, because of federal college accreditation requirements teachers teaching dual enrollment courses must meet a relatively high standard – they must have earned 18 graduate credit hours in the field in which they are teaching.  For example, for a teacher to lead a dual enrollment course in chemistry, she or he must have 18 graduate credit hours in chemistry from an accredited university.  Graduate credit hours in science education (for example) would not count toward that 18 hour requirement.

It seems likely that the supply of high school biology, chemistry, math and physics teachers who have earned 18 graduate credit hours in their fields is smaller than the corresponding supply of teachers with 18 graduate credit hours in English.  That would help explain the enormous gulf between the number of Florida high school students taking college English classes (25,000 took Freshman English 1 via dual enrollment in 2017-18) and the number taking the introductory math and science courses that college STEM majors take via the dual enrollment route.  About 4,000 students took the first semester General Biology class for life science majors via dual enrollment in 2017-18.  The corresponding dual enrollment numbers for chemistry and physics courses for science majors are much lower than that.

In contrast, a math teacher doesn’t need 18 graduate credit hours to teach the Advanced Placement (AP) calculus classes.  There are no additional university education requirements for a certified Math 6-12 teacher in Florida to teach the AP Calculus courses.  Therefore, the supply of teachers available to teach AP Calculus is significantly greater than the supply for dual enrollment calculus courses.

The large number of high school students dual enrolled in College Algebra presents something of an anomaly.  Only Freshman English 1 and 2 have larger enrollment numbers, yet an instructor must have 18 graduate credit hours in math to lead a dual enrollment College Algebra class.  Students on track for bachelor’s-level STEM careers generally do not take College Algebra since they generally progress directly from Algebra 2 into a precalculus course and then into calculus.

Comparisons of dual enrollment and AP enrollments for the 2017-18 academic year are shown below.  It’s worth noting that in every course tabulated below, the number of AP enrollments is larger than the number of students in dual enrollment – even for Freshman English, for which the margin between dual enrollment and AP is proportionally most narrow.

Of course, the Florida Department of Education supplied all of this information, either in response to a request for me (as was the case for the dual enrollment data) or by posting on the FLDOE web site.  The AP course enrollments shown are for Florida public high schools in the Spring of 2018.  The dual enrollment numbers are only for the FCS and do not include State University System dual enrollments.  In addition, the dual enrollment numbers include students in private schools and students who are homeschooled.


Comparisons between enrollments in:  Dual Enrollment STA 2023 Elementary Statistics and AP Statistics; Dual Enrollment MAC X311 Calculus with Analytic Geometry 1 and AP Calculus AB; and Dual Enrollment MAC X312 Calculus 2 and AP Calculus BC.




Comparisons between enrollments in:  Dual Enrollment BSC X010 General Biology 1 and AP Biology; and CHM X045 General Chemistry 1 and AP Chemistry.


Comparisons between enrollments in:  Dual Enrollment PHY 2053 General Physics 1 and AP Physics 1; Dual Enrollment PHY 2054 General Physics 2 and AP Physics 2; Dual Enrollment PHY 2048 General Physics with Calculus 1 and AP Physics C Mechanics; and Dual Enrollment PHY 2049 General Physics with Calculus 2 and AP Physics C Electricity and Magnetism.


Comparisons between enrollments in:  Dual Enrollment ENC 1101 Freshman English 1 and AP English Language and Composition; Dual Enrollment ENC 1102 Freshman English 2 and AP English Literature and Composition.


Comparisons between enrollments in:  Dual Enrollment PHY X012 Introduction to Psychology and AP Psychology; Dual Enrollment POS 1041 American Government and AP U.S. Government and Politics; and Dual Enrollment AMH 2010 U.S. History 1 and AP U.S. History.


Comparisons between enrollments in:  Dual Enrollment ECO 2013 Macroeconomics and AP Macroeconomics; and Dual Enrollment ECO 2023 Microeconomics and AP Microeconomics.

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The Florida College System’s dual enrollment program: Which college courses do high school students most often sign up for?

More than 25,000 Florida high school students took a first-semester college Freshman English course at Florida College System (FCS) institutions during the 2017-18 academic year via the system’s dual enrollment program, according to data supplied by the Florida Department of Education.

That enrollment level means that more than one-eighth of the state’s high school graduates – who number around 180,000 per year – have taken a dual enrollment Freshman English class while in high school.

The vast majority of the high school students who take the first semester college Freshman English course go on to take the second semester Freshman English course as well – more than 20,000 in 2017-18.

