As Florida public school enrollments dropped overall in Fall 2020, numbers of Hispanic and Black 4th graders grew sharply – probably in part because of the suspension of FSA testing and required 3rd grade retentions in the spring.

Tens of thousands of Florida students left the public schools in Fall 2020 due to the pandemic. However, the numbers of Hispanic and Black 4th graders grew substantially in the fall. It’s likely this growth was caused at least in part by the suspension in the spring of FSA testing – and the resulting suspension of the requirement to retain 3rd graders who cannot pass the FSA tests.

While the numbers of Hispanic 3rd and 5th graders in the state’s public schools in Fall 2020 were 7.5% and 3.9% lower (respectively) than in Fall 2019, the number of Hispanic 4th graders grew by 5.2% in Fall 2020. Among Black students, 3rd and 5th grade enrollments dropped by 9.5% and 4.5% (respectively), but 4th grade enrollment grew by 6.5%.

The number of white 4th graders dropped by 2.3% in Fall 2020, compared to drops of 5.4% in both 3rd and 5th grades.

Florida requires the retention of 3rd graders who do not pass the FSA reading test for that grade level. In 2018-19, the most recent year in which FSA testing was held, 17,403 3rd graders were retained. Of those, 37.5% were Black, even though only 22% of public K-12 students were Black. Hispanic students also accounted for 37.5% of 3rd grade retentions, even though only 34% of Florida K-12 students are Hispanic. Only 20.5% of retained 3rd graders were white.

Enrollment numbers here were taken from the Florida Department of Education website.

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Think it’s time for Florida to implement a large-scale Education Savings Account program? The state already has one – Bright Futures. Let’s try to get a postsecondary ESA right.

With the end of the pandemic in sight, school choice advocates are making a push for education savings accounts (ESA’s) for K-12 students that would replace the public school system with grants to parents of children that would be spent on private schools or on homeschooling expenses.

But Florida already has a large-scale ESA program, although it is not at the K-12 level. This ESA program is for the postsecondary level and is called Bright Futures Scholarships. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. The State of Florida is spending $650 million on it this fiscal year.

Bright Futures has twisted Florida’s State University System into a pretzel this year. Florida is the only state whose public universities are requiring SAT or ACT scores for admission in the fall of 2021. Why? The most likely reason is that these same scores are the most important element in selecting students who receive Bright Futures Scholarships. If aspiring State University System students stopped taking the SAT and ACT and the Legislature stopped requiring it for Bright Futures, there would be no way to exclude most of them from receiving the scholarships.

The use of SAT and ACT scores in determining which Florida high school graduates receive Bright Futures scholarships has been controversial during the pandemic because students who narrowly missed the Bright Futures minimums have lost chances to raise their scores since many administrations of the exams were cancelled starting in March.

But it’s been known for years that the SAT and ACT favor students who are from affluent families and those who are white and Asian. Years ago, I heard a Republican researcher at a business-supported think tank call Bright Futures “White Futures”. Nothing has changed since then.

So Bright Futures is an ESA that favors the affluent and is biased against those who are not white and Asian.

Perhaps before we try to upend Florida’s public K-12 schools with an ESA program, we should try to get the state’s postsecondary ESA program – Bright Futures – right.
Start with this: Grant every high school graduate in Florida a $10,000 ESA for postsecondary education. Since about 200,000 students graduate from the state’s high schools each year, that would seem to cost about $2 billion per year. But many of the state’s high school graduates never pursue postsecondary education – although the $10,000 in the ESA might increase the number that pursue degrees or certificates. At any rate, the annual cost of such a program would likely be considerably less than $2 billion per year. We could liquidate Bright Futures and use that $650 million as a down payment on the new postsecondary ESA program, which we can call FESAPS (for Florida ESA for Postsecondary Studies).

Many students should attend four-year colleges, but many others decide for all kinds of reasons that a two-year degree or a certificate that takes even less time to earn is better for them. FESAPS would be a big boost for such students. One of the goals of Florida’s education system should be to give every student the best possible opportunity to achieve a middle class life – which with few exceptions requires postsecondary education of some sort. FESAPS would be a major step toward such a goal.

Florida is facing tough budget times. But more importantly, the state’s reliance on the tourism and hospitality industries has been exposed as a major economic vulnerability. We have a responsibility to give the state’s young people opportunities to pursue careers that are more economically robust than low-paid tourism jobs. In addition, it is in our interest to attract industries to Florida that are more reliable than tourism – and to do that we must provide the workforce that such industries need to thrive. FESAPS would help with both goals.

