Tallahassee Democrat op-ed: “New computer science standards useless without incentives”

Florida’s new K-12 computer science standards will have little or no effect on the state’s students because there is no parallel effort to recruit computer science teachers or provide incentives for students to take computing classes.  Bay and Monroe Counties provide model incentive programs that Leon County – and more broadly the state – should consider.  You can link to the Democrat op-ed here.

The National Math and Science Initiative College Readiness Program that Bay County has joined is described here.  Monroe County’s “Monroe Compute$” program is profiled here.

The Florida Times-Union story on the decline of the information technology program at A. Philip Randolph Academies of Technology because of the lack of qualified teachers (mentioned in the op-ed) can be seen here.

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An important question for policy-makers: Where at FSU do we make “Economic Prosperity and Individual Opportunity?”

The evening before Governor Scott’s “Jobs to Degrees Summit” began in Orlando, the Charles Koch Institute hosted a panel discussion titled “A More Competitive Florida:  How to Grow the Economy”.  One of the panelists was an FSU colleague of mine from the Department of Economics, Dr. Shawn Kantor.  I have not met Dr. Kantor, and it’s unlikely that I ever will.  But what intrigued me about Dr. Kantor was his title, “L. Charles Hilton Jr. Distinguished Professor of Economic Prosperity and Individual Opportunity.”

Wow.

Dr. Kantor’s serious-sounding title prompted me to start thinking about where on the FSU campus we actually produce “Economic Prosperity and Individual Opportunity”.  Is it in the Economics Department?  Or elsewhere?

Let’s take a look at the data on this from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce – the top 25 college majors for salary (the bar on the far right is the average salary for all majors): georgetown_top_25-2 redrawn v2.png

Seventeen of the top 25 majors have the word “engineering” in them.  Physics is ranked 15th.  Computer science is 11th.  Others among the top 25 are applied math, statistics, management information systems and pharmacy.  And there are two flavors of economics hanging on at rankings of 24th and 25th – sort of like the FSU football team did during the Lost Decade.  Good for Dr. Kantor – he is an educator in a field that actually gives students a reasonably good chance for economic prosperity and individual opportunity.

But for really producing economic prosperity and individual opportunity, you can’t beat the mathematical sciences and engineering.  So here is a proposal:  Let’s take the FSU majors ranked in the top 23 (sorry, Dr. Kantor) and form a new college – the FSU College of Economic Prosperity and Individual Opportunity.

When I bounced this idea off of a colleague yesterday, he immediately expressed concerns about increased administration and related hassles in a new college.  Somehow his famous sense of humor got lost in the discussion.  And maybe all this discussion proves is that there is a fine line between vision and hallucination.

But what I hope that the participants in Governor Scott’s summit understand (and despair that they don’t) is that the most important thing we can do to have A More Competitive Florida is to provide access to the most lucrative careers for many more of the state’s students.  The colleges and universities can play a role in this, but we can’t do it alone – this would involve all levels of education from pre-K on, as well as a business community that understands that it would be wise to make new investments in such a project.  Just forming a College of Economic Prosperity and Individual Opportunity will not do it.

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Florida’s school funding adequacy suit: No matter what Judge Reynolds says, our schools need new strategically targeted investments

While Judge Reynolds dismissed the lawsuit about the adequacy of Florida’s education funding, it is clear that there are gaping holes in the state’s K-12 program that need to be addressed.  The state’s middle school math program is rapidly unraveling, according the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress.  There are still substantial gaps in educational opportunity between high-poverty and low-poverty schools.  There is a shortage of strong teachers in math, science and computing fields.  And there are more.

Florida needs new education funding, and it needs to be directed to strategically targeted initiatives.  These initiatives should be focused on recruiting and retaining strong teachers.

Ironically, Governor Scott and the Legislature agree with that statement.

To wit:  This year, Florida is investing $49 million in a program that they say will attract the best and brightest to teaching and then keep them in the profession.  The program is called, of course, the Florida Best and Brightest Teachers Scholarship Program.  It is the program that depends on two measures that are notoriously problematic – the scores that teachers earned on college entrance exams themselves (mostly when they were high school students), and ratings teachers receive on the state’s amazingly capricious teacher evaluation program.  The percentages of teachers who earned the “highly effective” rating necessary for Best and Brightest eligibility varied from 2% to 90%, depending on the school district.