The two Freshman English courses are ranked first and second by enrollment among courses in the FCS dual enrollment program.

The third ranked course, College Algebra, is often taken by high school students who have completed the high school Algebra 2 course but who have decided not to continue on to the high school Honors Precalculus course.  College Algebra was taken by more than 18,000 students in 2017-18.

The top 25 FCS dual enrollment courses by enrollment are shown below.  After the top three courses, the enrollment numbers drop sharply.  The fourth-ranked course, the Introduction to Psychology course taken by college students majoring in psychology and preparing for health professions, had fewer than 11,000 enrollments in 2017-18.

The eighth ranked course, Intermediate Algebra, is taken by students whose scores on the math placement test used by FCS institutions, PERT, are too low to qualify for placement in College Algebra.  Intermediate Algebra does not earn credits toward a degree, but school districts must still pay college tuition to enroll students in the course.

The courses ranked 10th and 13th – titled “Strategies for Success” and “College Success”, respectively – are in a category of courses titled “Student Life Skills” (hence the “SLS” course number prefix).  In total, 22,000 high school students dual enrolled for Student Life Skills courses at FCS institutions in 2017-18.  Once again, school districts paid college tuition for these courses.


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Meteorology is a field in which passion is important. But so are math and science. High school students interested in meteorology should take chemistry, physics and lots of math.


Children in St. Maarten release a weather balloon as part of an outreach program given by FSU Meteorology Professor Henry Fuelberg (FSU News).

Many meteorologists became passionately hooked on their field when they were very young – as young as three years old, according to a piece in the Washington Post written by Samantha Durbin, who holds a master’s degree in meteorology and is presently serving as an intern with the Post’s Capital Weather Gang.

Passion plays a big role in propelling students toward meteorology – as it often does in other science and engineering fields.

But passion alone isn’t enough for a student to succeed in earning a bachelor’s degree in meteorology at a university.  A student needs to be strong in math and science, too.  And I’ve seen too many meteorology majors arrive in my college physics classroom without the high school background they need to succeed.

At FSU, the requirements for a bachelor’s degree in meteorology include two semesters of chemistry, two semesters of calculus-based physics, and courses in multivariable calculus and ordinary differential equations.

Showing up for the first day of my calculus-based physics course without having had a physics course in high school places a student at a significant disadvantage.  At the end of the semester, students in that situation earn grades that are on the average a full letter grade lower than those who come with a high school physics course in their background – and that’s true even though my hands-on studio-style class gives such underprepared students the best possible opportunity to succeed.

Discussions about choosing meteorology as a career generally address the impact that experiencing a weather event like a hurricane or tornado has on a young person.  The importance of taking seemingly daunting courses like calculus and physics in high school almost never comes up.

One meteorology program that does bring it up is the Penn State Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science.  A web page of “Frequently Asked Questions” for prospective students asks “What courses should I take in high school to prepare me for entrance into Penn State’s Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science?”  They answer:

People who major in Meteorology and Atmospheric Science need a strong background in science, mathematics and computer skills. In high school, students should take earth sciences, physics, chemistry and mathematics through at least pre-calculus. Generally, students who have completed a course in calculus and/or a course in computer programming will have an advantage when starting their Meteorology and Atmospheric Science studies. Students should take their high school’s college-preparation English classes and should know how to use a word processor on a computer. 

Every university that offers a bachelor’s degree in meteorology should include that text in their information for prospective students.  Even FSU’s.

If high school students who are passionate about meteorology had that information early enough, they could arrange to take chemistry, physics and math courses they need to be more successful at the university level.  Then our university meteorology departments could graduate more strong students.  And I – as a professor responsible for certifying that meteorology majors have a strong understanding of physics – wouldn’t have to be the bad guy so often.  That would help my passion level, too.

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Can a world-class scholar be an effective college teacher? A response to Adam Grant’s NYT op-ed.

Adam Grant’s New York Times op-ed titled “Those Who Can Do, Can’t Teach” is built on three fatally flawed premises. The first is the assumption that all teaching can and should be done using the traditional (and, at least in my field, discredited) lecture model. The second is that excellent teaching is defined to be the ability to deliver crystal clear explanations of difficult concepts – the Golden Lecture. The third is that accomplished scholars are somehow congenitally unable to adopt effective teaching practices.

Grant’s essay isn’t just amusingly erroneous. In fact, the piece is so damaging that it gives the whole enterprise of higher education a shove toward the precipice over which the human relationships that drive learning are disposed of and the students who most need those relationships to achieve are barred from the leadership fields of the 21st century.