FESAPS would be an ESA that we could all support.

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Black students severely underrepresented among Florida State University System bachelor’s degree grads.

Black students are severely underrepresented among bachelor’s degree graduates from Florida’s State University System. While 21.6% of the students in the state’s public K-12 system are Black, only 12.2% of the system’s bachelor’s degree grads in 2018-19 were Black, according to the IPEDS system at the National Center for Education Statistics.

Among individual institutions, New College of Florida (NCF) and Florida Polytechnic University (FPU) had the lowest percentage of Blacks among bachelor’s degree graduates at 2.3% and 3.3%, respectively. However, several other campuses had percentages below 10%, including the University of South Florida’s Sarasota campus (USF-Sarasota) at 4.5%, the University of Florida (UF) at 5.9%, the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus (USF-St. Pete) at 7.1%, Florida State University (FSU) at 7.3%, Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) at 7.7% and the University of North Florida (UNF) at 9.1%. Florida A&M University (FAMU), an historically Black university, had the highest representation of Black students among bachelor’s degree graduates at 90.1%.

Hispanic students were underrepresented among SUS bachelor’s degree grads as well. Of these graduates, 28.1% systemwide were Hispanic, while 34.5% of public K-12 students are Hispanic. Hispanics accounted for fewer than 15% of graduates at four SUS campus – University of North Florida (11.0%), New College (9.9%), University of West Florida (9.0%) and Florida A&M (1.8%).

Women were underrepresented among bachelor’s degree graduates at only one SUS institution – Florida Polytech (16.7%). That institution focuses on disciplines in which women are underrepresented like engineering and computer science. However, even given that the 16.7% number is still remarkably small.

Of FAMU’s bachelor’s degree graduates in 2018-19, 90.1% were Black. The scale is truncated so that percentages for other institutions can be seen clearly.
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My 2020 Journey in Pictures: A Personal Look at the Year

On January 21, I joined Seminole County Superintendent of Schools Walt Griffin (who will retire in 2021) and members of the School Board to dedicate the Physics Bus, which was designed to visit elementary schools around the county. The #1 STEM county in Florida was working hard to get better.
In March, the COVID-19 pandemic bore down on Florida. University classes transitioned to online after spring break. This is a picture from my last face-to-face class on March 11. The experiment that day was a measurement of the magnetic field produced by an electric current in a solenoid (one of which you can see on the projector screen in the background). One of the students seems to be waving goodbye – but I don’t think he realized at the time just how long-term that goodbye would be.
Due to my own health situation, I stopped swimming on March 12 and instead got my exercise by walking around our neighborhood – something I hadn’t done in our twenty years in our home. During these walks, I encountered some interesting scenes, including this procession of baby geese with two adults supervising on May 1. They were commuting from one pond in the neighborhood to another.
During the summers of 2018 and 2019, I helped present a face-to-face summer camp in nuclear medicine and science at FSU’s Panama City (FSU-PC) campus. Of course, this was not possible in 2020. So instead, Deane Bozeman School teachers Denise Newsome and Paige Johnston worked with me (or really, carried me) on moving the camp online while preserving its hands-on character. They did this in part by boxing up equipment like radiation monitors and sources and gamma-ray shielding and supplies like rulers and sending them home with camper parents on the first morning. One of the camp moms took this picture of her son working with the equipment during the camp.
During the summer 2018 and 2019 camps, campers performed measurements with PASCO gamma-ray spectroscopy setups. For the summer of 2020, Denise and Paige worked with the IT staff at FSU-PC to mount the spectrometers on FSU’s Virtual Lab facility so that students could control the spectrometers and perform the measurements from home on their own laptops.
This is the crew that made the summer of 2020 special for me. From left, FSU-PC STEM Institute Director (now retired) Ginger Littleton, Deane Bozeman School science teacher (and science department head) Denise Newsome, and on the right Deane Bozeman School science teacher Paige Johnston. We are now in preliminary planning for a Nuclear Medicine and Science Academy at Deane Bozeman’s high school. And while we are planning for the face-to-face camp to return in the summer of 2021, we will also be offering an online camp for students in the Florida Panhandle who live too far away to commute to FSU-PC.
Having been trained by Denise and Paige to teach remotely, I began preparing to teach a first semester calculus-based introductory physics class entirely online in the fall. I was trying as much as possible to reproduce a studio physics environment, so the first issue was how to replace hands-on lab exercises. Many colleagues at FSU and elsewhere had TA’s and staff take data for the traditional lab exercises that had been done in face-to-face classes and just had students analyze these data. Inspired by Denise and Paige, I wanted to make the lab experiences more hands-on. So I adopted three ways of doing this – the iOLab device shown above (that can be rented by students for $50 per semester), the Pivot Interactives video analysis service ($10 per student per semester) and the free PhET simulation program from the University of Colorado. This picture shows the iOLab set up for a friction measurement using jewelers’ masses, which can be purchased from Amazon for about $10 for a set.
The iOLab data display is a fairly sophisticated setup. Students can integrate graphs to (for example) extract an impulse from a force graph.
The Pivot Interactives video analysis service not only provides the tools necessary to analyze motion and other observables – it also provides a little entertainment, at least for the instructor. This is a snapshot of a video in which a cart and rider are accelerated by the thrust from a fire extinguisher.
PhET simulations are used at all levels from elementary to college. Here the effect of air resistance on the flight of a baseball is shown. The analysis can be as sophisticated as the instructor wants to make it.
Learning to teach in Zoom was not as challenging as I feared. I wanted a Zoom class picture, but it would have been a violation of FERPA (the federal student privacy law). So instead you get this picture of me with the original Zoom meeting – the Brady Bunch intro.
Michelle Joyce, a former science teacher at Collier County’s Palmetto Ridge High School who is now a graduate student at the University of Florida, arranged for this picture of Santa and his greatest gift – the high school classes necessary to have the opportunity to pursue an engineering degree in college. For those who don’t recognize it, the poster was produced by the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering.
Sunrise over North Tallahassee on the morning of December 28. The dawn of 2021 is going to have an angry tint, but we hope that it will be the beginning of a bright future.
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Disrupted by COVID: A science teacher at a Florida public high school describes the struggle to help students learn this school year.