The Best and Brightest program actually disproportionately funds teachers in low-poverty schools, so it doesn’t appear to be helping close the gap in educational opportunities between low- and high-poverty schools.  In fact, it might be making that gap worse.  And Best and Brightest doesn’t focus at all on math, science and computing.

The lesson, of course, is that new money has to be tethered to common sense – or better yet research on what improves student learning.  And while the defense in the adequacy suit argued that school districts sometimes make poor spending decisions, the Legislature can (and does) make poor spending decisions itself.

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Florida AP enrollment in math, science: Rapid growth in biology, steady growth in math

To provide some context for the Florida AP Computer Science enrollment numbers I previously posted, here are the corresponding numbers for calculus, biology, chemistry and physics.

Steady enrollment growth continues in the Calculus AB and Statistics courses.  Biology continues to grow rapidly, but Chemistry enrollment is stagnant.

Total AP Physics enrollment jumped in 2014-15 with the introduction of the new Physics 1 and 2 courses, which together enroll about twice as many students as the Physics B course they replaced.

Once again, the enrollment numbers are available in spreadsheets on the FLDOE web site.

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Growth in AP Computer Science in Florida levels off

While the Florida State Board of Education has taken the almost entirely symbolic step of approving standards for K-12 computer science instruction, the growth in AP computer science enrollments in the state’s public high schools has leveled off.

From 2013 (the earliest year for which the FLDOE has posted course enrollment information) to 2015, spring semester enrollments in AP Computer Science classes hosted by district schools grew by more than 300 students per year, from 1,234 in the Spring of 2013 to 1,968 in the Spring of 2015.  Enrollment in the Florida Virtual School AP Computer Science course was even more rapid proportionally, rising from 131 in the Spring of 2013 to 490 in the Spring of 2015.

But this school year, AP Computer Science enrollments have leveled off.  In the district schools, 2,006 students were taking the course this spring, while the FLVS enrollment number remained at 490.

It’s not clear from the numbers whether the halt in enrollment growth was caused by a shortage of teachers or a lack of interest by districts, schools or students.

What is clear is that fewer than 2% of the graduates of Florida’s public high schools have taken AP Computer Science.  Computer science is one of the most lucrative college majors, according to a report released last year by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

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Here’s what Florida should do if it REALLY wants to improve student career readiness in math, science and computing-related fields

Tomorrow, Florida’s State Board of Education will approve new standards in computing for K-12 schools.  This is the least impactful thing the state’s K-12 system can do to promote student career readiness in computing.  But it’s consistent with what the state has done (or not done) to improve student career readiness in math, science and engineering careers.

Here are the two things Florida’s policy-makers should do to improve student career readiness in math, science, computing and engineering:

  1. Redirect the $49 million the state is spending on the ill-advised Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program this year into a program to provide salary supplements to teachers who are strong in math, science and computing.  Students who are graduating with bachelors’ degrees in math, the physical sciences, computing and engineering pay a salary penalty of more than $10,000 per year – and in some cases multiples of that – to enter the teaching profession.  But we need those new graduates to improve the teaching of their subjects in the public schools.
  2. Change the requirements for Bright Futures Scholarships.  Drop the requirement of minimum scores on the racially-biased ACT and SAT tests, and instead require that students take chemistry, physics, precalculus and computer programming courses to be eligible for Bright Futures.

 

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Only 19 Florida school districts offering AP Computer Science

As the Florida Board of Education prepares to adopt computer science standards for the state’s K-12 schools, it’s worth taking a look at where the state’s school districts stand on the subject right now.

Of the state’s 67 school districts, only 19 offered AP Computer Science this year.  In fact, the concentration of AP Computer Science students is even more striking than that.  In Seminole County, there are more than five AP Computer Science students for every 100 12th graders.  Using that metric, the next highest district is Alachua at 3.5 per 100 12th graders.  Brevard is at 2.7.  No other district is above 2.0.  (Spring 2016 statistics come from the Florida Department of Education web site)

Perhaps the most striking statistic is that the Florida Virtual School accounts for about 20% of the enrollment of AP Computer Science in the state’s public schools.  There are 2,006 students enrolled in AP Computer Science in district schools, while FLVS enrolls another 490.

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