I am not one of the star scholars that Grant was talking about. I publish a few nuclear physics papers per year (although I’m now over 100 for my career) and by that measure I am either average or below for my physics department.

Fifteen years ago, I was an award-winning lecturer. When the Provost introduced me during that time at a ceremony where I received my University Teaching Award, he cited a lecture stunt for which I was widely known that involved dumping a bucket of water over my head in class (For experts: Swinging a bucket of water in a vertical circle to illustrate centripetal acceleration, and then stopping the bucket over my head presumably to demonstrate that the gravitational force was still in play). I was getting great teacher evaluation scores. But I realized that I was delivering my award-winning lectures while thinking about lunch. And most of my students weren’t learning crap.

About 2005, I began a campaign with several colleagues to start a program of physics instruction at FSU using the SCALE-UP model developed at North Carolina State University. The SCALE-UP model, like other “interactive engagement” pedagogies, drives learning through hands-on lab and problem-solving exercises performed in collaborative groups and – when necessary – difficult Socratic dialogues. Face-to-face social interactions are the secret sauce. Lecturing plays little or no role. The university’s central administration agreed to devote a medium-sized room in a new classroom building then being planned to a 72-seat SCALE-UP room. Several of us traveled to the University of Central Florida to learn the basics of teaching in the SCALE-UP format from then-Assistant Professor Jeff Saul, who had implemented the model there. We began teaching in the SCALE-UP format under the local brand name “Studio Physics” in 2008.

Class Panorama

The first SCALE-UP/Studio classroom constructed at FSU (in 2008).  We can no longer teach Studio Physics classes in this room because of competition for it from other academic units.

Since 2008, we’ve received hundreds of thousands of dollars of support in the form of lab equipment, nearly all from several Deans of the College of Arts and Sciences. Two new SCALE-UP rooms have been “built” (through renovations of other outdated facilities), although as of this semester we’ve lost access to the original SCALE-UP room opened in 2008 – because other departments find the classroom architecture useful as well and compete with us for time slots. We teach about 250 students per semester (about another 1,000 per semester still choose to take their introductory physics courses in the lecture format). We measure learning gains every semester. On several topics, namely Newtonian mechanics and DC circuits, our learning gains are world-class (and double what they are in traditional lecture classes). For several other topics, our testing shows that we have more challenges to address to achieve the learning results we want. A team of two student researchers – one a graduate student and the other an undergraduate – are taking a careful look at the obstacles students are encountering in our classroom learning about mechanical energy, where I’ve had problems. The first results were presented in the form of an undergraduate Honors Thesis this summer (by a new graduate who is now teaching physics at Orange County’s Apopka High School) and we are making adjustments in the way we are teaching that topic this fall in response to the results.

There are headwinds, like there are with anything worthwhile. My student teaching evaluations (that is, the evaluations students write about my teaching at the end of the semester) are not stellar and are sometimes really rough. To get a taste, check out my Rate My Professors page. In the decade-long history of our Studio Physics Program, none of the professors working in the program has been nominated for a University Teaching Award, even though our program is the university’s leading initiative for evidence-based teaching. I have had staff members who provide academic advice to students in other departments tell me they discourage students from taking the studio version of physics classes. Why? They believe their students find the traditional lecture format more comfortable. Apparently comfort trumps learning.

Which brings us back to Adam Grant’s op-ed and his belief in the Golden Lecture. The Director of FSU’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching, Leslie Richardson, used a phrase in one of her periodic e-mails to faculty that I found amusing and apt – “fluency illusion”.  Fluency illusion is the warm and fuzzy feeling that a student has after a Golden Lecture convinces the student that she or he really understands something.  The cure for fluency illusion is having a student actually try to do something with the understanding presumably gained through the Golden Lecture.  The primary indication that a student is being cured of the fluency illusion is a verbal assertion by the student that she or he “really understands the material” but that the task placed before the student is either “unfair” or “irrelevant”.