A science teacher at a Florida public high school who I have known and trusted for years asked me to post this reflection anonymously. I have spoken with enough teachers around the state this fall to know that while this particular set of circumstances may not be common, the disruption in learning described here is widespread.

The following are observations of a Florida public high school teacher. Everything written is based on in-person experience throughout the majority of the first semester.

Freshmen arrived on the first day of high school in Florida this year, just like every year, to an unfamiliar campus full of hundreds of other teens they didn’t know. They searched for the right classrooms and learned new rules and procedures established by a variety of new-to-them teachers. But adding to the normal anxiety many of them felt was the strangeness of wearing masks and being asked to social distance, something teens are not known for. And many of their friends were missing from campus, having opted to attend classes via video from home.

Unfortunately, one set of those new freshmen were welcomed to their first high school science class by a substitute. The teacher originally assigned to that class switched to a different subject and now the science position was vacant. For a few weeks the substitute, with no credentials or experience in teaching this subject, did his best to provide the students with meaningful work with the help of the school’s science teachers. He was soon replaced by another substitute, who picked up where he left off. But worksheets and textbook reading were the main modes of learning about science throughout the first month of school for these kids.

Then that teaching position was eliminated after the school’s first official student count was completed in October. Those students were divided up amongst the three other teachers who taught that same subject. But that resulted in a few very crowded classes and at least one teacher faced more than 180 total students. So, a short while later some students were moved to other science teachers to even out every teacher’s roster.

Then came the effort to eliminate as many hybrid classes as possible. These classes were ones in which teachers were simultaneously teaching students sitting in the classroom and students sitting at home attending via video. Many teachers said that hybrid teaching made it impossible to give either set of students the focus needed for a quality education. So, a few days into the second quarter significant schedule changes gave many teachers classes full of only in-person students and classes full of only video students.

However, the changes meant some freshmen science students were sent to yet another teacher. This also resulted in science classrooms designed to hold 32 students and that had been set up this year for fewer students to allow for social distancing now sometimes held as many as 37. Social distancing obviously wasn’t possible.

Relief came quickly after that when the eliminated science position was restored. Student schedules were changed again. But at the head of the reinstated class was a substitute, the third one for this position. Worksheets and textbooks came back out with the substitute doing her best to guide the students without knowing the subject herself. A certified science teacher will likely be in place in early January.