The Golden Lecture is the academic drug of the masses.  Fluency illusion is the euphoria a Golden Lecture induces.

golden lecture

A Golden Lecture in progress

Speaking of the masses: If the Golden Lecture is really the most effective possible tool for teaching and learning, then the best thing we can do for our students is to find the most Golden of every Golden Lecturer in the known universe on every topic or subtopic, record the Golden Lecture, and put it on a website somewhere so that every student can access it for free. Then we can save every payer of tuition and taxes a ton of money by laying ourselves off. (Oh wait, that process has already begun…)

So let’s say the reader has bought into my assertion that teaching and learning is most effectively done through hands-on exercises in collaborative groups and through one-on-one or one-on-few conversations with students. That brings us back to the original question posed by Adam Grant: Can world-class scholars teach well? But the question doesn’t boil down to whether a world-class scholar can give a slick Golden Lecture. Instead, the question is whether a world-class scholar can have a patient yet intense one-on-one exchange about a subject (in my case, physics) with a stressed post-adolescent who is trying to learn something that she or he probably finds difficult and which may seem to pose a serious obstacle to her or his career dream.

The answer is the same as it would be if you substituted the more general noun “person” for “world-class scholar” – sometimes. When we recruit a new physics professor for our department, we are looking for an individual who will be an international leader in research in a subfield of physics. “Really skilled at personal interactions with stressed post-adolescents” is not in the text of our job ads (which are posted in locations like Physics Today). My experience is that the percentage of world-class physicists who are skilled in the challenging personal interactions necessary to be an effective teacher (a REALLY effective teacher – not just a teacher who induces a really great case of fluency illusion) is about the same as the corresponding percentage among the general population.

To an extent, the skills necessary to be successful in interactive learning environments like our Studio Physics classrooms can be learned (after all, I learned them). But learning them is neither easy nor comfortable, and for an individual who is fighting for a position of international research leadership in a subfield of physics (as our policy-makers say they want) to commit the time and emotional energy to learning these skills is a serious sacrifice indeed. In fact, we pretty much lock pre-tenure faculty members out of the Studio Physics Program. We want their emotional energy focused on their research. And there is one other reason: Their tenure applications will be judged in part on their student evaluations of teaching. We steer our young faculty members into teaching assignments in which students almost always reward instructors with lovely evaluations – generally low-level traditional lecture classes where students expect to be fed Golden Lectures so they can experience the warm euphoric feeling of fluency illusion.

Adam Grant is an elder in the Cult of the Golden Lecture. His position of leadership in that cult has led him to ask the wrong questions and reach the wrong conclusions.

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Comparing religious K-12 schools in Florida’s state scholarship programs to religion-affiliated colleges and universities: A response to SUFS’s Scott Kent

Step Up For Students Strategic Communications Manager Scott Kent argued in a post on the organization’s redefinED blog that many critics of Florida’s state scholarship programs for private K-12 schools use a church-state separation argument against these programs while being perfectly happy to support federal and state financial aid programs that support religion-affiliated colleges and universities.  I thought his argument required a response, which I have addressed to him below.  I genuinely hope he gives it some careful thought.

uf tower 

Dear Scott,

In defending Florida’s program of state scholarships for private K-12 schools – including religious schools – you compared these state scholarships with federal and state financial aid programs for college and universities. I’m glad you did so, because that comparison raises several important questions about Florida’s K-12 scholarship programs.

Religious colleges and universities that accept federal financial aid must obey federal regulations regarding discrimination and must also prove that they meet academic standards through the accreditation process. I’ll leave the discussion about federal regulations regarding discrimination in postsecondary institutions and whether similar regulations should be applied to K-12 schools that accept Florida’s state scholarships to others – except to note that several religiously-affiliated colleges and universities in the US have decided to forego federal financial aid so that they are not subject to the discrimination rules.

Instead, I’ll focus here on accreditation. I’ll start by noting that while the accreditation process maintained for Florida’s Catholic schools by the Florida Catholic Conference has been successful, the state’s political leadership has so far expressed no interest in implementing a similar system for all of the private schools accepting state scholarships – even though there is plenty of evidence that at least a few of these schools are educationally catastrophic for their students.

For colleges and universities seeking federal accreditation, there is a fairly long list of standards to meet regarding governance, resources, faculty qualifications, and other subjects. But for the sake of this post, I’ll focus on the qualifications of the instructional faculty – since that’s the issue I most frequently encounter (although not at my institution, FSU, where the faculty generally have terminal degrees in their disciplines, like the Ph.D.’s in physics my colleagues and I hold). FSU is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), as are many other colleges and universities in this region of the nation. When it comes to courses that can be applied to earning a bachelor’s degree, the SACS faculty qualifications standard says this: “doctorate or master’s degree in the teaching discipline or master’s degree with a concentration in the teaching discipline (a minimum of 18 graduate semester hours in the teaching discipline)”.