Imagine being one of these students. How much science have they learned as the first semester winds down? And what disruptions have they faced in their other subjects? What about the students who were quarantined out of school for about two weeks after possible exposure to someone with COVID-19? What about the students whose teacher is quarantined for several days? What about the students stepping onto campus for the first time after switching from video to in-person? It’s overwhelming to think of all the challenges these kids have faced in school on top of anything they’re experiencing at home.

I’m sharing this not to point fingers. This school’s principal and administration team certainly aren’t to blame. They’re just as exhausted as the teachers and students as they try to solve this year’s ever-shifting puzzles while somehow maintaining a truly helpful, positive attitude. I’m sharing this because you need to know what the first half of the school year has been like for students.

Now, how do you think these kids are going to do on the state-mandated, high stakes end-of-course exams this year?

The kids need to be the priority, not the testing. We need to unburden and de-stress them. We need to provide them with a much more stable second half of the year. 2020 has been brutal to everyone, but the kids don’t have the experience or maturity that an adult uses to cope. Concentrate on the kids’ safety, mental health and real learning, not the test preparations. This chaotic year has tested them enough.

A scene from a Florida high school science classroom in more normal times.
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Will 2021 be better for Florida’s public K-12 teachers than 2020 was?

One of my New Year’s wishes is that 2021 is better than 2020 for Florida’s K-12 teachers.

This fall, teachers dealt with the exhausting hybrid teaching model while their anxiety about whether they would become ill was always present just under the surface. Schools were disrupted by quarantines of tens or even hundreds of students at a time, and in some cases whole schools were closed for a week or more at a time.

The New Year may not start much better. Infection rates are high throughout Florida and for most residents the mRNA vaccines are still beyond the horizon. More struggling students are being brought back into face-to-face classes – but that is both a blessing and a curse because classrooms will now be more crowded.

Florida’s educational leadership is still planning to resume its annual testing program this spring after a hiatus in 2020. It’s not clear what will be accomplished by testing this spring, since the program will show little but what we already know – most students have had their academic progress disrupted, with the worst affected being those from disadvantaged backgrounds. If these leaders want a baseline measurement for future testing, it would make the most sense to have a statewide pretesting program in the fall, when we expect life will look much more normal and students will feel more secure. Nobody deserves to be flogged with a high stakes testing program this spring.

The state’s public K-12 schools are on the chopping block for budget cuts. There is probably no way for this to be avoided, but the attitude that Florida’s leaders bring to these cuts is critical. Florida’s K-12 schools have been on lean budgets since the Great Recession. If our policy-makers must cut the K-12 budget, they should do it with regret and not with the idea that they are simply reducing a “good times” budget.

My reach is limited. I can perhaps make 2021 a tiny bit better than 2020 for a few teachers who I know well and interact with regularly. If Florida’s leaders want next year to be better for teachers than this year has been, they have the power to do so on a large scale – by altering this year’s standardized testing program so that it makes sense and by dealing with the budget situation in as humane a way as possible.

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2020: A visual guide to Florida’s year preparing students for STEM careers

British chemist Rosalind Franklin performed a measurement of the diffraction of X-rays of wavelength about 0.1 nm through DNA that led to the discovery of the double helix structure. The famous “Picture 51” taken in 1952 is shown here. The illustration is taken from a 2018 paper in the American Journal of Physics:
https://aapt.scitation.org/doi/10.1119/1.5020051

If there was ever a year when Florida’s policy-makers, educational leaders, parents and students should see the importance of science and technology in their lives, 2020 would be it.

The mRNA vaccines developed by BioNTech and Moderna to battle COVID relied on research to develop that platform over the last few decades (and funded by the National Institutes of Health). Of course, the mRNA platform relies on our understanding of the structure and function of DNA, which can be traced back to Rosalind Franklin’s Photo 51 X-ray diffraction measurement in 1952. The vaccines provide a wonderful illustration of the importance of basic chemistry and physics research leading to applied biomedical research which, when teamed up with engineering, provides the solution to a pressing problem.

Zoom and its technological cousins played an enormous role in our lives this year, demonstrating the value of computer science. Just over the horizon is the advent of commercially applicable quantum computing, which will herald the next industrial revolution and on which physicists, engineers and computer scientists are presently collaborating.

So how is Florida doing in preparing its students to participate in these revolutions? Perhaps not so well.

At the moment, we really only know where Florida stood in this task prior to the pandemic.

In 2019, Florida ranked 39th in the nation in the number of science and engineering workers as a percentage of all those employed. (From the National Science Foundation’s Science and Engineering Indicators)

That wouldn’t be such a problem if young people were being educated to remedy that situation. But they aren’t. In 2018, our state ranked 37th in the nation in the number of bachelors’ degrees in science and engineering conferred per 1,000 18-24 year-olds. (National Science Foundation Science and Engineering Indicators)

Does the problem originate on Florida’s college campuses? No. The rates at which students in Florida’s public high schools enroll in calculus, physics and chemistry – all of which are recommended for students planning to major in STEM fields in college – are well below the national rates. In the Fall of 2019, Florida public high school students enrolled in calculus at a rate 35% below the national rate, in physics 55% below the national rate, and in chemistry 15% below the national rate. (Florida Fall 2019 rates from Florida Department of Education. National 2015-16 rates from National Center for Education Statistics.)

Of course, Florida is a very diverse state in many ways. And it turns out that the state’s 67 school districts vary to a remarkable degree in how they prepare students for college STEM majors. In 2019-20, Seminole County remained the top-ranked district in how it gets its students ready for college-level STEM.

But in many other districts, the picture was bleak. Among the 361 Florida public high schools with 1,000 or more students, 45 didn’t teach physics in the Fall of 2019. That number was up from 36 the year before. Given the pressures of constrained budgets and the need for counseling and remediation after the pandemic recedes, it is quite possible that in the Fall of 2021 the number of large high schools not teaching physics will be much, much higher.

Every year, Florida brags about its success in Advanced Placement courses and exams. And in social science, the arts and world languages the state is indeed a leader, due in part to the financial incentives that teachers and schools receive for AP success. But in math and science, Florida is only average. The results from May 2020 exams are shown below. (Source: College Board)

In fact, if it weren’t for AP Environmental Science and AP Computer Science Principles – neither of which offers useful college credit – Florida would look even worse in math and science.

Black students continue to be severely underrepresented among bachelor’s degree graduates in engineering, physics and computer science at Florida’s State University System institutions. But they are also severely underrepresented among Florida high school students who pass AP exams in calculus, physics and computer science. (Sources: IPEDS and College Board)

Michelle Joyce, a former physics teacher at Collier County’s Palmetto Ridge High School and now a graduate student at the University of Florida, came up with a marvelous way to close this post and end the year. It’s always good to have Santa as an ally.

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Seminole County Superintendent Walt Griffin has been Florida’s leading advocate for preparing K-12 students for college STEM majors. The state’s universities will miss him.

On the first day of my introductory physics course for students majoring in engineering and physical and computational sciences, I ask each of my new students to fill out a survey asking which high school she or he has attended. When I am fortunate enough to have a graduate of a public high school in Seminole County, I am confident that student will be just fine.

Why am I so confident that Seminole County students will be fine in my class? Because I know they will be well-prepared. They will have had strong instruction at their high schools in calculus, physics and other science and math subjects, and they will have arrived on our campus ready to succeed.

Seminole County Superintendent of Schools Walt Griffin has played an important part in making sure that the students I see in my physics classroom are well-prepared. When Walt retires in June, he will leave big shoes for the next Seminole County superintendent to fill.

I will miss Walt, and my faculty colleagues in STEM fields at Florida’s universities would miss him too if they were paying attention to how what goes on at the state’s high schools affects the learning in their classrooms. Under Walt’s leadership, Seminole County has set the pace for the state in math and science.

In general, Florida does a poor job of preparing its high school students for college majors in engineering and the physical and computing sciences. Florida’s public high school students enroll in calculus at a rate 35% below the national rate, and enroll in physics at a rate 55% below the national rate. In fact, of the state’s 361 large (>1,000 students) public high schools, only 19 exceed the national enrollment rates in both calculus and physics. But among Seminole County’s eight large high schools, five exceed the national enrollment rates in both calculus and physics.

Seminole County has led the Bridge to Tomorrow STEM Career Preparation Index rankings – which account for enrollment rates in chemistry, physics, precalculus and calculus – every year they’ve been posted (since 2016). But the district is not resting on its laurels. Walt has led an effort to improve physics education at the elementary and middle school levels through its Physics Bus program (see the picture above).

Of course, Walt couldn’t post such an impressive record of success on his own. Seminole County is gifted with terrific teachers like Luther Davis and Steve DeSanto at Lake Mary High School.