The requirement that an educator leading a college-credit course in Precalculus have a master’s degree in math doesn’t just apply to those employed at colleges and universities. High school teachers who are leading dual enrollment courses must have masters’ degrees (or at least 18 graduate credit hours in the content area) to teach the course. An educator employed by Leon County Schools and teaching at Leon High School must meet that graduate education standard – a master’s degree in math or nearly that – to teach a dual enrollment course in Precalculus. And that is how it should be.

The equivalent credential for K-12 teaching would be a bachelor’s degree. Why do I say that? Because that is what the State of Florida requires for the teachers in the public K-12 schools.

It doesn’t have to be a bachelor’s degree from a college-based or university-based teacher education program – although for an elementary or early childhood teacher a bachelor’s degree program that focuses mostly on how young children learn makes a lot of sense. Nor does the bachelor’s degree have to be in the exact subject in which a teacher is teaching. I know of remarkably effective physics teachers who earned their bachelors’ degrees in biology, chemistry and math education.

But an accreditation program that checks educator credentials would make sense for any program that provides public support for K-12 schools.  The Orlando Sentinel documented one instance of a school in which two individuals who were employed as teachers had not even finished high school. That school should not be receiving state support. Period.

Yet Florida’s policy-makers want to maintain state support for that school that employs two teachers who haven’t graduated from high school. That should be changed.

I’ve seen the church-state issue embedded in Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program argued in all sorts of ways that have merit (even if I don’t agree with the conclusions reached). But we really should agree that Florida has a public interest in doing the best it can to provide an effective teacher for every student. In colleges and universities, we use a graduate degree as a necessary condition for deciding that an educator is qualified. At the K-12 level, the bachelor’s degree should be regarded as necessary (although not sufficient) for designating a qualified educator.

Private K-12 schools (religious and otherwise) participating in Florida’s state scholarship program should be subject to an accreditation program. And the accreditation process should require that teachers have bachelor’s degrees.

Thank you, Scott, for bringing that up.


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Jones High School (Orlando) graduate Sylvester James “Jim” Gates elected to American Physical Society Presidential Line

Jones High School (Orlando) graduate and National Medal of Science winner Sylvester James “Jim” Gates has been elected to the American Physical Society’s Presidential Line.  Members of the society’s Presidential Line rotate through four offices in four years.  Gates will serve as Vice President in 2019, and he will then rotate through the offices of President-Elect, President and Past President.

While Gates’ enormous scientific achievements are the norm for APS Presidential Line officers, one aspect of Gates’ background will set him apart from previous members – his time on the Maryland State Board of Education.


Sylvester James Gates

Gates, now the Ford Foundation Professor of Physics at Brown University, was awarded the National Medal of Science in 2011 for “contributions to the mathematics of supersymmetry in particle, field, and string theories and extraordinary efforts to engage the public on the beauty and wonder of fundamental physics.”

Born in 1950, Gates attended Jones High School while it was still segregated.  He still returns to Jones each spring to award a scholarship to one of the high school’s students.  He was inducted into the Orange County Public Schools Hall of Fame in 2017.

Gates was appointed to the Maryland State Board of Education in 2009.  He was eventually elevated to the office of Board Vice President.  But in 2017 Gates angrily resigned from the Board in protest of Governor Hogan’s executive order requiring that the state’s public K-12 schools not start classes until after Labor Day and finish the school year by June 15.

The APS has carefully limited its efforts in the K-12 arena to its (in collaboration with the American Association for Physics Teachers) PhysTEC teacher education program – which primarily interacts with higher education – and outreach efforts consisting of sending physics promotional materials to middle schools.

Even the society’s policy statement on K-12 education is cautious, saying only that

The American Physical Society calls upon local, state and federal policy makers, educators and schools to:

  • Provide every student access to high-quality science instruction including physics and physical science concepts at all grade levels; and
  • Provide the opportunity for all students to take at least one year of high-quality high school physics.

[As a member of the society’s Committee on Education (and chair in 2013-14) I shepherded this statement through the process.  It was a lesson in concession and compromise.]

New Presidential Line member Gates certainly has the knowledge and influence to turn the society toward more involvement at the K-12 level.  If he tries to do so, he will likely encounter some resistance from the society’s staff.  However, Gates will be occupying a position of sufficient influence that if he wants to expand the society’s activity level in advocating for physics education in K-12 schools he will likely be able to do so.  Whether he decides to do so remains to be seen.

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