But I can tell you from painful experience that poor leadership can undermine strong teachers. I can also tell you that strong leadership attracts and empowers teaching talent.

Walt has also been supported by a strong school board. If you didn’t already know that Seminole County has a strong school board, you should take a look at the tweet below sent out in anticipation of a state football championship game involving one of the district’s high schools. (Powerful. Even the forearm cast is intimidating!)

The impact of Walt’s leadership has extended to schools beyond the boundaries of his school district and even to Florida’s universities. He will be missed, and he will be very tough to replace.

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Did 2020 convince Florida’s education policy-makers and leaders that they should improve access to STEM careers for the state’s students?

The year 2020 should have been enough to convince Florida’s policy-makers that providing students with opportunities to pursue STEM careers must be a high priority for the state’s educational system.

The development of the mRNA technology powering the COVID vaccines that Pfizer and Moderna are delivering to millions of people this month (and that will be delivered to hundreds of millions more in 2021) required collaborations between biological scientists and engineers.  Engineers are addressing the problems of producing and delivering those hundreds of millions of doses around the world.

Meanwhile, the era of practical quantum computing – the next industrial revolution – is bearing down on the world.  Physicists, engineers and computer scientists are all involved in the work to bring the promise of quantum computing to fruition. 

The Zoom conferencing platform, run by an army of engineers and computer scientists, has changed the way America meets. 

Those are just a few of the more visible examples of how the role of science and technology has grown in our lives in 2020.  And they point the way to the opportunities that may be open to Florida’s students in the future, if only we prepare them properly for those opportunities.  That preparation must begin long before these students set foot on a college campus for the first time. 

Unfortunately, Florida has not done a good job preparing a broad range of students for such careers in the past.  In 2019, Florida was ranked 39th among the states in the percentage of its employed workforce that was working in science and engineering occupations (according to the National Science Foundation).  In 2018, the state ranked 37th in the number of bachelors’ degrees in science and engineering conferred per 1,000 18-24 year-olds (once again, according to the National Science Foundation).  So from a STEM point of view, Florida’s workforce is relatively weak, and its young people aren’t any stronger in this regard than older workers. 

These problems appear at the pre-college level, too.  In fall of 2019, the rate at which students in Florida’s public high schools enrolled in calculus classes was 35% below the national rate.  In physics, that deficit was 55% – that is, the state’s public high school students enrolled in physics less than half as often as students around the nation do.  Florida’s public high school students were even behind the nation in chemistry, enrolling in chemistry at a rate that was 15% below the national rate (national rates from NCES, Florida rates from FLDOE). 

Even in Florida’s weak STEM education ecosystem, Black students get the worst of it.  Even though 22% of the state’s public K-12 students are Black, during the 2018-19 academic year Black students were awarded only 6.4% of the engineering bachelors’ degrees, 3.6% of the physics bachelors’ degrees and 8.0% of the computer science bachelors’ degrees awarded by Florida’s State University System (from IPEDS). 

At the high school level, only 4.4% of the Florida students passing the Advanced Placement Calculus AB exam this past May were Black.  In AP Physics 1, the corresponding percentage was 2.8%.  In AP Computer Science Principles, it was 6.1%. 

Now Florida’s institutions of public education are facing significant budget cuts at the same time that the needs for remediation and mental health services are increasing dramatically in both the K-12 schools and postsecondary institutions because of the impacts of the pandemic on students.  Will resources be taken out of the advanced math and science courses high school students need to prepare properly for college STEM majors?  Will Black students be even more neglected than they already were?  The answers to those questions will be determined by leaders at the state, district and school levels in the coming months. 

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Florida 39th among states in percentage of workforce in science and engineering occupations in 2019; down two places from 2017.

Florida was ranked 39th among states for the percentage of its workforce in science and engineering occupations in 2019, according to data recently released by the National Science Foundation.

That is two spots lower than the state ranked in 2017, the last year prior to 2019 for which the rates for all states were reported.

Science and engineering occupations are robust economically, and Florida’s poor standing in these fields may make the state’s recovery from the pandemic-induced economic slump particularly difficult.

Florida is one of the nation’s more socioeconomically challenged states, as measured (for example) by the free and reduced-price lunch eligibility rate, which in 2017-18 was 57.3%. The national rate was 52.6%, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Nevertheless, other states with comparable lunch rates had significantly higher rates of science and engineering occupations than Florida, as shown below.

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